Kashmiri Pandits Demand A Homeland
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
01 January 1996
The year is 1492. King Ferdinand of Spain has given the Jews of Spain a choice – either convert to Christianity or leave the country. Some 200,000 Jews flee for their lives. Half a world away, in Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) are faring no better. Update of the essay originally written in 1993.
The year is 1492. King Ferdinand of Spain has given the Jews of Spain a choice – either convert to christianity or leave the country. Some 200,000 Jews flee for their lives. Half a world away, in Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) are faring no better. It is 22 years since Budshah Zain-ul-Abdin has died and the throne of Kashmir is passing back and forth between Fateh Shah, Badshah’s grandson and the 12th Sultan of Kashmir, and Muhammed Shah Hamadani, whose family came from Persia and settled in Kashmir about 120 years earlier. Sultan Fateh Shah, like his ancestor Sikandar (6th Sultan), has unleashed tyranny on KP’s, imposed “jiziya tax”, destroyed temples and religious books, and forcibly converted 24,000 KP families to Islam. Some KP families who had returned to Kashmir during Budshah’s reign are forced to flee the valley again.
Time marches on. Five centuries later, King Juan Carlos of Spain “apologizes” to Jews and holds a reconciliation meeting with the Israeli President Chaim Herzog in a synagogue on March 31, 1992. However, for KPs the history has come full circle, and the painful memories of Sikandar and Fateh Shah are brought alive by the rape, torture and death of KPs, resulting in an unprecedented mass exodus of the community from the valley since 1990. On the very day the Jews and Catholics are celebrating their reconciliation in Madrid, in the Nai Sark locality of Srinagar one of the very few KP holdouts in the valley named Shri Mohan Lal Braroo, his wife and daughter are killed by two Muslim militants who rape the two women prior to their murder. Instead of receiving an apology, the community continues to be decimated by the alien forces that have controlled their destiny since 1320 A.D.
Indians, in general, have heen cool to the idea of a secure humeland for KPs, because on the surface it appears to be a solution of convenience, and hence “not right.” To comprehend this idea fully, one has to learn about the slow extinction of KPs and their culture, the realities of the world political situation today, and the geopolitics of the subcontinent. The homeland for KPs mav be the only viable way now to secure a cultural outpost for a community that traces a proud (and well documented) history of 5,000 years as the cradle of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, but today is on throes of extinction.
Journey into Oblivion
Kashmir’s coversion to Islam began with Shah Mir’s regime in 1339. This paradigm, that has been entrenched for 650 years, is unlikely to change drastically even under pressure from the mightiest military and political forces in the subcontinent. Consequently, the KPs have been reduced to a minority in their own land, and today even with “four Indian soldiers for every KP” in the valley, KPs have been tortured, raped, and killed in the valley by the Muslim militants and most KPs have fled in fear, leaving their lands, homes and religious ties behind.
The real tragedy is that it is history repeating itself over and over again. As far back as 1400, there were only eleven KP families left in the valley as a result of Muslim atrocities and forced migration to the rest of India. Apart from a few families returning now and then, particularily during Budshah’s time (1420-1470), the migration of the KPs from the valley has been basically a one way journey into oblivion. Over the last 650 years, the repeated exodus has decimated the ethnic identity of the community, its population and culture. Once having left the valley, KPs have shown little inclination to return mainly because of what they see as insecure life with dwindling economic and political upportunities in a hostile Islamic fundamentalist environment. While it is easy to dismiss such a belief as an over-reaction, the truth is not far behind as borne by repeated waves of forced migration from the valley since the beginning of Islamic rule.
The concept of the KP homeland is the first viable alternative to interrupt this paradigm and hence the most revolutionary KP idea in the last 650 years. The homeland will put KPs on par with other ethnic communities in the subcontinent, who have maintained a historical right and access to their land of origins.
