‘After abrogation of Article 370 and JKLF ban, I am hopeful of returning to Valley’, says Ajay Chrungoo
Panun Kashmir or Our Own Kashmir is an organisation of Kashmiri Pandits seeking a separate homeland for the community in the Valley. In an interview to HT, its chairman Ajay Chrungoo speaks about the Kashmir problem, the conditions on which the return of Pandits hinge and how the state erred by terming their exodus as migration. Edited excerpts.
It’s been 30 years since Pandits had to leave their homes in Kashmir. What has changed in all these years, do you see them returning anytime soon?
Hindus of the Valley were victims of a genocidal war. Successive governments in state and the Centre treated the grave tragedy of this genocide as migration. Pakistan and Muslim separatist flanks in Kashmir were directly responsible. The Indian state and political class stood as bystanders. This genocide was expressed through Kill-one-and-scare-10 campaign initially followed by the destruction of Hindu habitat. The destruction of Hindu homes, temples and shrines was conducted systematically to cleanse Kashmir of Hindus. And while in exile, internally displaced Hindus had to face denial of their genocide. When you deny genocide it is genocide, too; it is called double killing.
Abrogation of Article 370, and reorganisation of J&K into two Union Territories, and banning Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front has certainly raised hopes now.
How was the Indian State was responsible for the “denial of genocide”?
Over the years, the Indian state called the forced exodus of Hindus of Kashmir as migration. Initially, it did call it as a demographic assault in an attempt to manage international opinion. However, at the governmental level, this exodus was denoted as migration. The government of India gave a testimony to the National Human Rights Commission that exodus was a self-imposed displacement. The issue was treated as merely a migration.
The real problem was not recognised till recently when the JKLF [Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front] was banned and the government, for the first time, accepted that the JKLF was responsible for genocide of Kashmiri Pandits.
In 1948, when the genocide convention of the United Nations was drafted, the government of India was one of its main proposers. And, as per the convention, a signatory state is bound to punish and prevent genocide. However, till date, India does not have any law on the crime of genocide.
And, since the government did not recognise this exodus as genocide and treated it as migration, it could not evolve proper policies to address the tragedy. In the first decade, nearly 25,000 people died due to absence of proper policies, which would address unnatural conditions to which displaced population was exposed, such as extreme heat, distress related to displacement and many other extraneous conditions.
You see any hope for the community’s return to the Valley?
We certainly have hope now. Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 was, in fact, a Muslim state in the territory of secular India. And, since it was a Muslim state, to expect the state government to respond to the crisis created by Muslim separatism was a tall order. I am hopeful now because of the abrogation of Article 370; the state is no longer a Muslim state with a separate constitution. I am also hopeful because, for the first time while banning JKLF, the home secretary used the term genocide.
What are your expectations from the current government?
The first step is to conduct a free and fair census in the entire UT of J&K, including a special census of Hindus of Kashmir who were displaced and are living across the country. The 2011 Census has shown a sharp rise in the population in Kashmir Valley and a steep dip in the population in Jammu—close to 10%. This dip has a catastrophic message. Any other country would have immediately instituted an inquiry to assess the reason for such a sharp dip.
The second step is to undertake the process of delimitation based on a free and fair census. Then only can the political process start.
The third step should be recognising the genocide of Hindus in Kashmir and committing to reversal of this genocide and not merely a tokenist return of the internally displaced people.
You have been demanding a separate homeland. After the abrogation of Article 370, is there a change in that stance?
The first step that needs to be taken is to recognise and start a process of reversal of genocide rather than mere rhetoric of creating conditions for return. Reversal of genocide means creating an act that will punish the crime of genocide and prevent genocide and atrocities from recurring; we have suggested such an act to the government.
A separate homeland is a demand that still stands. Earlier there was a separate Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, so many would say it was legally impossible. Now, after the reorganisation of the state, this is legally a possibility. From the geopolitical point of view, dividing Kashmir to create one more UT for rehabilitation of victims of genocide is the only way of defeating separatism comprehensively in Jammu and Kashmir.
Carving out a separate homeland along the north and east of river Jhelum in the Valley has become more relevant. Religious fascist movement will suffer a decisive defeat through this measure.
One aspect of the exodus that is not talked about is the economic cost of dislocation.
In the Panun Kashmir Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Bill that we have proposed, we have asked for the nullification of distress property sales. If land reforms (The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 that imposed ceiling on land ownership) could be carried out without any compensation to the landowners, why can’t the sale of properties under duress be reversed? Taking such an extraordinary step will send out a message.