There is no doubt that the limits of suffering and patience of Kashmiri Pandits are breaking.
After a webinar on the Kashmiri Pandit diaspora, a family friend’s daughter got a call from London. She said, “I cried after listening to your three-hour program. Such a big leader, MP, legalist, expert accepted big things very passionately and also suggested some avenues for the future of Kashmiri Pandits. But first my grandfather and then father also used to say such things for twenty years. Tell me when will we Kashmiri Pandit families gather together and celebrate Diwali?” I didn’t have a straight answer. In the conversation, his question further disturbed me as it reminded me that many responsible leaders, jurists and journalists raise the voice of human rights. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, they create a lot of ruckus about killings. Arrest on charges of being terrorists or indulging in Naxalite activities get discussed in Parliament, courts, and media about evidence and human rights. But 30 years ago, the houses of Pandits were burnt down. How many voices have been raised to deliver punishment to those accused of murders, to resettle millions of ruined families? Don’t the Kashmiri Pandits deserve the right to get justice?
There is no doubt that the limits of suffering and patience of Kashmiri Pandits are breaking. The fight for democracy in Kashmir has gone on for a long time. I have been going to Jammu and Kashmir since 1977. In Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi, there have been talks with leaders of various parties, officials, representatives of social organizations and officers of the army or police. Things have changed a lot in the seventies, eighties and nineties. In 1990, Pakistani conspiracy set fire to Jhelum itself. Houses of thousands of Kashmiri Pandit families were burnt, men and women were killed and a large number of people fled to Jammu, Delhi and the country and the world to make arrangements for livelihood like displaced people. In a way, the lives of two generations have changed.
There was a time when it seemed that the power at the Centre was dominated by Kashmiris. People with many surnames like Haksar, Dhar, Kaul, Razdan, Fotedar held important positions. On the other hand, in 1974, when Indira Gandhi released Sheikh Abdullah from jail and handed over the power of Jammu and Kashmir after an agreement, a reception was organized for Sheikh Saheb in Delhi’s Sapru House. I was present there as a correspondent and I remember till now, he made big promises of socio-economic development of Kashmir in a passionate speech. He ruled for about eight years. Then, his son Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah have been in power for years in Jammu and Kashmir and at the Centre. Like him, Mufti Mohammad and Mehbooba Mufti also took power. But instead of Kashmir, the economic progress of these two families and their close people and supporters continued. Terrorist activities increased during the period of Abdullah-Mufti’s power. The conditions for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits were created when Mufti Saheb was the Home Minister at the Centre. During Mehbooba’s chief ministership, apart from corruption, many criminals who supported terrorists due to favoritism were released from jail, due to which not only the state, but the country is also suffering till now.
Please do not take this as a bias of journalists sitting in Delhi or the Narendra Modi government. In the webinar organized by Dr Surendra Kaul sitting in America, Srinagar Mayor Junaid Azim Mattoo in very emotional and in sharp words, blamed the power of those two families for the plight of Kashmir and urged them to save the state from their clutches. In this program, Kashmiri experts, including senior Congress Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Union Minister Dinesh Trivedi, MP jurist Vivek Tankha, agreed that serious efforts would now have to be made on a large scale to resettle Kashmiri Pandits back to the Kashmir Valley. During the last one-and-a-half years during the removal of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and President’s rule, new confidence was created among the people and the process of coming back of Kashmiri Pandit families also started. But in the recent past, with terrorists killing civilians, teachers, and shopkeepers, an atmosphere of fear was created and Pandits’ families again started leaving Srinagar.
In fact, instead of the gradual return of Kashmiri Pandits, the joint efforts and attempts of the private sector with the Central, and state governments to settle more and more Pandit families in the new settlements and in the new buildings built for them on a war-footing, along with security arrangements, seemed to be coming to a naught.
The most surprising thing is that despite such serious incidents, Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are saying talks with Pakistan are the only way to improve the situation in Kashmir. Now the whole world has understood and is accepting that Pakistan’s ISI and Army are doing violent attacks in Kashmir and other areas along with nurturing terrorists. Much evidence has been found of that. Pakistan is openly supporting Taliban, Al Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Haqqani group etc. What can happen in the midst of this open attack? Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have given many messages and efforts of goodwill and friendship in the last few years, but Pakistan’s attitude has not changed. However, for peace and order in Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre may have to take more drastic steps. The condition of Kashmir will improve only when social harmony and security prevail.
The writer is editorial director of ITV group (India News and Aaj Samaj Dainik).