Although the targeted killing of Kashmiri Pandits over the past few months has evoked anger in civil society, it manifests the deep 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. The terrorists have so far killed four Pandits, who had chosen to stay in Kashmir against all odds. It began last year with the killing of prominent businessman M L 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, militants killed Sunil Kumar and injured Pitamber Kumar inside an orchard in the Chotipora village of Shopian. The 48-year-old Puran Krishan Bhat, who owned an apple orchard in the Shopian district, was attacked just outside his home.
The new breed of terrorists are mostly locals who have been radicalised. The question is: Why are Kashmiri Pandits the targets? Because they are the real bulwark against the radicalisation of Kashmir and represent the revival of the plural, rich Kashmiri ethos and culture.
Kashmiri Pandits have an existential stake in the Valley. They need to be physically present on the soil as living components and stakeholders and day-to-day participants in the socio-economic, political, cultural and spiritual ethos. They represent the Kashmir that was considered the abode of Saraswati, the highest seat of learning in India and was also the Sharda Peeth. So much so that students graduating from Kashi would take four symbolic steps towards Kashmir, denoting their aspiration for higher learning. A large percentage 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. His kingdom in the 8th century was said to extend from the Caspian Sea in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south, and included Assam in the east. Kashmiri Pandits draw their lineage from Sarangadeva, considered the father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music and Acharya Abhinav Gupta, one of the greatest scholars of all time, who wrote 46 literary classics, including the renowned Abhinav Bharti. His principles of ras are being taught in 80 universities around the world.
Three decades after living in exile, many in the new generation of Kashmiri Pandits had started unearthing and rediscovering their roots. The targeted killings have derailed their plans. In 1989-90, when the anti-India insurgency was just beginning, several Pandits in Srinagar and other towns in Kashmir were killed by militants. This triggered an exodus of tens of thousands of Pandits from the valley to Jammu and other parts of India.
But after 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 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 about the sea change in the situation in the Valley. Despite protests and demands by Pandit employees, the Centre has decided not to allow their mass transfer or relocation 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 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 bandhs and stone-pelting has stopped, it has not made any difference to Kashmiri Pandits, who again became soft targets. It is important to mention that after 2003, the killing and targeting of Kashmiri Pandits largely stopped because of the engagement and building of social relations between communities.
Let the terrorists and their supporters in Kashmir realise that the annihilation of the Pandit community will mean their own destruction – the community is also a 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.
To quote former Prime Minister IK Gujral: “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 to design a comprehensive, time-bound package for their return and rehabilitation in three smart cities. This should not take more than two to three years to implement.
It would be in the interest 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.