Human Security for Kashmiri Pandits
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
21 April 2004
The author was approached by certain Kashmiri Muslim participants attending the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva on April 8, 2004 seeking his views regarding the return of displaced Kashmiri Pandits for publication in an English periodical published in Srinagar. The following is an abbreviated version of the paper provided to the publisher.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley. There is practically a daily call made on this emotional subject by either the Chief Minister or one of his cabinet ministers or senior party workers. Even those “leaders” representing separatist views or espousing the cause of insurgents have joined in this chorus. The common theme is, “Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits.” There have been other overtures, including offers of meetings, etc. Even the Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Developmental Studies (KFPDS) has joined in the effort, initiating a dialogue of reconciliation between various communities, including Pandits in the valley. The State government has secured funds from the Central government to build three “satellite localities” in Kashmir to accommodate returning Kashmiri Pandits and there are promises of jobs and other handouts in the offing.
But will it work? Will Kashmiri Pandits’ return given various sops that the State government has in mind and based on public goodwill expressed by valley Muslims in recent days? Does it matter if whether Pandits return or not? For Kashmiri Pandits, the answer is obvious. They are the children of the soil of Kashmir whose history and linkage to the valley is as old as when the first Pharaohs ruled Egypt. Kashmiri Pandit is as indigenous to Kashmir as its language or its traditional wear, both of which were the creation of Kashmiri Pandits. So to a Pandit, it means everything to be able to reclaim his identity by returning home. Therefore, a more pertinent question is: “Does it matter to Kashmiri Muslims if Pandits are back in the valley or not?” That is because mere gestures or simple declarations of goodwill are not sufficient to convince Pandits to return to the valley any more. The State government may be able to achieve some token successes, but the reality is that the Muslim majority in the valley (whether in the government, outside of the government or against the government) has yet to fully comprehend the real issues involved in the return of Pandits.
The core issues for Pandits are Human Rights and Personal Security. By Human Rights we mean a range of institutional rights including political rights, civil rights and religious rights. By Personal Security we not only mean physical security, but also economic security and cultural security. Taken together, the United Nations (UN) has recognized a new term – “Human Security” – as a collective right of minorities that have suffered to the point of being forced out of their lands.
How does one provide “Human Security” for Kashmiri Pandits? I offer the “Kofi Annan Formula,” derived from the speech that the UN Secretary General gave at the 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on 7 April 2004. Mr. Annan proposed the following approach to the distinguished gathering in the Palais des Nations to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. The link to Kashmir may not be obvious until one objectively realizes that what happened to Pandits over a decade ago came pretty close. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in a ruling on 11 June 1999 stated that, “Against the stern definition of the Genocide Convention, the Commission is constrained to observe that while acts akin to genocide have occurred with respect to Kashmiri Pandits and that, indeed, in the minds and utterances of some of the militants a genocide-type design may exist, the crimes against the Kashmiri Pandits are near-Genocide and not Genocide.” From the perspective of Kashmiri Pandits, the causes of their trauma – the collective failure of federal authorities, state institutions and the local civil society – created a Rwanda-like situation and hence the solution to the problem need to be addressed in the same vein. In the speech on 7 April 2004 the UN Secretary General said, “Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide.”
In his speech, Mr. Kofi Annan emphasized that before proposing solutions, one must first address and acknowledge the problem. The problem in the case of Kashmiri Pandits is that in spite of the NHRC declarations and continuing uncertainty about their future as a distinct cultural identity, the majority community in the valley has yet to come to grips with realities that led to victimization and subsequent forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989 and 1990. A similar issue came up recently in the Oslo peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels on Jaffna. The outcome was that the Tamil leadership, seeking autonomy from Colombo authorities, recognized that Muslim minority in Jaffna had been victimized without any reason by Tamil insurgents and publicly apologized to the minority Muslim community. While the Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies (KFPDS) has done a yeoman’s job in initiating a dialogue of reconciliation that touches on this sensitive issue, a true closure will not occur until all important valley leaders, regardless of their party affiliation or political inclinations, show sincerity in recognizing the origins of pain and wounds inflicted on Kashmiri Pandits.
After the problem is recognized, the UN Secretary General advocates a 5-step approach to prevent recurrences in the future.
