Reconciliation is needed for a new era in Kashmir
An unfortunate social consequence of the brutal trauma of January 1990 has been to lead many affected Pandits to believe that all Kashmiri Muslims were party to the pogrom.Updated: Jan 21, 2020 05:56 IST
Thirty years ago, gruesome events took place in the Kashmir Valley.
Even as Muslim Kashmiris also lost many lives at the time, (indeed, the then vice-chancellor of Kashmir University, a Muslim, was one of the first victims of the new terror), it must be acknowledged that the killing of Pandits constituted a hate-filled pogrom. The content of the slogans from many mosques left little room for doubt on that score. And one of the major obstacles to restoring Pandit trust has been the inability or unwillingness of the state to bring the known killers to book.
An unfortunate social consequence of the brutal trauma of January 1990 has been to lead many affected Pandits to believe that all Kashmiri Muslims were party to the pogrom. Such a conclusion has tended to encourage a false essentialisation of Kashmiri Muslims—one that seeks to make them undifferentiated objects of an overarching Islamophobia.
Pandits of an older vintage, especially those who were not part of the tragic suffering and exodus 30 years ago, contrarily foreground their memories of October, 1947, when, in the wake of an invasion by “fellow-Muslims”, not one Pandit life was impaired in a Valley some 97% percent Muslim.
What lives were lost by both communities were lost to the invader. All that at a time when there was practically no state in place with the accession (to India) still waiting to be signed.
Remarkably, they argue, what happened in 1990, happened under the watch of an administrator credited with a record of strong governance.
Such a read leads to a view that typecasting identities is always a reductive and misleading intellectual project. Indeed, events and causes in the dynamic of history have much more to do with how any group or community may or may not underscore the choices it makes, often dictated by intractable historical exigencies. Be that as it may, Pandit emigres over the last three decades have not only suffered a total exile from home and hearth, but the prospect of terminal cultural effacement. A new generation of Pandit Kashmiris born and raised outside the Valley, however, many strive to shore up a cultural inheritance through self-conscious efforts, remain alienated from that organic connect with the Kashmiri-speaking Valley which alone can make of their Kashmiri (ness) an authentic subjectivity.
In considering the longing of many Pandits, chiefly those on the wrong side of 50, to return to the Valley, some crude realities intervene. Where may they be relocated, and how may they sustain themselves? Given that their youthful progeny may both be as estranged there now as they feel in other parts of the country, and without any concrete prospect of viable economic lives beckoning them.
The idea that Pandit returnees be accommodated in discrete “homelands” entirely, in a sense, beholden to state protection and exclusive services may seem like one way of reailsing a political project, but hardly tantamount to a return to the community of which , for centuries, they have been an inseparable part.
Any recourse of return that effectively seeks to draw a line between Pandits and Muslims must be rejected out of hand as a solution worse than the problem. This, especially when in the wake of the current social assertions countrywide on behalf of secular and democratic unity of citizens grounded in the founding principles of the Constitution, a new resurgence of people’s oneness is in evidence everywhere. Nor would such segregation sit well with the measure the government of the day has taken to “integrate” the erstwhile state with the rest of the Union.
What would be a desirable agenda, for the long term, would be first to put in place reconciliatory mechanisms, such as would allow both Pandits and Muslims to express themselves to one another, seek answers and accountabilities, and reach a hard-earned modus vivendi that would by itself open avenues of “return” superior to any that may be manufactured by government policy and fiat.
Meanwhile, many Pandits have also come to recognise that the political euphoria attendant on the reading down of Article 370 has had little to offer them in the concrete. What entitlements they have now are quite the same as they had before the repeal. This may be food for thought, however painful: if there has been through the traumatic three decades of suffering a conscious attempt among Pandits to project an alternate denominational identity from the one they have had during their composite living with Kashmiri Muslims, such effort has yielded negligible dividends. Perhaps it were best if their tragic and stymied longing for home coincided with the recuperation of an identity which they may have sought to subordinate to an overtly sectarian one.
And it were also best for Kashmiri Muslims to welcome the Pandits home on a lasting basis as a long-lost fraternity with whom they have much more in common than with, for example, Muslims in the Jammu region or, indeed, the rest of the sub continent.