news Monday, May 04, 2015 - 05:30
On Sunday, as Kashmiri Pandits protested in Jantar Mantar in Delhi, demanding their return to the valley be facilitated, #OurKashmirWeDecide became a trending topic on Twitter The tweets under the hashtag seem to suggest that too few people have a clear understanding of the issue, and that underscores the obfuscation of Kashmiri issues in Indian political discourse today. But then again, 140 characters hardly allow for nuanced analysis.  Many who used the hashtag assumed that there were objections to the return and resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits. But concerns have been raised by Kashmiri Pandits, both inside and outside the valley, about the manner in which this is being debated. In fact the entire debate may well be missing some crucial fundamental issues. Kumar Wanchoo, a Kashmiri Pandit who runs a business in Srinagar and has never left the valley says, that as far as the question of resettlement was concerned, no one was opposed to the idea. “Everybody is on the same page, including the separatists and they all want the Pandits to return. Civil society has decided to talk to the Pandit community, because they are the ultimate stakeholders,” he tells The News Minute.   However, he adds the Pandits had left 25 years ago, and that if the government was serious about facilitating their return, it must ensure infrastructure and economic opportunities. It had been done recently with some measure of success when 1,600 Pandits were resettled and jobs were provided to them. TK Sadhu, who migrated from the valley before the insurgency broke out, has lived in Bengaluru for many years and has even picked up Kannada. For him, both the question of return and the practicalities of resettlement are fraught with uncertainty. “Everybody aspires to go home. But which place can we go to? The place where we used to live (is no longer the same). It is also financially not possible as we have sold our houses. Today, I cannot buy a house in Kashmir even in my dreams,” Sadhu says. Sadhu also says that was important for the government to provide resources for the Pandits. “It is for food that people wander the world. Pehle khaana to hona hai (one needs to feed the stomach first). So many years have passed, now it is difficult to find a place [to resettle so many people], and the other people [who lived there with us]… the atmosphere that was there, is missing now,” he says, hinting at the emotional complexity of going back. Asked about the fears of return expressed by many, Wanchoo drew a parallel with the Punjab militancy, and said: “Let me make it very clear that the majority of Muslims were never responsible [for the exodus]. In Punjab too, Hindus left the state. [Here, in the 1990s] there was fear, [there were many political actors], the gun was there. We were a small minority, so we left.” He felt that the Pandits who had never come back to the valley still carried some measure of the “fear psychosis” they left with. He said that if they came to valley and moved around, they could see for themselves that there were “no problems” in terms of social relations. In a 2011 interview, author Mridu Rai discusses the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in great detail, including social relations since during and after the Dogra rule. She says that today, the views of Pandits who had left the valley appeared to think of “Kashmiri Muslims as a whole as either rabid Islamists themselves or as passive followers of such elements”, owing to their experiences in the valley, and political developments since. One tweet says: "KashmiriHindus history goes back 5000 yrs Way before Islam was even born No Islamist can take my right 2my homeland away #OurKashmirWeDecide" Once again referring to the Sikh militancy, Wanchoo says: “Indira Gandhi was killed by two Sikhs, but all Sikhs were not responsible for her death. Ninety-five percent of Kashmiris want the people to come back. The Pandits who live here are closest to their Muslim neighbours, not to the Pandits. Many political observers feel that the overall atmosphere of debate over Kashmir has been vitiated, and positions hardened in recent times on various issues, especially the question of return and resettlement of the Pandits. “Vested interests have created confusion between the question of resettlement and the homeland,” Wanchoo says, adding that it was “unfortunate” that political and financial interests were “encashing” the situation. Saying that the “tragedy of the migration of Kashmiri Pandits did not end with their leaving the valley”, documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak, who is from Kashmir, added that “various political formations in India” had taken advantage of the situation. “Pandits became the hook on which the Shiv Sena and the BJP hung a major part of their 'nationalist' agenda, and they do so even today. And gestures of concern about them were deployed by the Congress only to try and neutralise the BJP. The net result is that the ‘Pandit issue’ was pushed into a limbo for almost two decades. That’s a whole generation that missed the chance of returning home,” he says.  To Kak, the present tone of the discussion on the issue, which seeks to deny consultation with the people of the valley was an extension of this position. He says: “The idea seems to be to keep the issue boiling, in a divisive and unrealistic way, making any practical, forward-looking steps a virtual impossibility.”   Another tweet says "Those who killed us,burnt our temples n shrines,forced us out of our homes should have no say in our return #OurKashmirWeDecide" For Wanchoo and other Kashmiris, the role of the media too is of great concern. “The perception goes out that (there is a problem). On TV you see people fighting each other. But call the Kashmiri on the street to your studio. Neither you nor I know him. Ask him what he thinks,” he says. (All images courtesy of Yashdeep Garg, Twitter.)
Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.