Friday, May 16, 2014

Politicizing the Plight of Kashmiri Pundits Ram Puniyani

Politicizing the Plight of Kashmiri Pundits


Ram Puniyani



Politics is a strange game where no holds are barred for electoral advantages. It also expresses, to some extent, the political ideology of those playing these games in addition to the distortion of events, which are done deliberately. Interpretation of the very same events is diametrically different for different political groups. The sad plight of Kashmiri Pundits exodus is no exception to this.


During his election campaign the BJP leader Narendra Modi has been making several statements which at one level are factually inaccurate and at another level they have communal interpretation through and through. He stated that biggest blow to secular fabric of India was delivered from Kashmir from where Kashmiri Pundits were forced out and that Abdullah's (Sheikh Abdulla, Farooq and Omar) were behind it. (28th April 2014) In response Farooq and Omar shot back that exodus of Pandits took place under the Presidents rule with Jagmohan, a BJP hand, as the Governor of Kashmir. That time it was the V.P.Singh Government at Center and this Government was being supported by BJP from outside. While all three Addullah's  are not the same, nor is their role a continuum nor all of them secular angels the tragedy of exodus of Pundits is much more complex than being attributed to them. The role which each of the Abdulla's played cannot be put in the same basket.



As such communalism has been the great bane of the subcontinent and its biggest and most tragic expression was the partition of India in which millions were butchered and a larger number migrated to both sides of the border. Apart from these migrations which took place, forcing people to far off lands, there are local migrations also, which follow the communal violence of mass scale like the one in Mumbai 1992-93 or Gujarat 2002 where the people left their homes, where they were living for decades and had to shift to the other parts of the same city leading to formation of ghettoes, Mumbra in Mumbai and Juhapura in Ahmadabad being two major ones'.



The roots of exodus of Kashmiri Pundits lies in the aftermath of the partition, the decision of Maharaja of Kashmir to remain independent, the attack of Kabayilis, Tribal, from Pakistan and the Sheikh Abdullah's strong stance to accede with India and not with Pakistan. This decision was not on religious considerations but was with the hope that in India secularism will flourish with leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. With murder of Gandhi by communal forces and the pressure of communal forces to forcibly abolish article 370, the autonomy of Kashmir started being questioned. Just to recall Article 370 was the basis of accession of Kashmir to India. This Article gave to autonomy to Kashmir Assembly in most matters barring defense, communication, currency and external affairs. With the opposition to this clause and demand for forcible merger of Kashmir to India by communal forces, the Sheikh started feeling jittery. He started reconsidering his decision of accession to India, leading to his arrest and starting of process of alienation in Kashmir. This process of alienation led to militancy in due course and with the encouragement from Pakistan took on dangerous proportions. Still this militancy was centered on the concept of Kashmiriyat. Kashmiriyat is synthesis of Buddhism, Vedanta and Sufi traditions. After the hanging of Maqbool Butt in 1985 and the entry of Al Qaeda type elements in Kashmir in the aftermath of Afghan war, this militancy got transformed to being communal. The result was that the Hindus, Pundits, started being targeted badly.



Even before1990, the first major exodus of Pundits took place after the partition riots and partly due to land reforms introduced by Sheikh Abdullah. Incidentally the Hindu population in Kashmir had gone through a very complex history of conversion to Buddhism and later to Islam through Sufi saints. The Hindus started being referred to as Pundits from 15th Century onwards. This happened after Akbar won over Kashmir and employed the Hindus in his administration. He was impressed by their qualities and conferred the title Pundit on them.     



The process of latest exodus begins with communalization of the militancy, a transition from Kashmiriyat to Islamism. One version a la Modi says that Kashmiri Pandits were driven from Kashmir valley by the Muslim militants and this was a planned move by the Muslim majority Kashmir. The Muslim majority was totally opposed to the harassment of Pundits.


In this militancy while Hindus were targeted in a big way, even Muslims were not spared. We will have a look at the figures of the casualties and destruction of property in Kashmir by the militants. Thousands of Muslims from different parts of the Kashmir valley also had to migrate to the neighboring Himachal Pradesh in search of employment. Over 40.000 Muslims from Kashmir also live in a refugee camp in New Delhi. They have also taken to various jobs like coolies etc in neighboring states. One of the Times of India report (5th Feb.1992) based on official figures reported that militants killed 1585 men and women, including 982 Muslims, 218 Hindus, 23 Sikhs and 363 security personnel between January 1990 and October 1992.



The wholesale migration of Pundits from the valley was a big blow to the traditions of the valley. The damage by militants was to both the communities and not to Hindus alone. The Pundits were intimidated much more and had considered migration first in 1986 but this decision was held in abeyance due to the appeals of a goodwill mission, which was constituted by reputed Kashmiris, steeped in plural culture. As we saw in 1990 the militancy was stepped up. This time around Mr. Jag Mohan, who later became a minister in BJP led NDA Government, was the Governor of Kashmir. Balraj Puri in his book Kashmir (Orient Blackswan, 1993) points out that Jagmohan  ensured dissolution of the goodwill mission to Pundits by pressurizing one of the Pandit members of the team to migrate to Jammu (Puri, 2000, 65).


Balraj Puri in March 1990 stated " I found no hostility among common Muslims in Kashmir against Pundits, and that allegations of gross violations of Human rights by security forces needs to be investigated"(Puri, 2000, 66). At that time Hindu Communal forces took it upon themselves to spread fear amongst Pundits, "Much disinformation is being spread in Jammu and Delhi that scores of Hindu temples and the shrines have been desecrated or destroyed in Kashmir. This is completely untrue and it is baffling that the Government has not thought it fit to ask Doordarshan to do a program on mandirs in Kashmir just to reassure people that they remain unharmed."(Press Council of India, 1991)



All things considered the problem of Pundits migration is unfortunate outcome of the alienation of Kashmiri people resulting in militancy, communalization of militancy in late 1990s, Hindu communalist outfits' baseless spreading of fear psychosis and pressure of Governor Jag Mohan and not due to the Hindu-Muslim hostility, not due to Abdullah's.


 Poet Kalhan of Kashmir, in his classic Rajtarangini writes that it is only through punya (noble deedsand not force that Kashmir can be won over. We need to remind ourselves of this profound wisdom of Kalhan while making policies about Kashmir. Rather than putting the blame on one political stream. The role of global politics, the historical baggage of partition and post partition problems, the role of global terrorism propped up by US policy of control over oil resources; its influence on militancy in Kashmir and the role of communal forces in spreading fear also need to be kept in mind while commenting on this tragedy of mammoth proportions.


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