Politicising the plight of Kashmiri Pandits

Politics is a strange game where no holds are barred for getting electoral advantage. It also expresses, to some extent, the political ideology of those playing these games in addition to the distortion of facts about events, which is done deliberately. Interpretation of the very same events is diametrically different for different political groups. The plight of Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus is no exception to this.

During his election campaign Narendra Modi was making statements which at one level were factually inaccurate and at another they were communally inflected. He stated that the biggest blow to the secular fabric of India was delivered from Kashmir from where Pandits were forced out and that the Abdullahs (Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq and Omar) were behind it (28th April 2014). In response, Farooq and Omar shot back that the exodus of Pandits took place under the President’s rule when Jagmohan, a BJP hand, was the governor of J&K. The V.P. Singh government at the Centre was being supported by the BJP from outside. While all three Addullahs  are not the same, nor is their role a continuum, nor all of them secular angels, the tragedy of exodus of Pandits is much more complex than what the BJP has been telling us. The role which each of the Abdullas played cannot be put in the same bracket.  

As such, communalism has been the great bane of the subcontinent, whose biggest and most tragic expression was the Partition of India in which millions were butchered and a larger number migrated to both sides of the border. Apart from these migrations forcing people to far off lands, there have been internal migrations also, which follow communal violence on mass scale, like in Mumbai 1992-93, or Gujarat 2002, in which people left their homes where they had been living for decades and had to shift to other parts of the same city or state, leading to formation of ghettoes like Mumbra in Mumbai and Juhapura in Ahmadabad.  

  The roots of exodus of the Pandits lie in the aftermath of the Partition, the decision of the Maharaja of Kashmir to remain independent, the attack of tribals from Pakistan and the Sheikh Abdullah’s strong stance to accede to India, and not Pakistan. This decision was not made on religious considerations but with the hope that in India secularism would flourish with leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. With the murder of Gandhi and the pressure of the Hindu right to forcibly abolish Article 370, the autonomy of Kashmir started being questioned, even though Article 370 was the only legal basis of accession of Kashmir to India. This Article gave autonomy to Kashmir Assembly in most matters, barring defence, communication, currency and external affairs.

With the opposition to this clause and demand for forcible merger of Kashmir with India by communal forces, the Sheikh started feeling jittery. He started reconsidering his decision of accession to India, leading to his arrest and beginning of alienation of Kashmiris. The alienation led to militancy in due course, and with encouragement from Pakistan it took on dangerous proportions. Still the militancy was centered on the concept of Kashmiriyat, a synthesis of Buddhism, Vedanta and Sufi traditions, that had traditionally defined the Kashmiri ethos. After the hanging of Maqbool Butt in 1985 and the entry of hardened militants in Kashmir in the aftermath of the Afghan war, the militancy put on communal colours. The result was that the Pandits started being targeted.  

 Even before1990, the first major exodus of Pandits took place after the Partition riots, and partly due to land reforms introduced by Sheikh Abdullah. Incidentally, the Hindu population in Kashmir had gone through a complex history of conversion to Buddhism and, later, to Islam through Sufi saints. The Hindus started being referred to as Pandits from the 16th century onwards. This happened after Akbar won over Kashmir and employed Hindus in his administration. He was impressed by their qualities and conferred the title Pandit on them.  

The latest exodus began with communalisation of the militancy, a transition from Kashmiriyat to Islamism. One version, a la Modi, says that Kashmiri Pandits were driven from Kashmir valley by Muslim militants, and this was a planned move by the Muslim-majority Kashmir, while the fact remains that the Muslim majority was totally opposed to the harassment of Pandits.

In the militancy, while Hindus were targeted, Muslims were not spared. We will have a look at figures of casualties and destruction of property in Kashmir by militants. Thousands of Muslims from different parts of the valley also had to migrate to the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh in search of employment. Thousands of Muslims from Kashmir live in a refugee camp in New Delhi. They have also taken jobs like that of coolies in neighbouring states. One of The Times of India reports (5th Feb.1992) based on official figures said that militants killed 1,585 men and women, including 982 Muslims, 218 Hindus, 23 Sikhs and 363 security personnel between January 1990 and October 1992.  

The wholesale migration of Pandits was a big blow to the traditions of the valley. The damage alone by militants was inflicted on both communities, not Hindus alone. The Pandits were intimidated and considered migration first in 1986, but the decision was held in abeyance due to appeals of a goodwill mission constituted by reputed Kashmiris steeped in plural culture. In 1990, the militancy was stepped up. This time round Jagmohan, who later became a minister in BJP-led NDA government at Centre was the governor of Kashmir. Balraj Puri, in his book Kashmir (Orient Blackswan, 1993) points out that Jagmohan  ensured dissolution of the goodwill mission to Pandits by pressurising one of the Pandit members of the team to migrate to Jammu (Puri, 2000, 65).

Puri, in March 1990, stated “ I found no hostility among common Muslims in Kashmir against Pandits, and that allegations of gross violations of human rights by security forces needs to be investigated”(Puri, 2000, 66). At that time Hindu communal forces took it upon themselves to spread fear amongst Pandits. “Much disinformation is being spread in Jammu and Delhi that scores of Hindu temples and the shrines have been desecrated or destroyed in Kashmir. This is completely untrue and it is baffling that the government has not thought it fit to ask Doordarshan to do a program on mandirs in Kashmir just to reassure people that they remain unharmed”(Press Council of India, 1991).  

All things considered, the problem of Pandits’ migration is an unfortunate outcome of the alienation of Kashmiri people resulting in militancy, communalisation of militancy in late 1990s, Hindu communalist outfits’ spreading of fear psychosis and pressure of Jagmohan and not due to Hindu-Muslim hostility, certainly not due to the Abdullahs.
 Poet Kalhan of Kashmir, in his classic Rajtarangini writes that it is only through punya (noble deeds), and not force, that Kashmir can be won over. We need to remind ourselves of this profound wisdom of Kalhan while making policies about Kashmir, rather than putting the blame on a single political stream. The role of global politics, the historical baggage of Partition and post-Partition problems, the role of global terrorism propped up by US policy of control over oil resources, its influence on militancy in Kashmir and the role of Hindu communal forces in spreading fear also need to be kept in mind while commenting on this tragedy of mammoth proportions.