The two neighboring countries outside of India and Pakistan that can influence events in Kashmir are Afganistan and Kazakhstan. Here the unfolding events are a bearer of bad news for the subcontinent, and it is getting worse by the day. Afghanistan has emerged after 14 years of civil war very much like Lebanon. The departure of the Pathan leader Najibullah and his communist structure (Watan Party) has given way to a three way tussle between Uzbeks (led by Turkic-speaking Abdul Dostam), Tajiks (led by Persian-speaking Ahmed Shah Masood) and Pathans (led by Pashtu-speaking Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). At this time, the world spotlight is on Masood and his Jamiat-e-Islami party, but even if he were to emerge as the victor in the United Nations (UN) sponsored political negotiations currently underway, it is unlikely that various ethnic groups in Afghanistan – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pathans, Baluchis, Turks, and Hazaras – will work towards unification. The underlying strategy of Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e-Islami movement is that only Islamic fundamentalism can provide the “political glue” that can bind the nation together. Hence Afghanistan is bound to emerge as a militant Islamic state in the future, if not in the next few months.
Kazakhstan is an Algeria in the making. The President, Nursultan Nazabaev, basically oversees the defunct Communist apparatus, and is personally committed to a secular state. However, the political dissent arising from the economic subservience experienced by Kazakhs at the hands of the ruling class in Kazakhstan, who are people of Russian and German descent. The political aspirations of Kazakhs, already reduced to a minority, are represented by the nationalist movement called Alash which is advocating revival of the Islamic way of life. Nazabaev has quelled Alash and jailed its top leaders, but if western style casinos open in Alma Ata (the capial of Kazakhstan), as planned, the movement is bound to grow in strength. Kazakhistan represents a plum for the Islamic fundamentalist movement, since it is the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons production facilities and ballistic missile launch sites. The latest published figures show that there are 104 ICBMs (with 1040 nuclear warheads) and 40 strategic bombers (with 360 nuclear warheads) based in Kazakhstan.
The sum total of the geopolitical realities today is that Islamic fundamentalism has or will spread to countries that surround Kashmir. It is expected to sweep the valley, which is full of welcome believers, in spite of the efforts by the Indian government to turn the tide and change the course of history. Thus, the prudent thing would be to not only try to contain the Islamic militancy but also to plan for alternative strategies, if the valley is finally overrun by competing political and religious forces Superpower Play
From the halls of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to the back rooms of the United Nations in New York, big powers are urging India and Pakistan to resolve the problem of Kashmir. There is ample evidence pointing to a developing consensus to bring Kashmir back into the world focus which will eventually lead to increasing the number of external (UN or otherwise) observers in the valley. Such a move is bound to give psychological boost to anti-Indian elements, thereby propelling them to champion their agenda with renewed vigor. This chain reaction will lead to increased militancy, subversion, terrorism, abuse of human rights, Islamic fundamentalism, and possibly a nuclear war.
In order to prevent this catastrophe, great emphasis should be placed on the recent writings in the Washington Post and the New York Times on Kashmir reflecting the future direction of the U.S. foreign policy. The solution – which will surely please neither India nor Pakistan – is to split the state, integrating most of Jammu and Ladakh with the Indian Union, and creating a new Indian state consisting of the Kashmir valley along with bordering Muslim pockets in Jammu and Ladakh regions. The line of actual control (LAC) will become the international border, allowing both India and Pakistan to retain sovereignty over the existing portions of Kashmir under their authority. However, both countries would demilitarize the region under the UN supervision and create a porous border to allow Kashmiris free travel between the two areas. The two Kashmirs will be given equal autonomy by both the countries which will be established during negotiation.
The above scenerio may appear far-fetched today but it can happen in the new world order where the United States has emerged as a sole superpower and the UN has taken the role of enforcer. The concerns that must be addressed are: What if it happens? What recourse do KPs have? Where will they end up? Should such a proud community with a 5,000 year old past end up as dinosaurs in the new world order?
Even if India were to eventually succeed in standing up to the world opinion, Kashmiri militants, and Islamic fundamentalism, the KP homeland would still have served its purpose. Recognizing that KPs cannot return to their homes immediately, the homeland will provide a safe haven and a secure zone for KPs to maintain a critical mass and allow continuity in their way of life.
