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Revisiting the Question of the Kashmiri Pandits

The Battle of the Narratives
Sadaf Munshi

Failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and continued resentment have led to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates between the Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims regarding the exodus of the former and the ensuing violence inicted on the latter. Two parallel narratives have developed over the course of time, leaving a dismal gap between the two communities. The process of reconciliation between them and with the state is a challenge to be dealt with at many levels. A continuation of the discussion following Anuradha Bhasin Jamwals review (EPW, 27 April 2013) of Rahul Panditas book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots.

very year, the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate January 1990 as the beginning of an era of two structurally different, but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the exodus of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror, and the beginning of the brutal atrocities inicted on the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief. There has been abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities, failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and continued resentment. This often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives have developed independently over the course of time on each side, leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be lled over 23 years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and, thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the others pain. The Problem Numerous conicts motivated, inuenced, promoted or characterised by communal or ethnic tension are testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think

Sadaf Munshi (sadafmunshi01@gmail.com) teaches at the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication, University of North Texas.
Economic & Political Weekly EPW

and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conict and KP/KM debate fail to recognise the importance of the degree of inuence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, underemphasise, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side, without assessing the repercussions of such behaviour. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity. The members of the KP and KM communities or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit exodus. One voice consistently maintains that the KPs left as part of the governor Jagmohans conspiracy to clear ground for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate militancy (and involving massacring of the Muslims), and the other suggests that the KPs were driven or hounded out by the majority community as part of a wellorganised, systematic sort of a scripted agenda to get rid of them, with an aim of ethnic cleansing. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the states nefarious designs against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and the other is the claim by some people that the KMs were responsible for the atrocities they received at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (some extremist Pandit groups even use the term holocaust to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community keeps accusing them for leaving their homeland for greener pastures. Both the positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate, and contribute

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vol xlviiI no 35


to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities. There is no doubt that the migration of the KPs was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped on notion of Kashmiriyat (or Kashmiriness). Strong feelings of bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and have crystallised over the last two decades or so. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief was already existing, simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990. Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for freedom in Kashmir, a signicant number of KPs were targeted killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to set an example for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the movement. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reected political or ideological differences, also existed within the KM community itself, viz, on sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shia Muslim community, with the warning of joining the movement or facing the consequences. It is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shia Muslim minority to join hands with the movement. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a threat to the freedom struggle. These included politicians, government ofcials, as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially the National Conference. Given these facts, it is nave to suggest that the majority of the KMs were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection. While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances, as refugees in their own country,

back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side, but neither seemed to take that rst step a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain. The Challenge of Reconciliation In the process of truth-telling, peacemaking and reconciliation, there is no room for but what about or the pehle aap (you rst) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to full its promises to rehabilitate Pandits in their homes, most attempts to return were foiled by unidentied elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses,

their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled by vested interests. It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the Government of India and the security forces of the atrocities inicted on the KMs over all these years. The reason for that being that, although, the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on KMs, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the movement for freedom, but they also did not participate in it. There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels, and this must happen simultaneously. One is the KP-KM reconciliation, and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue, whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.


China after 1978: Craters on the Moon

The breathtakingly rapid economic growth in China since 1978 has attracted world-wide attention. But the condition of more than 350 million workers is abysmal, especially that of the migrants among them. Why do the migrants put up with so much hardship in the urban factories? Has post-reform China forsaken the earlier goal of socialist equality? What has been the contribution of rural industries to regional development, alleviation of poverty and spatial inequality, and in relieving the grim employment situation? How has the meltdown in the global economy in the second half of 2008 affected the domestic economy? What of the current leaderships call for a harmonious society? Does it signal an important course correction? A collection of essays from the Economic & Political Weekly seeks to find tentative answers to these questions, and more.

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ISBN 978-81-250-3953-2


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august 31, 2013 vol xlviiI no 35
EPW Economic & Political Weekly