The victory of Aasha Jee, a Kashmiri Pandit woman in the panchayat election in Wuzzan village in north Kashmir, gives hope to those who have consistently believed in the inherent secular values that have pervaded the Valley.
The past decades have been a black mark on Kashmiris for the way the Pandits were turned into refugees in their own country. It is difficult to imagine that families who had lived together for centuries were forced into refugee camps, left to fend for themselves, many at an age when people choose to retire in comfort.
In all this, one thing stood out: Kashmiris had failed themselves and their own beliefs. But in Aasha Jee’s victory, history is presenting an opportunity to redeem themselves by igniting a Kashmiri Muslim movement to invite their neighbours back to the Valley.
This is also a unique opportunity to cock a snook at Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his ilk.
This is possible if the moment is grabbed by the Valley’s leadership — both intellectual and political — with the support of the central government. Secular Kashmiris must establish direct contact by phone, e-mail and Facebook with their Pandit brothers and sisters. Seminars and conferences must be arranged in Srinagar, Jammu, New Delhi and elsewhere where the Kashmiri Pandits live.
House to house visits and invitations must be made for them to return home. We must accept the level of disillusionment suffered by the Pandits that has often forced some of them to adopt a communal stand. Kashmir belongs to all of us, but more to its original inhabitants — the Muslims and Hindu Pandits of the Valley.
It was this singular secularism of Kashmir that motivated Abul Fazl to carve out the following lines on the gate of a Hindu temple in Kashmir: “Heresy to the heretic,/ religion to the orthodox,/ but the dust of the rose petal,/ belongs to the heart of the perfume seller.”
Over the past few months, the UPA government has demonstrated a real desire to look at Kashmir holistically. The visit of the all-party parliamentary delegation, the appointment of the interlocutors, the setting up of special task forces to look at specific problems of Jammu, Ladakh and Leh have instilled new hope with regard to the wish to move ahead with finding a solution to the disturbed situation in Kashmir.
But while the intent is there, the actions have been tepid.
At the cost of repetition, it may be noted that while there has been debate, the dreaded Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) continues. There is virtually no move within the government to restore Article 370 to its original form, and communication channels with the youth and the public remain poor.
These issues are the ones that the separatists will latch on to once again to try and bring back the summer of 2010.
But this is a different year. Pakistan’s position has considerably weakened and it stands exposed as a haven for terrorists of all hues. No one, fundamentalist or liberal, Shia or Sunni, Muslim or non-Muslim today wants to join Pakistan and the desire for a plebiscite is dead.
Relative peace reigns within Kashmir.
‘Azaadi’ is not an option and issues dealing with greater autonomy can be handled within the ambit of the Constitution of India. This is a window that can be used to our advantage.
Perhaps in our lifetime we will see a Kashmir about which the poet said: ‘Agar firdaous e bar roohe zammeenast,/ Hameenasto hameenasto hameenast’ (If there is heaven on Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this).
(Najeeb Jung is the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia. The views expressed by the author are personal)