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A home away from home; Kashmiri Pandits and the question of Homeland

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By Ishan Kukreti

In the game of Indian politics, the issue of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) is like a football being kicked around. BJP bet its money on the Pandits to win elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The call for ‘Homeland’ is raised every now and then to induce a pan national sympathy wave in the country. Those who have ‘migrated’ live a life filled with bitter-sweet memories, cradling a faint hope of someday walking the streets again that they used to roam as kids.

 

The curtain rises

Kashmir, a region that had so boldly refused Jinnah and his two nation theory, had a school of Islam, Sufism, followed by the radicalization of both Hindus and Muslims post USSR break up. However, the real reason, which turned Kashmir into a field of open graves, remains buried in that time and place.

The events that followed the elections of 1987 and the entry of Pakistani and Afghan militants into the scene in its aftermath are not new stories to tell. It all ended with the exodus of a community from their land, their home.

‘The Kashmiri Pandit had to leave when his neighbor told him that he could not protect him anymore.’ Rahul Jalali, a journalist and a KP himself told NewsGram. Rahul was reporting Kashmir in ’91 but had to escape after an attempt on his life. Two years later his house was bombed. Nothing remains of his childhood there, all the memories are just in his head and they only get as tangible as dreams.

Many who left, like him managed to survive by the skin of their teeth. Many, like Lassa Kaul, the director of Doordarshan in Srinagar, were not so lucky.

 

A bag full of stones

Meanwhile the game continues. The talks of creating ‘composite townships’ have been shot down by CM Mufti on the grounds of diversity. Separatist leader Yasin Malik has appealed to KPs to come back. In the match between Rajnath Singh, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Yasin Malik and the like, the Kashmiri Pandit is standing on the sideline, burdened with promises.

‘ Our houses were taken. There were brokers who sold them at nominal rates. Why didn’t Yasin Malik tell them then to not sell our houses, tell them that we have to come back? Can they give me my home back? Can I go back and say that this is my land, please give it back to me? I think that is not possible.’ a highly agitated Bihari Kak, once the owner of famous Kak Opticals in Srinagar said over the phone.

He says he wants to go back to his motherland. But even if he is given his land back, he can’t just go there and live. Employment opportunity and a means to earn a living are things conspicuous by their absence in Kashmir and Kak Opticals do not exist anymore.

 

A fire and some lost bangles

Moreover, fear of a resurgence of militancy can’t be denied. Having lived in terror, those who have somehow managed to start a new life in other places don’t want their children to live the same way.

‘ There is no fear. But at the same time there is a doubt, what if it happens again? You see the stone pelting is happening again. That’s how it was then, throw a stone and kill them. If there was a match, somebody was killed. Match lost, kill them, match won, kill them. That was the attitude. We dont want our children to live in this kind of atmosphere.’ Kak’s loss is overwhelming. The day their house was burnt, his 11 year old daughter cried the whole night for the bangles she had lost in the fire.

 

So, where do we go from here?

‘The only way to solve the issue of Kashmiri Pandits is a reconciliation along the lines of South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Without taking into account the basic human relations, no amount of governmental, political or any other kind of resolution can solve this problem.’ says Rahul Jalali.

A purge of all the negative emotions from the people is required to mend the damage. Till the time aggressor and the aggrieved don’t agree mutually to put this behind them and move on, not much can be achieved on the rehabilitation and ‘Homeland’ front.

 

Postscript

Rahul recounts an incident on a Jammu matador bus that gives the ground reality in the state.

‘ A Kashmiri Muslim family and Pandit were sitting together on the seat behind me. Given the size of these mini buses I could overhear them talking. And what they were talking about wasn’t the things said on Prime Time. They were recounting tales of personal loss. The Pandit had to leave his house and stay in camps and the Muslim had lost his father to the bullets of security forces. The two communities divided in history had found reconciliation in a little bus of Jammu.’

The story of Kashmir is one where people on both sides have lost and are no better than the other, one is destroyed by leaving Kashmir and the other by staying.

 

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World’s Anti-Corruption Day

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges "to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide."

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Anti-Corruption
Bulgarian anti-corruption protesters march during a demonstration in downtown Sofia, VOA

Corruption costs the world economy $2.6 trillion each year, according to the United Nations, which is marking International Anti-Corruption Day on Sunday.

“Corruption is a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies. No country, region or community is immune,” the United Nations said.

The cost of $2.6 trillion represents more than 5 percent of global GDP.

The world body said that $1 trillion of the money stolen annually through corruption is in the form of bribes.

Patricia Moreira, the managing director of Transparency International, told VOA that about a quarter of the world’s population has paid a bribe when trying to access a public service over the past year, according to data from the Global Corruption Barometer.

Moreira said it is important to have such a day as International Anti-Corruption Day because it provides “a really tremendous opportunity to focus attention precisely on the challenge that is posed by corruption around the world.”

Journalist, Anti-Corruption
An activist places candles and flowers on the Great Siege monument, after rebuilding a makeshift memorial to assassinated anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta. VOA

Anti-corruption commitments

To mark the day, the United States called on all countries to implement their international anti-corruption commitments including through the U.N. Convention against Corruption.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said that corruption facilitates crime and terrorism, as well as undermines economic growth, the rule of law and democracy.

“Ultimately, it endangers our national security. That is why, as we look ahead to International Anticorruption Day on Dec. 9, we pledge to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide,” the statement said.

Moreira said that data about worldwide corruption can make the phenomena understandable but still not necessarily “close to our lives.” For that, we need to hear everyday stories about people impacted by corruption and understand that it “is about our daily lives,” she added.

She said those most impacted by corruption are “the most vulnerable people — so it’s usually women, it’s usually poor people, the most marginalized people in the world.”

Anti-Corruption
Anna Hazare raised his voice against corruption and went ahead with his hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Development Program notes that in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.

What can be done to fight corruption?

The United Nations designated Dec. 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003, coinciding with the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption by the U.N. General Assembly.

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about corruption and put pressure on governments to take action against it.

Tackling the issue

Moreira said to fight corruption effectively it must be tackled from different angles. For example, she said that while it is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption, governments must also have mechanisms to enforce that legislation. She said those who engage in corruption must be held accountable.

“Fighting corruption is about providing people with a more sustainable world, with a world where social justice is something more of our reality than what it has been until today,” she said.

Anti-Corruption
It is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption

Moreira said change must come from a joint effort from governments, public institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges “to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide.”

It noted that the United States, through the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, helps partner nations “build transparent, accountable institutions and strengthen criminal justice systems that hold the corrupt accountable.”

Also Read: British Parliament Access Internal Facebook Data Scandal Papers: Report

Moreira said that it is important for the world to see that there are results to the fight against corruption.

“Then we are showing the world with specific examples that we can fight against corruption, [that] yes there are results. And if we work together, then it is something not just that we would wish for, but actually something that can be translated into specific results and changes to the world,” she said. (VOA)