Whose History Is It, Anyway

  • vijay K. Sazawal
  • Publish Date: Apr 1 2016 3:10PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 2 2016 4:41PM
Whose History Is It, Anyway

Pandits and Muslims have both bought into their own myths, and grown far apart as a result


Let me begin by narrating an interesting incident that took place when I was invited to the British parliament last September to speak on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly focus on the valley.

Following my presentation, I was asked by an attendee, the head of the UK Hindu Council, why I insisted on using the term “Kashmiri Pandits” and not “Kashmiri Hindus”. Did I not wish to identify the Pandits with the larger and powerful Hindu diaspora?

In my reply I made two points. First, that there are indeed Kashmiri Hindus, but they are separate from the Pandits. They settled in the valley during Sikh and Dogra rule and are today mostly engaged in commerce; they, in fact, are crucial to getting food and other essential supplies from Indian merchants to people living in the valley. However, these people should not be confused with the indigenous Hindus of the valley, most of whom converted to Islam during the Muslim rule that began in the 14th century, some 700 years after the advent of Islam in Arabia. It's these indigenous Hindus, the creators of Kashmiri language, culture, traditions and history, whom we call Kashmiri Pandits.

Second, and more importantly, only Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee from the valley in 1989-1990, while non-Kashmiri speaking Hindus were spared. In fact, a few among Kashmiri Pandits, who were also involved in major businesses like distribution of tea, petroleum etc., in the valley were shielded by the JKLF, the only insurgent group active then, while the others were made to flee. They were told to pay Jaziya, or protection money, to the JKLF “zone commanders”, which they did. I know this for a fact, from my personal interactions with such people at that time.

Today, both the valley's residents – Kashmiri Muslims – and those who left the valley – Pandits – have moved on, and apart. The residents provide their ritualistic friendly sound bites for “brother” Pandits without offering a single credible confidence building measure – political, economic or social – to facilitate their return. On the other hand, the Pandits, having experienced intellectual and economic liberation wherever in the world they are residing now, paint their forced departure from the valley in the bleakest terms. This chasm will only grow worse over time as the Kashmiri Muslims live in their own bubble of real and imaginary conspiracies and truths – it's a surrealistic world really as American diplomats have described it to me after their visits to the valley.

Zealotry and bigotry from one side beget a similar response from the other, but the Pandits, on the whole, have put their past behind and are making their mark in many fields, including mass media. Twenty five years after leaving Kashmir, the history of the Pandits is being written mostly by the descendants of the people who were forced out rather than by the victims themselves. The distance between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims is widening so fast, I don't believe it will change its course.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission only works if the communities have conflicting narratives but are still living in proximity to each other. But given the ground realities today, such a commission will be a meaningless exercise.

A journalist from the valley recently asked me what I though about Afzal Guru’s hanging, especially the fact that his death anniversary was marked with the same fervor that the Pandits mark January 19 as their “Holocaust Day”. I told him Afzal Guru was an unlucky man. Had he committed any crimes in the valley, or, more specifically, had he killed some Pandits, he would have gone scot-free just like JKLF's senior leaders went unpunished even after publicly admitting to their guilt. Indeed, even today, the Pandits who stayed in Kashmir can identify local Muslims who abetted the Pakistani militants responsible for killing Pandits villagers in Wandhama and Sangrampura, and yet no one has been held accountable so far.

Afzal’s tragedy was that he allegedly waged war against India and not against the minorities in Kashmir. Not unexpectedly, leftist civil society groups in New Delhi, who chose to ignore the plight of the Pandits when they were languishing in refugee camps, were vigorously campaigning for Afzal Guru.

Therein lies the crux of the Pandit conundrum. It's not an Indian government or a “Delhi issue”. It is a J&K government and a valley issue. No government in Delhi, BJP-led or otherwise, can bring justice and healing to the Pandits. It is the people of the valley and their government that have the responsibility and means to do so. But they have steadfastly remained in denial, offering little more than rhetoric.

The Kashmiri political leaders, be it the Abdullahs, Muftis, Geelanis, Maliks or Shahs, are indistinguishable from each other – individually, they're all kind and considerate to subjects who show up at their doors, including Pandits, but collectively, they have offered little, if anything, to promote the return of the Pandits. In fact, the Pandits who stayed in Kashmir and bore the brunt of the insurgency are packing their bags as most political and economic doors are shutting on them. When a civilian government took over again in 1996 after a long spell of Governor’s Rule, there were about 17,000 Pandits in the valley. Now, the number has dwindled to fewer than 4,000.

Of course, this doesn't bother the valley's Muslims much as they are focused on their own future – political, economic or social. That is understandable. So let's move on. Kashmiri Muslims will stay in denial about the Pandits, while Pandit children around the world, not just in India, will increasingly define the history of what happened to their community in a land once called the Paradise on Earth.

(“Dr. Vijay Sazawal, a Srinagar born and raised native, is an eminent nuclear policy analyst living in Washington who advised the U.S. Government on the Indo-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement. Diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks, have disclosed that he is also an advisor to the U.S. Government on the Kashmir issue. He is an active community leader in the Kashmiri diaspora.”)