“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

The Kashmir Conundrum

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

14 February 2016

Can Kashmiri Muslims living in the valley handle the truth? That is the challenge faced today by Kashmiri intellectuals, media and civil society who are keen on “levelizing” the human suffering and tragedy that has befallen Kashmir. While there is no question that the tragedy has affected all sections of the society, there should be absolutely no question that a peaceful minority of Kashmiri Pandits have fared the worst. Kashmiri Pandits, aborigines of Kashmir, were terrorized and forced to flee from Kashmiri in 1989-1990 because they were condemned as infidels and yet the majority community in the valley maintains its scrupulous state of denial about its communal culture that continues to resist the return of Pandits today.

Let me begin with an interesting incident in the British Parliament last September where I was invited to speak on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, with particular focus on the valley. Following my presentation, I was asked by an attendee, the head of the U.K. Hindu Council (HCUK) why I insisted on using the term “Kashmiri Pandits” and not “Kashmiri Hindus” in my discourse. Did I not wish to identify Pandits with the larger and powerful Hindu diaspora? In reply I mentioned two points – first, indeed there are Kashmiri Hindus separate from Pandits who settled in the valley during Sikh and Dogra regimes and today are mostly engaged in commerce and in fact serving as a crucial link in providing food supplies and other daily necessities from Indian producers and suppliers to people living in the valley. However, such people should not to be confused with aboriginal Hindus of the valley, most of who converted to Islam during the Muslim rule in Kashmir that began in the 14th Century, nearly 700 years after the advent of Islam in Arab lands. The aboriginal Hindus, the creators of the Kashmiri language, culture, traditions and history are whom we call Kashmiri Pandits. Second, and more importantly, it was almost only Kashmiri Pandits, and not others, who were forced to flee from the valley fearing for their lives in 1989-1990, while non-Kashmiri speaking Hindus, who were engaged in import of essential needs from the rest of India, were spared. In fact, a few among Kashmiri Pandits, who were also involved in big business like valley-wide distribution of tea, petroleum, etc. were shielded by the JKLF (the only insurgent group active then) at the infancy of mayhem in 1989-1990. These business persons were told to pay zajiya (protection money) to JKLF “zone commanders” where they were residing, which they did. I know this for a fact from my personal interactions with such people at that time.

Today, both valley residents (by that I mean Kashmiri Muslims) and those who left the valley (Pandits) have moved on and moved apart. The valley residents express their ritualistic friendly sound bites towards “brother” Pandits without offering a single credible confidence building measure (political, economic or social) to facilitate their return, and Pandits having experienced intellectual and economic liberation wherever in the world they are residing now, paint their historic forced departure from the valley in the bleakest terms. This chasm will grow much worse over time as valley residents live in their own bubble with real and imaginary conspiracies and truths, a surrealistic world as American diplomats have described to me following their regular visits to the valley. Zealotry and bigotry from one side begets a similar response from bitter forcibly displaced individuals, but Pandits on the whole have put their past behind and are beginning to make their mark in many fields, including mass media and mass communications. Twenty-five years later, history is being written mostly by descendants of those who were forced out, rather than by their elders (victims) themselves. The distance between the two communities is diverging so fast that it is impossible for me to believe that it will change its course. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) only works if communities have conflicting narratives but are still living in proximity to each other. Given the ground realities today, TRC will be a meaningless exercise.

A valley journalist recently sked me about Afzal Guru’s hanging, especially given the fact that his death anniversary was marked in the valley with the same fervor that Kashmiri Pandits outside of the valley marked January 19 as their “Holocaust Day.” I told him that Afzal Guru is an unlucky man. Had he committed any crimes in the valley and especially had he killed a few Pandits, he would have gone scot free just as most senior leadership of the JKLF has even after having made public admission of their guilt. Even today, native Pandits who never left the valley can point to local Muslims who abetted Pakistani Mujahideen responsible for killing of Pandit villagers in Wandhama and Sangrampura, and yet no one has been held accountable so far. Afzal’s tragedy is that he allegedly waged war against India and not against minorities in Kashmir. Not unexpectedly, leftist civil society NGO’s in New Delhi, who chose to ignore the plight of Pandits when they were languishing in refugee camps, are vigorously campaigning for Afzal Guru.

And therein lays the crux of the Pandit conundrum. It is not a Government of India or a Delhi issue. It is a J&K Government and a valley issue. No government in New Delhi, BJP led or otherwise, can bring justice and healing to Kashmiri Pandits the way local people and local administration can. It is the people of the valley and their state Government that has responsibility and means to do so, but has steadfastly remained in a state of denial so far offering little more than rhetoric and lip service. Kashmiri leadership, be it Abdullahs, Muftis, Geelanis, Maliks and Shahs, are all indistinguishable from each other – individually they are all kind and considerate to subjects who show up at their doors (including Pandits), but collectively they have offered very little, if anything, to promote the return of Pandits to the valley. The results are unassailable. Kashmiri Pandits who stayed in the valley and bore the brunt of insurgency and violence are finally packing their bags as most political and economic doors are slowly shutting down behind them. When the civilian government returned to the valley following the Governor’s rule in 1996 there were about 17,000 Pandits living in the valley. Today that number has dwindled to fewer than 4,000.

Of course, this means nothing to valley Muslims as their minds and priorities are focused on their own future be it political, economic or social. That is understandable. So let us move on. Kashmiri Muslims will stay in their state of denial about Pandits, and Pandit offspring around the world, not just in India, will increasingly define and shape the history of what happened to their community in a land once called a paradise on earth.

This article appeared in a special 10 March 2016 issue of Kashmir Ink, a monthly publication of the Greater Kashmir, a leading English broadsheet newspaper in Srinagar, Kashmir. It was published on their website with the title, “Whose history is it, anyway”, dated April 1, 2016 Please click here..

About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.

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