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Step to moving forward must be to acknowledge Kashmiri Pandit suffering

Author: Aanchal Magazine
Publication: The Indian Express
Date:  February 7, 2020
URL:      https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/kashmiri-pandits-truth-before-reconciliation-6254946/

With heightened polarisation, it’s easy to cite Kashmiri Pandits, either to evoke hatred or to paint them with one brush of Hindutva. But, what have they done in these 30 years? Have they picked up guns? Have they incited violence?

It was the fall of 2018 when after a four-day stay in Srinagar, Kashmir, I, along with my mother, was checking out from the hotel, the hotel manager initiated a conversation with her, asking her to spread a good word about the hotel, and then mentioned the 1990s — when most Kashmiri Pandits were forced out of the Valley.

“I belong to a place near Pahalgam. Us waqt bahut dehshat hui, mere yahaan se bahut ladke us taraf training ke liye gaye. Aur aap logon ko bhi Jagmohan ki wajah se nikalna pada (That time there was fear all around and many from my place crossed the border for arms training. You also had to leave because of Jagmohan),” he said. My mother quietly listening all this while, spoke up, “Haan bahut kuch hua. Par Jagmohan ne humein nahi nikala, jo mosques se humare khilaaf slogans bole gaye, Kashmiri Pandits mein se kuch ko maara gaya, hit lists lagayi gayi, threats diye, isliye humein jaan bachane ke liye bhaagna pada (Yes, a lot happened. But Jagmohan did not force us out, threatening slogans against Kashmiri Pandits were shouted from mosques, some were killed, hit lists were prepared, threats were issued and so we had to flee to save our lives).” “Mistake ho gayi. Nahi hona chahiye tha (That was a mistake. Should not have happened),” he replied after a pause.

The false Jagmohan theory, peddled repeatedly to us over the 30 years of our forced exodus, has always found a way in the narrative against Kashmiri Pandits, even passed on to the generation that wasn’t born at that time .And, Kashmiri Pandits, apart from carrying the burden of the forced exodus, restarting lives from scratch, are also expected to carry the burden of producing proof of what happened with them. The onus then completely falls on the victims, the Kashmiri Pandits, to prove the truth.

Memories and lived experiences are not enough.

In the editorial ‘Exile and return’ (IE, February 4), it was stated, “…the loss of a way of life is central to the imagination of the ‘migrant’ Pandit, as it is for most exiles…the Kashmiri Pandits are left with a heightened consciousness of being a minority in a majority”. The way of life isn’t a figment of imagination, Kashmiri Pandits lived through it. From our own homes in Kashmir to tents in Jammu and cramped rented accommodations ever since. Not everyone has rebuilt a home, some are still working towards it.

Terming the Kashmiri Pandits issue as a political issue or heightened consciousness of being a minority is yet another fallacy. Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave because they were attacked and threatened due to their religious identity, which was a minority. My parents and relatives recount specific slogans were blared from the loudspeakers of mosques there, asking Kashmiri Pandits to “leave, convert or die”, or to announce that only “Nizam-e-Mustafa” will work, or that Kashmiri Pandit men should vacate, leaving behind their womenfolk. The last slogan had forced my aunts to resort to keeping naked wires in close proximity on the night of January 19, 1990 as a possible counter to the threats being carried out. It was definitely not “heightened consciousness”. Nobody leaves their home willingly, not even during earthquakes or other natural calamities.

If Kashmiri Pandits speak their truth, they are then also accused of seeking “revenge”. Celebration of the abrogation of Article 370 by some is termed as “revenge”, while what most of them instead seek is acknowledgement of the true reasons behind their forced exodus (it’s certainly not the Jagmohan theory), justice, no denial of their ethnic cleansing and a safe facilitation of their return to their homeland, Kashmir.

There are questions being raised about proposed separate Pandit colonies. First, the truth of the displacement itself is not acknowledged, and then there are conditions on the way Kashmiri Pandits should return. Are the original homes even available to live? There have been either distress sales or the homes have been burnt or occupied by erstwhile neighbours.

The dignity of our truth would be the first key step in moving towards reconciliation. Our truth can co-exist with all other truths, there is no need to discredit it. The other significant step is to bring to book the ones who committed crimes against Kashmiri Pandits. The conflict industry turned them into messiahs and Gandhian figures over the years. It’s high time that the law of the land is applied against those who are culpable.

With heightened polarisation in the country, it’s easy to cite Kashmiri Pandits, either to evoke hatred or to paint them with one brush of Hindutva. But, what have the Kashmiri Pandits, who were a minority in Kashmir, done in these 30 years? Have they picked up guns? Have they incited violence? Have they physically harmed anyone? Have they burnt buses, schools, cinema halls? The answers to all these questions is “no”. Probably, a lot of lessons need to be learnt from the Kashmiri Pandits by those who try to cite their name to fulfill their own political objectives.

When the hotel manager apologised to my mother, deep down he knew the truth about our exodus, even though first he blamed it on other factors. And, the truth of the exodus is what needs to be accepted and stated clearly, especially by the ones who facilitated the persecution.

Let the collective memories and lived experiences of generations who passed away yearning to return to their “homeland” and another who grew old struggling through these 30 years to rebuild lives from scratch, be honoured and respected. Some Kashmiri Pandits were not even lucky to be left alive to do so.

* This article first appeared in the print edition on February 7, 2020 under the title ‘Truth before reconciliation’. Write to the author at aanchal.magazine@expressindia.com.
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