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.
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.