Although the targeted killing of Kashmiri Pandits over the past few months has evoked anger in civil society, it manifests the deep societal divide between the communities in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley. This new wave of attacks mainly targeting Hindu migrant workers and Kashmiri Pandits started after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.
Terrorists have so far killed more than half-a-dozen Pandits, who had chosen to stay in Kashmir against all odds. It began last year with the killing of prominent businessman ML Bindroo, who was shot at his medical store in Srinagar in October.
On May 12 this year, terrorists shot Rahul Bhat inside the revenue office where he worked in Budgam. On August 18, terrorists killed Sunil Kumar and injured Paitamber Kumar inside an orchard in the Chotipora village of Shopian. The 48-year-old Puran Krishan Bhat, who owned an apple orchard in Shopian district, was attacked just outside his home. Earlier Ajay Bharti, an elected corporator in Anantnag, and another elected town area chairman of TRAL, Ajay Pandita, were gunned down.
There is an empathy of Muslim neighbours but the volatile turbulence and continuous killings of Kashmiri’s including Pandits and outsider labourers continue unabated as a matter of terrorists’ strategy.
The new breed of terrorists are mostly locals, who have been radicalized. The question is, why are Kashmiri Pandits targets? Because they are the real bulwark against the radicalization of Kashmir and represent the revival of the plural rich Kashmiri ethos and culture.
Kashmiri Pandits have an existential stake in the Valley. They have to be physically present on the soil of the Kashmir Valley as living components and stakeholders and day-to-day participants in the socio-economic, political, cultural and spiritual ethos. They represent Kashmir, which was considered the abode of Saraswati, the highest seat of learning in India and was also Sharda Peeth. So much so that students graduating from Kashi would take four symbolic steps towards Kashmir, denoting their aspiration for higher learning. Almost the entire body of Sanskrit literature has its origins in Kashmir.
Rajatarangini, an authoritative historical tome on the royal lineage of Kashmir, written by Kalhana in the 12th century, outlines the greatness of Kashmiri Pandit King Lalitaditya, possibly the most powerful Indian emperor of all times, whose kingdom in the 8th century extended from the Caspian Sea in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south, and included Assam in the east. Kashmiri Pandits draw lineage from Sarangadeva considered the father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music and Acharya Abhinav Gupta, one of the greatest scholars of all times, who wrote 46 literary classics, including the renowned Abhinav Bharti. His principles of Rasa are being taught in 80 universities around the world.
The targeted killings have derailed the new generation’s plans when it was rediscovering its roots three decades after living in exile. In 1989-90, when the anti-India insurgency was just beginning, several Pandits in Srinagar and other towns in Kashmir were killed by militants. It triggered an exodus of tens of thousands of Pandits from the Valley to Jammu and other parts of India.
But post-2010, societal relations between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims had started rebuilding, thanks to the efforts of many people including this writer. This helped the appointment of 4,500 Kashmiri Pandit employees being deployed in Kashmir of whom around 1,100 live in transit accommodations and the rest in rented spaces. Some of them had started investing in the reconstruction of their homes on the lands they own.
The government says that major terror groups, with their masterminds sitting across the border, are worried over the sea change that has come in the situation in the Valley. Despite protests and demands, by Pandit employees, the Centre has decided not to allow the mass transfer or relocation of these employees from the Valley to the Jammu division.
Contrary to the claims of the authorities, the ground situation in Kashmir is very grim. The infiltration has neither come down nor have authorities succeeded in stopping the targeted killings. The Pandits are sandwiched between the so-called national interests of two rival states, one of which claims to be the world’s largest democracy. While the iron-fisted policy of the Centre has brought the number of militant attacks on the security forces down and the frequency of bands and stone-pelting has stopped, it has not brought any difference to Kashmiri Pandits, who again became soft targets. It is significant to mention that after 2003, the killing and targeting of Kashmiri Pandits had largely stopped, because of the engagement and building of societal relations.
Kashmiri Pandits represent history
Let the terrorists and their supporters in Kashmir realise that the annihilation of the Pandit community means you are destroying your existence as they represent the link to their history. No community or nation can exist without its history. They need to understand that Kashmiris, irrespective of religion, comprise a shared culture and society.
It is hoped that the central government shall revisit its J&K policy by demonstrating political will and large-heartedness in dealing with the Kashmir situation. There is a need to attend to societal relations along with finding ways to rehabilitate and provide security to Kashmiri Pandits in their homeland.
To quote what former Prime Minister IK Gujral once said: “For the illustrious Kashmiri Pandit community, which has contributed a great deal in shaping the nation, building a democratic, progressive and secular India, if the coffers of the country are to be emptied for them, it would still be a small price to pay.”
There is a need to start a structured dialogue with Pandits, for designing a comprehensive, time-bound package for return and rehabilitation in three smart cities. It shall not take more than two to three years for its implementation.
It would be in the interests of justice to constitute an SIT under a retired Supreme Court judge to go into the killings in Kashmir and expose the communal cleansing.
The extremists have sought to project the conflict in Kashmir as a religious one. Islamist militants, for instance, supposedly target Pandits because they view the community as loyal to India, by virtue of their being Hindu. This mentality can be defeated only by promoting and reviving composite Kashmiri culture through a series of elaborate steps.
The subject of Jammu & Kashmir has become enveloped in a dense opacity with layer upon layer of distortions of history, self-serving myths and competing political interests. Peeling off these layers by revisiting history,without prejudice on the real issues involved,can only help in our search for a brighter tomorrow for Jammu & Kashmir.
It’s therefore advisable the JK policy shall coordinate between what the Country pursues as domestic policy qua J & K as Government of India on one hand and the treatment of Jammu & Kashmir as an issue in Indo-Pak relations and in India”s foreign policy in general. A coherent and effective policy on Jammu & Kashmir must bring all these components together in an internally consistent manner.
Exiled natives are longing to return home and awaiting for accomplishment of the PM’s promises on this issue.The local bodies & DDC elections are over and huge people’s participation, especially the women and youth, can be a game changer and people have preferred democracy, peace and development as the future way forward than separatism, despondency and militancy. Exiled natives are expecting the next agenda with Modi 2 hopefully is and would be repatriation and return of the aborigines Kashmiri Pandits.
There is also a question, of whether settling Kashmiri Pandits into separate regions devoid of interaction with Muslims will secure them. If the government is keen to safeguard Pandits, it is not possible without taking local peace-loving Muslims into confidence. The local Muslims also need to shield their Kashmiri Pandit brethren against bloodthirsty terrorists.