Why Kashmiri Pandits May be the Biggest Beneficiary of Post Article 370 Kashmir

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Kashmiri Pandits organised a rally in support of abrogation of Article 370 in Melbourne, Australia. — File photo

Dr Mumtaz Balkhi | Caravan Daily

THE debate about Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the valley has resurfaced more vigorously since revocation of Article 370 as demonstrated by the troubling statement of Indian diplomat to US in front of Kashmiri diaspora community in which he spoke about implementing Israel type solution in Kashmir.

Not surprisingly, Hindutva supporters among the Kashmiri Pandits have been celebrating  revocation of Article 370 as a victory and some sort of revenge on Muslim Kashmiris, who they allege to have participated in forcing them to leave the valley. Therefore, I wanted to revisit this sensitive topic with new revelations.

1989 was a period of great turmoil in Kashmir. Militants had been targeting politicians and people associated with Kashmir police and judiciary among which some of the prominent names were Kashmiri Pandits but also included several Kashmiri Muslims. These individual targeted killings had rattled Kashmiri Pandit minority community. With armed insurgency picking up in intensity in early 1990’s and massive street protests taking place on  daily bases, the  state administration and security establishment were reeling under pressure.

To control the deteriorating Kashmir situation Jagmohan was inducted as governor of Kashmir, but that signaled in Kashmir an imminent massive security clampdown. The clampdown came with massive military deployment and imposition of round the clock curfew in the entire Kashmir valley. Induction of Jagmohan as governor enraged population and fueled further unrest. Amid curfew in entire valley, Jagmohan administration rather clandestinely ordered evacuation of Kashmir Pandits to camps in Jammu. The thinking was to avoid collateral damage to Kashmiri Hindus during military operations and avoid revenge attacks by the militants.

Was there an ethnic cleansing and Rohingya style mass exodus as some of the Kashmiri Pandits claim, this point needs clarification? To analyze Pandit evacuation in terms of security plan drawn by the Jagmohan administration at that time, we do not need to go back to 1990’s but to the events that occurred before August 5, 2019. Under “smoke screen” of imminent security threat to tourists and Amarnath Yatris in Kashmir the security establishment and civilian authority of governor Satya Pal Malik administration meticulously planned evacuations.  Within few days’ tourists and Yatris were safely evacuated from valley without an incident.

In 1990’s, amid round the clock curfew and army deployment, similar arrangements were made to evacuate safely Kashmiri Pandits from the valley to the camps in Jammu. Were Kashmiri Pandits the only people who were evacuated in 1990’s? The answer is no! Pro-Indian politicians along with their families, especially those associated with NC and Congress were also evacuated. The Pandit evacuees including Kashmiri Muslim politicians have been regularly receiving monthly compensation to cover their expenses while living in camps or other rented accommodations.

Apart from the Kashmiri Pandits and pro-Indian Kashmiri Muslim politicians, thousands of other Kashmiri Muslims especially those living close to the border with Pakistan administered Kashmir had to migrate also to save themselves and their families from the massive Indian military crackdown. The military operations had become necessary as pockets around border areas served conduit for militants to cross over to the other side of the Kashmir.

The Kashmiri Muslim migrants to Pakistan since 1990s and hundreds of thousands if not millions of other Kashmiri Muslims who were left stranded in newly created Pakistan after 1948 war unlike Pandits have no chance of returning back to their ancestral homes in Kashmir. The reason we hear less about migration of Kashmiri Muslims as opposed to Kashmir Pandits is because Kashmiri Hindus fit into the larger narrative of BJP/RSS ideology about Hindu reawakening and victimization at the hands of Muslims.

The reality is losing a home, a hometown, a home country is indeed a pain for any person especially Kashmiris majority of whom hardly ever travel out of valley in their entire lives. Yet, taking a holistic view of Kashmir situation and what unfolded in the past 30 years, Kashmiri Pandits and their families may be the biggest winners. Since 1989, Kashmiri Muslims lost more than a hundred thousand people especially youth which is half of the total population of Kashmiri Pandits. More than half of the Kashmiri children grew or are growing living with PTSD having witnessed searches of their homes, deaths, rapes, molestations, abuses, and torture of their immediate family member or the neighbour.

Kashmiri children since 1989 had no normal childhood. Since 2008, a new tragedy begins to haunt Kashmiri children, which is killing and blinding of unarmed teenage boys in police firings. Since 2008 almost 500 teenage boys as young as 5-year-old had died in police/military firing and thousands had lost eyesight partially or completely. Now, with the revocation of Article 370, Kashmiri children especially girls stare at uncertain and dark future.

Before August 5, 2019, Kashmiri Muslim students especially girls could secure admission in professional colleges and Universities because they would compete within the state where competition was less intense. With Article 370 revocation, Kashmiri Muslim students stand very little chance to secure admission as they would be competing  for the berths at national level. However, Kashmiri Pandit children do not need to worry about all these things. Since 1990’s Kashmiri Pandits have had special reservations in professional colleges, Universities, and in jobs in various institutions around India. And, they will continue to enjoy that.

Coming back to the question of resettling Kashmiri Pandits back in the valley. Thousands of housing units have already been available to them in Kashmir valley all at free of cost while new units are being built.  I am sure Kashmiri Pandits will surely take these units not for full living but as summer homes. They would not want their children to suffer the same way as Kashmiri Muslim children are currently suffering from lost childhood, the suffocation of siege, fear of deaths, and blinding with pellets.

For the last four months now, Kashmiri Muslim children are not going to schools due to fear and safety concerns, businesses have incurred huge losses, no internet, no freedom of movement. No one knows how long this uncertainty is going to last. Yet, Kashmir Pandit fringe continue to be bitter of Kashmiri Muslims ignoring the reality that thousands of Kashmir Pandits who never left and continue to live in harmoniously with Kashmir Muslim neighbours. Kashmiri Muslims on numerous occasions performed last rites of Pandits who passed away alone in their homes in Kashmir.

Unfortunately, a fringe among Kashmiri Pandits tend to be virulently bitter of Kashmir Muslims, why? Being bitter and playing victim card is what got them acceptance in larger “Hinduized” Indian society as much as they served as a propaganda tool to BJP/RSS for reclaiming Hindu pride and identity but that also has been sowing unbridged schism between new generation Kashmiris.

Tail piece: Living as religious minority always invites suspicion from the majority community that reality hit hard on Gujarati Muslims during Gujarat riots in 2002 and continue to take toll on Muslim minorities in India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Muslims living in the West.

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Dr Mumtaz Balkhi is native of Kashmir, currently Assistant Professor, University of Maine. The views expressed here are author’s personal.

 

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