Three years ago, I had a candid chat with a Kashmiri Pandit whose palatial house in Srinagar is occupied by paramilitary forces. He owns couple of apartments in Indian northern satellite city of Gurgaon, runs a property business and is doing very well financially.
Our conversation started with the mention of snow-clad mountain peaks, fresh and sparkling spring waters, lush-green forests and picture-perfect valleys but sadly ended up on the usual topic Kashmiri Muslim and a Pandit end up with: flight of Pandits from Kashmir valley and their return.
That was not my first conversation with a Kashmiri Pandit and I’m sure that won’t be the last.
More than a week after the entire Kashmir valley remained shut due to a protest against the proposed government move to build separate townships for migrant Kashmiri Pandits on the call of pro-freedom leaders, it seems in place to detail here what this Kashmiri Pandit (Who I’ll call as Ratan Ji in this article) discussed with me.
“Why do you think my son who is aspiring to be an engineer will settle in Kashmir when he has opportunities (thanks to State scholarships) to study in the US or any European country,” Ratan Ji asked me.
Even though he himself has missed Kashmir a lot when he was forced to stay in a migrant camp in Jammu or Delhi but still he doesn’t even think about returning to his roots in the valley.
“I remember my Dogra landlord would count shoes outside our room and if he by any chance of luck found an extra shoe, he would barge in, abuse and ask us to vacate,” he reminisced. “He wouldn’t tolerate even a single guest visiting us.”
At that time, he told me, “I missed my home in Srinagar”.
But returning to Kashmir, Ratan Ji told me, wasn’t an option anymore as “we have moved on”. One generation of Pandits, he said, has already been consumed by Delhi heat and their kids are used to mall, cinema and restaurant culture. “Where would our kids go for recreation? What is there left in Kashmir except strikes, bullets and bombs?” Ratan Ji asked.
Besides, “I need to get a written permission from police station to visit my home occupied by CRPF. Where would I stay in Srinagar? Certainly not in a ghetto”.
How Pandits left the valley is known to everyone but people hear and tell stories according to their biases. In this article, however, we are going in that story.
Let’s talk about the cluster policy or how the Indian media, thanks to zealots it has produced, are painting the issue of return of migrant Kashmiri Pandits. One right-wing commentator says that “this is the time, or never”…He means to say that India has a BJP government at the Centre –which incidentally has a very poor track record how it deals with Muslims – and that it can ensure their return even if that means bulldozing Muslims.
Second, Kashmir doesn’t have townships, but Jammu has. If governments at the Centre and the State are so serious about their return to their homeland, why don’t they build townships in Jammu. Reasons are many.
- Separate townships will further the gulf between Muslims and Hindus because the former, already holding government in deep suspicion, will get another reason to feel alienated.
- Separate townships would be more vulnerable to attacks by miscreants. In other words, they would be an open invitation for such elements who would get a chance to play politics over innocent blood. Several such massacres were carried out in early ’90s by such elements.
Chattisinghpora massacre in which 35 innocent Sikhs were gunned down on the evening of March 2000 on the arrival of then US President Bill Clinton to India should serve as a reminder to such zealots who are championing this separate townships proposal.
These zealots need to ask these politicians why they failed to prevent the migration of the community in subsequent years after the ‘January 1990 flight’.
Even now, Pandits who chose to stay put in the valley and faced every bullet and bomb along with their Muslim neighbours, are denied any perks and privileges unlike their migrant counterparts. In fact, they are being punished for not leaving the valley because they couldn’t become a tool for these politicians on whom they could have played vote-bank politics.