The homeland for KPs is an idea whose time has come and this concept should be given serious consideration by the Indian government and its people.
The idea of the separate homeland is endorsed by most KPs. As Indian citizens, KPs are exercisizing their right to demand safety and security within the Indian Union that has been denied to them for the last 650 years. Recently, the Indian government resumed political dialogue with Kashmiri Muslims (with the release of five Kashmiri political leaders from detention) to understand their aspirations. Time has also come to understand the position of other rightful inhabitants of the Kashmir valley.
KPs have expressed their aspirations for the homeland in a number of meetings held both in India and abroad. For example, on July 14 and 15, 1990 at a two-day international conference held in Jammu, the top intellectual and political leaders of the community made an unanimous demand (named Resolution No 4), the lead paragraph of which states:
“The scattered Kashmiri Hindu minority should be re-organised in a manner that will create a securiy zone with concentrated Hindu population in the valley, so as to accommodate seven lakh Kashmiri Hindus including those who have migrated from Kashmir in the past due to political and economic compulsions and having been deprived of their due share in the affairs of the state especially Kashmir Province.”
On November 14, 1991, at a meeting held by the representatives of the Kashmir Overseas Association, Indo-American Kashmir Forum and Panun Kashmir, a brief was released to the Press which includes the following statement:
“We strongly recommend and ask for the creation of safe areas, security zones on the same pattern as has been done by the United States of America for the Kurds in Iraq. In the security zones the Government shall have to give the displaced Kashmiris their fundamental right to security, honorable living, amd economic and ethnic viability. This may neccessitate constitutional guarantees for the displaced population. we reaffirm our support to the deliberations carried out at the Kashmiri Hindu Convention at Jammu in July 1990.”
In a second convention held in Jammu on December 26, 1991 called Margdarshan-91 that was attended by over 1,000 delegates from India and abroad, the KPs announced the following demands:
- The establisment of a separate homeland for Kashmiri Hindus in the Kashmir Valley, comprising the regions of the valley to the East and North of river Jhelum.
- The consitution of India be made applicable in letter and spirit in this homeland in order to ensure the right to life, liberty, freedom of expression, faith, equality and rule of law.
- The homeland should be placed under central administration with a Union Territory Status until the time that it evolves its own economic and political infrastructure.
- All the seven lakh Kashmiri Hindus, including those who have been driven out of Kashmir in the past and yearn to return to their homeland, and those who were forced to leave on account of the terrorist violence in Kashmir, be settled in the homeland on equitable basis with dignity and honor.
PANUN KASHMIR: A Homeland for Kashmiri Pandits.
The KP homeland will consist of areas north of the Pir Panchal mountains, starting from the Jawahar Tunnel and comprising of portions of the following districts: Anantnag, Baramulla, Srinagar, and Pulwama. The area will be carved out in a manner so that the Indian security forces can maintain control of strategic locations in the event that the Kashmir Valley is demilitarized under an international plan. Equally significant, however, is that historically important Hindu holy shrines and cultural centers in Anantnag, Verinag, Bawan, Mattan, and Amarnath will be saved from destruction and come alive with the chants and fervor of the believers – a key ingredient in alleviating the psychological pain and suffering experienced by the KP refugees today. Once their hearts, home, and hearth are in the proper place, KPs will surmount any problems related to the economic development of the region with confidence as survivors of the holocaust.
The demand for the KP homeland is not only just but also of strategic significance to India as the new world order imposes the final settlement on Kashmir. The KP community has lost its identity and is well on its way to extinction, unless their fate takes a new turn. The idea of the homeland is a monumental step in reversing the historical trends that have continued unabated in the last 650 years. The demand for the homeland is based on the current geopolitical realities both inside and outside of Kashmir and is the only way to save the Hindu people and culture in the valley. It is a basic right of a community to survive as a cultural and cthnic entity, and therefore the demand for a KP homeland should be affirmed by the government that is sworn to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. We can wait no longer.
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.