First, prevent armed conflict because the first (and frequent) victims are minorities. In Kashmir this is easier said than done, but most constituents of Jammu and Kashmir today do believe that armed conflict or “proxy war” has brought nothing but misery and made separation from India even more remote than ever. However, armed Mujahideen from pan-Islamic groups like LeT or JeM and even HM still roam in Kashmir with impunity, resorting to senseless violence which invariably leads to excessive use of force by security forces causing more violence among civilians caught in the middle. This vicious cycle of action and reaction will not stop until the last armed Islamic mercenary in the valley is driven out or killed. Preventing the armed conflict means seeking remedies through peaceful dialogue, recognizing the rights of all and for each stakeholder to publicly rebuke armed insurgents and assist civilian and military authorities by reporting on these two legged killing machines. Mr. Annan mentioned that the dialogue should attack the roots of violence: hatred, intolerance, religious bigotry, tyranny and the dehumanizing public discourse that denies minorities their dignity and rights.
Second, protect civilians in armed conflict as more and more conflicts affect civilians, including women and children, who become easy targets of violence and rape. Let us recall atrocities committed against numerous Kashmiri Pandit women, including Ms. Sarla Bhat from Qazi Mohalla in Anantnag, who working as a nurse in the Soura Medical Institute, when she was abducted from the Institute on 19th April 1990 by the JKLF who repeatedly gang raped her and eventually killed her on 25 April 1990; Mrs. Girja Tikoo from Bandipur who worked as a teacher in the Girls High School in Trehgam, Kupwara, was abducted, raped and eventually shred to pieces by a saw mill on 4 June 1990; and Mrs. Bimla Braroo from Nai Sarak locality of Srinagar, who along with her daughter, Archana, was raped in front of her husband Sohanlal before all three were killed on 31 March 1992. After Pandits were driven out of the valley, the insurgents (including foreign Jihadis) became violent with Kashmiri Muslim women and there are also cases where civilians have reported violence and rape of Kashmiri women by the security forces. Mr. Annan said that one could no longer afford to be blind to this grim dynamic. Nor should we imagine that appeals of morality or compassion would have much effect on those who are using a deliberate policy of violence to kill or forcibly expel civilians. Indeed, Mr. Annan advocated that under such conditions where insurgents resort to violence against civilians, security forces must be deployed to “defend the mandate of the civil society.” Focusing on Kashmir, it is the duty of every constituent to condemn violence on civilians from all quarters and not take a convenient cover to simply accuse security forces but ignore atrocities and terrorism committed by insurgents. In a report distributed by the Norwegian Refugee Council at the 60th Session of the UN Human Rights Commission, the Council declared that all Kashmiri Pandits who had to leave Kashmir from 1989 (numbering 350,000) are internally displaced people (IDP) and among the growing global family of victims driven out of their neighborhoods by violence.
Third, end impunity. We must hold terrorists accountable; otherwise there is little hope of preventing future violence and reassuring those who live in fear of its recurrence. The fault for ignoring this crucial step rests with state and central governments who have remained silent on prosecution of those terrorists who have publicly admitted to killing of Kashmiri Pandits and committed other heinous crimes. For example, former JKLF militant Farooq Ahmad Dar (“Bitta Karate”) publicly admitted on TV news service a few years back that he had killed numerous Pandits. Similarly, Javed Mir, was recorded on the videotape in 2002 at the Srinagar JKLF office admitting that JKLF assassinated Kashmiri Pandits in the early days of insurgency. Mr. Mir’s wish that “these are past events and now JKLF espouses non-violent struggle for freedom” cannot shield the guilty from being held accountable for the murder of hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-1990. It is a travesty of justice when even the civil society stands silent to such heinous crimes and offenses.
Fourth, recognize early and clear warnings about the impending disaster. In the words of the UN Secretary General, “If we are serious about preventing or stopping genocide in future, we must not be held back by legalistic arguments about whether a particular atrocity meets the definition of genocide or not. By the time we are certain, it may be often too late to act. We must recognize the signs of approaching or possible genocide, so that we can act in time to avert it. Here, civil society can play a vital role.”
It is my personal belief that killings and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits could have been prevented if the state and central governments would have had strong political leadership in the late 1980’s and the civil society groups in Kashmir would have drawn attention to the impending catastrophe. Unfortunately, the political vacuum created by the rule of the “absentee chief minister” who showed greater interest in taking film stars on motor bicycle rides than running the state, concurrently with a prime minister who was under the spell of mischievous “god-men” in New Delhi, meant that things were meant to take their own course without any correction from powers that be. That is why it is extremely important to assure the minority community that such a disaster will not be repeated in the future. Kashmir Pandits want a Commission to look into factors that led to their exodus and recommend political, institutional and administrative changes necessary at the local level to prevent such a disaster in the future. The majority community should support Pandits in determining the truth especially since many in the majority community have their own (diverse) views on what led Pandits to leave.
