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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kashmiri Pandits: Undoing injustice

Undoing injustice to Kashmiri Pandits

Kashmir Times, Op-ed, 25 April 2015

Kashmiris have long standing and arguably genuine grievances against the Indian state. They have resorted to several ways to voice these, including militancy, as is indeed their right. However, one way in which they appear to be furthering their agenda is in keeping the displaced Kashmiri Pandits from returning to their homes and hearths. Is keeping Pandits out, one more pressure point against the Indian state?
Kashmiris would reflexively protest such an interpretation. They would claim that not only has India suppressed their voicing of their grievances but it is not they who are keeping the Pandits from returning. They believe they have extended a sincere invite to Pandits to return, but one that has not been taken up. Instead, Pandits by not returning are enabling India to have yet another stick to beat Kashmir with. Also, the manner of insertion of Pandits back into Kashmir in self-contained residential enclaves is reminiscent of Israel’s colonising behavior in occupied territory.
To Kashmiri Pandits, the idea that their expulsion is self-exile is preposterous. They have been ousted from their historical homeland now for a quarter century. Their return has been aborted by instances of continuing threat, such as the Wandhama incident. And, one that is set to continue so long as Kashmiris flirt with extremism that lingers increasingly darkly and closer with the advent of the IS that has even put the Al Qaeda into shade. Security concerns necessitate innovative measures for sustainable returns; the idea of clusters being one such.
Where does the truth lie (no pun intended)?
Clearly, there are multiple versions of the truth. There are possibly multiple truths. No version of the truth can be rejected out of hand. There may be shortfalls in the truths held by each community. As part of debate, these can be highlighted and mitigated; but their right to their version of the truth cannot be disputed. These truths are the kernel of the identity of the community and cannot be trifled with. If this bottom-line is accepted then there is scope for next steps.
The past quarter century has made amply clear that both communities have gone through enough. Kashmiris have weathered security operations ad infinitum, while Pandits have become an internally displaced people. Both have recovered somewhat with considerable peace returning to Kashmir and many Panditsfinding a new life. Balance is returning normalcy to Kashmir.
This final touch can only be through a dignified return of Pandits back in Kashmir, preferably to their original homes.The vulnerable group here being the Pandits, the Kashmiris need to take the first step.If, and since, the cluster model does not find favour with Kashmiris, there is only one alternative: enable Pandit return direct to their homes. This would be in keeping with their rhetoric.
Historical experience does not enthuse. Seldom have communities once internally displaced managed to return with dignity. Reconciliation of such an order has little precedence. In India, people displaced in violence in Assam in the nineties continue in relief camps. People who fled villages and localities in Gujarat have settled in ghettos. Some villages continue to remain empty of their minority members after the riots in UP of last year. Within in the region, minority community members facing discrimination and security threats have largely voted to leave India’s neighbouring states, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Globally, the return of many vulnerable groups who fled conflict such as in Georgia, Kosovo and Africa’s numerous conflicts, is awaited. Can it be any different in Kashmir?
This is not a task the two communities can leave to the state. If they do, the process is liable to get politicized and consequently put off. Geopolitics is liable in the state’s eye to trump human security. To it, logistics of the exercise, such as building houses for Pandits may be easier than building the conditions to make these homes. Political actors, that control the state, get to play political football with the essentially humanitarian IDP issue. Reconciliation therefore cannot be left to the state alone; even if the state has a critical role to play eventually.
Instead, center stage must be the communities themselves. They need to stop firing at each other from the shoulder of the state, with the Pandits using the center and the Kashmiris the state government.Silencing negative motivated and opportunist political actors within each respectively will be the first challenge. Politicians can manage, contain and mark time. While itself preferable to losing ground and stepping back, they cannot deliver, transform, enlighten - necessary to bridging, reaching out, striking out.
There being no Mandela, either in Kashmir or New Delhi, and life not being a fairy tale, on the face of it, it does not appear possible. Politically, separatists, while mouthing the right phrases, cannot instill confidence. They have not given up on their Pakistani connections. Currently, these are political. However, that owes in part to the vice grip that India’s military has. Security wise, till the possibility of proxy war resumption using militants as their cat’s paw is not stashed away by Pakistan, to chance a return could prove foolhardy. Logistically, illegal usurpation of property and profiting from distress sales will first have to be undone.
But more importantly, spiritually, the chasms in trust that have only deepened with time’s passage will have to be crossed. Such levels of generosity in human spirit in face of conflict and absence of leadership, both political and spiritual, are seldom reached. Even deep Sufi wellsprings,Kashmiriyatand memories of the older generation may fail to buoy. The younger generation on both sides, more religious but less spiritual, may be less inclined to be forgiving; for sustainable return, it is they who have to be incentivised.
What we are liable to see therefore is a continuing of the dance around the IDP issue. Kashmir would not be able to transit from a conflict to a post conflict society. The liberal lode will dissipate when most needed to preserve Kashmir from ill winds from West Asia transiting the Hindu Kush to draw near. What Kashmiris fear – demographic change – may consequently appear a suitable strategy option to save Kashmir from its home-grown extremists. This may even be possible to engineer in the political circumstance as shall remain operational in Delhi for the remainder of the decade. Worse, in case of conflict revisiting Kashmir, there are aplenty today counter violence methods that were only yesterday unacceptable. The examples of Chechenya, East Timor and the wars in the Middle East bear recall.

To paint such scenarios is to be strategic. To point to Kashmiris that there are roads they must not take. However, painting such dire and plausible futures, such as this, cannot draw out compassion and grace necessary for Kashmir to rise up as a post conflict society with a difference. It is up to Kashmiris to conquer themselves, subdue their baser selves for their own sake. 

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