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The same old damned Pandit tale

india Updated: Nov 09, 2008 20:09 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times
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Go ahead, don't suppress that yawn. I am going to talk about the Kashmiri Pandits.

I am in Jammu today on my road journey across Jammu and Kashmir this month. It's hard to be in Jammu and not think of the visitors who arrived here in 1990, dazed, homeless and full of a melancholy and sense of betrayal that would haunt them all their lives.

They had just been forcibly driven out of their homelands. They had just experienced the supreme pain – having to leave home – that millions have experienced around the world. They – people like you and me, people who loved Kishore and cricket and Madhuri Dixit -- had just become (I hate to even say it) refugees.

"Refugee" is such a cliché today, it hardly even means anything any more. For the Pandits, it meant giving up their large mansions (few people in prosperous Kashmir have small homes) to live with families in tiny quarters, with the even unluckier ones getting just a tiny room.

The newspaper was a thing you read to feel educated in a slum. The roof was the hot sky that had crushed your dreams, made you a newspaper hawker from an aspiring pilot. The walls of the homes, often much smaller than the bathrooms they used to use, were partitions between you and the outside world you could never leap over. The faces beneath the wall were your endearing companions on your journey of despair, frustrating reminders of what you had just gone through. The clothes line running through the room a signpost of how naked you felt in a world that had little but stares to offer. The cramped latrine was a place where you went to break the monotony of your sad life. The Philips radio set a voice from your past – when you were alive, not quite dead.

I often say this to Kashmiri Muslim friends: what happened to Kashmir's Pandits is a small punctuation in the otherwise huge and ghastly tale of what happened in Kashmir. But it is a very important and crucial punctuation.

Some of them tell me: "The Pandit issue is a non-issue" … or that "the number of Gujjars, Bakarwals and Pandits is the same in Kashmir, then why just harp on the Pandits?" … or "This is what the Jews did. Such a small community. This self-claimed exiled community. For years they are `celebrating' the holocaust."

It makes me wonder: how come the Kashmiri Muslims, who have suffered so much for two decades at the hands of Indian security forces, never really empathise with what happened to their brethren, the Pandits?

How could a community not protect its own, and instead look the other way, and rationalize if not justify killings?

Isn't that the shame of Gujarat's Hindus, when they closed their eyes to the massacre of Muslims in 2002? Or of Orissa's Hindus in Kandhamal?

But talking about Kashmir's religious minority is a big bore for all those who have any stake of influence in Kashmir.

"Ah, the Pandits," the home ministry official will tell you.
"Ah, the Pandits … bada galat hua unke saath (they were treated very badly) … but they are doing very well, aren't they?" the Kashmiri Muslim will tell you.

The community will continue to pay for being educated and progressing and rebuilding its life even after disaster.

For the Kashmiri Muslims, the Pandit issue seems to me like some old, forgotten story of the cousin who got married against the family's wishes – a sad story nevertheless, of a cousin sorely missed at times, but a story never told in public.

For Kashmir's Muslims, what happened to the Pandits – while they were looking away – is like a sore wound that will lie hidden under their shirt – they hate showing it to a doctor.

Which is why it is time to seek closure in Kashmir and bare the wounds, so that they may heal.

It is time that Kashmir's Muslims acknowledged that what happened to the Pandits was wrong, and justice be served – just as they rightly seek justice in the thousands of cases involving crimes against Kashmiri Muslims.

It is also time that the Pandit community gave up trying to blind itself to the demeaning, dehumanizing oppression that the Valley's Muslims have suffered over twenty years, trying to paint what happened to them as a "holocaust"' and seemingly wishing away what happened to the Muslims they left behind.

It's time we all got real.