Fifth, swift and decisive action needs to be taken to prevent such disasters in the future. We have seen entire Pandit families wiped out from small villages and hamlets in places like Sangrampur, Gool, Wandhama, Prankote and Nadimarg. Too often, collateral economic benefits to remaining villagers exacerbate such disasters. The State government has aggravated the situation by excluding the cost of the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits from the State budget, placing the entire burden on the central government. This action clearly makes it difficult for Pandits to re-integrate into the State economy. Similarly, in spite of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) during the tenure of Dr. Tahir Mahmood as its Chairman in 1999 advocating a minority status for Kashmiri Pandits in J&K, the past and present State governments have steadfastly refused to grant such a status to Pandits. In this effort, the civil society in Kashmir could help, but like other state institutions, has chosen to remain silent.
Mr. Annan’s speech concluded with a hope for a better tomorrow for Rwandans and for victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide everywhere. In Kashmir, there are signs of growing optimism that the worst may be over. The peace process initiated by India and Pakistan, as well as people’s enthusiastic participation in free and democratic elections, coupled with talks between separatists and New Delhi, is bringing new hope to the despondent people of the State caught between armed and violent insurgents on one side and the overbearing might of the security forces on the other.
But will this growing optimism and peace create the right conditions for Pandits to return? Applying the recommendations made by the UN Secretary General are necessary, but may not be sufficient, to achieve the desired objective. The reason is that many in the majority community, especially young people who know very little about Kashmir’s pluralistic history or even some veterans who tend have a superficial view of events, are convinced that Kashmiri Pandits have no national identity other than what emanates from New Delhi. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, the very fact that valley Hindus have firmly held on to their distinct label is a testament to their determination to maintain their distinct identity firmed rooted in Kashmir. But more importantly, whenever Kashmiri Pandits had a share in the political power structure, they used it to the betterment of the locals who are predominantly Muslims. Let us not forget that “Kashmir for Kashmiris” movement was started by a Kashmiri Pandit in 1927, the momentous J&K land reform in 1951 was organized and implemented by a Kashmiri Pandit, and even the legal and political paperwork for granting additional autonomy to the State was prepared a few years back by a Kashmiri Pandit. The point to be made is that if and when Kashmiri Pandits have been stakeholders in Kashmir’s future, their local identity has always triumphed over trans-national interests. This, in fact, is contrary to the trends seen in the majority community, where many (though not all) have steadily shunned their local culture in favor of Arabic culture and customs. This trend began distinctly in 1975 and has grown steadily, affecting everything from the names of dishes in the wazawan to architecture of newly built mosques to the dress code and emerging social habits of Kashmiri Muslims.
There is ample proof to show that the times have changed in Kashmir. There was a time when perhaps the goodwill of the majority community was sufficient to assure Pandits of their security and freedoms. In today’s time, the human security of Kashmiri Pandits will require more on the part of the majority community. In today’s world, human security is linked to economic power that is intricately linked to political power. So Kashmiri Muslims should recognize and be ready to share some economic and political power with the minority community. Since Kashmiris tend to put a lot of faith in the United Nations (UN) decisions, they would be interested in knowing how the UN tried to define power sharing between Muslims and Christians in Cyprus a few years back. While the exact modalities were intricate and took many years to develop, the basic premise in the UN approach was that when one community is dominant and overwhelming in its size, the power sharing in proportion to their population will not assure “critical mass” for the minority community. In other words, the minority community will begin to disappear since there are not enough economic and political incentives for them to stay and thrive for generations to come. This is precisely what happened in Kashmir, where Pandits dwindled from 14% in 1947 to fewer than 5% in 1989 to less than 1% today. The UN formula for defining “critical mass” for power sharing was complex, but for the Cypriot minority (Muslims) that figure was close to 30% even though Cypriot Muslims are under 15% in population The UN has recommended in a prior plan that the minority Cypriot community share of the political power should be about 30% to restore confidence, bring economic security and assure long-term viability of the minority on that island. Kashmiri Muslims need to understand that the rights of minorities form a major component of the global human development and they need to reassess their own approach to the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley. They will have to agree to the devolution of power that will grant Pandits political and economic rights that far exceed their current 1% population. In fact a power sharing in the proportion of 25% to 30% may be necessary to allow Pandits to re-establish their “critical mass” in the valley.
In summary, many factors are involved in the return of Kashmiri Pandits. Going beyond the goodwill of the majority community, a change in the ground situation coupled with a change in the mind-set of the majority community is necessary to start the process. But in the end, the human security for Kashmiri Pandits will require the majority community to share political and economic powers with the minority community in the valley. The power sharing cannot be established on the basis of population fractions, but on the basis of what it will take for the minority community to maintain its critical mass in the valley, so that it too can grow in numbers and firmly establish its stake into the future of Kashmir.
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.