(Stated hereunder is the appeal, originally published on Scroll and reproduced with their permission. It may be clarified that much of the sale of Pandits’ houses happened after the exodus, through Kashmiri Muslim real estate agents who came visiting them in their camps in Jammu and elsewhere.)
A couple of days ago, the pro-Pakistan faction of Hurriyat issued a press statement in which it (once again) opposed the resettlement of the minority Pandit community of Kashmir in composite colonies. The same faction has been consistently opposing such proposals seeking to resettle the internally displaced Pandits in the valley. We are a group of Kashmiri Muslims (and there are many like us) on whose behalf any faction of Hurriyat – which portrays itself as the representative voice of all Kashmiris – does not speak.
We are distressed that the minorities are being treated insensitively by self-styled leaders in the name of secularism. If the separatists really wish to remove their taint of communal intolerance, nothing could be more counter-productive than opposing the return of Pandits. In fact, this obstructionism only provides the definitive confirmation that the “tehreek’” is indeed what it is alleged to be. Through this open letter, we wish to make an appeal to Kashmiris of all denominations, including separatists, to support the resettlement of Pandits and leave the modalities of return for the Pandits to decide.
The fact is, before the start of their exodus in 1989, the Pandit population was already cloistered in certain localities and mohallas in Kashmir. Where 1-3 families used live in a joint household, now they have become 3-9 families. To make the Pandits relocate to their native places means to squeeze them in a suffocating atmosphere, thereby ensuring the quality of life remains dismal for them. The vicious propaganda against the colonies is exposed when we consider that there is no land available in the city, at least not at the scale required to settle the displaced. Any large scale resettlement has to be done though new colonies. This perhaps is the only pragmatic way, considering that mostly Muslims are now occupying – legally and rightfully – the properties that Pandits sold to them.
During the decade that followed 1989, Kashmir witnessed unspeakable violence, the brunt of which was faced by ordinary people who paid with their lives. Under such circumstances, the minorities were left with no option but to flee from their homeland. This was also a time when members of the majority community fell short of assuring the Pandits safety, even as the administration itself proved ineffectual in assuring security to anybody who needed it. 1989-90 is a dark chapter in the history of Kashmir when the entire fabric of the society was torn. If Kashmiriyat ever existed, it died in 1990. We regret that not many of us came to the rescue of Pandits in 1990 because we were also afraid of the gun or were ignorant of their plight. We have witnessed and shared in the suffering that common Kashmiri people went through in these years of incessant armed conflict. As such, we have only empathy for the pain the displaced minority community has suffered.
A shrinking window of opportunity
However, now, 26 years later we, the Kashmiri Muslims, are being offered an opportunity to set things right, and all we have to do is not oppose any resettlement plan of Pandits. No one has the right to dictate anyone’s return to their own home. Pandits are as much Kashmiris as we, the Muslims, are. In any case, the Pandits, being the state subjects, have every right to live in any part of the Jammu and Kashmir state. On the other hand, if this time too the “silent Muslim majority” allows self-styled leaders to speak and act on our behalf, we will be stereotyped in the eyes of the world as intolerant people who not just drove away a religious minority but also resisted their return, thereby adding one more taint on our secular character. In that case, history will never remember our generation in a positive light. Indeed, over this issue of return of Pandits, we, Muslims, have only our own reputation at stake. We must act sensibly and facilitate their return rather than create hindrances.
As for our Pandit friends, they should return to Kashmir – not because they are being welcomed (or not), but because it is their right that no one can take away. Pandits too have a shrinking window of opportunity to return, as the new generations, who never grew up in the valley, exhibit less interest and nostalgia associated with Kashmir. This is a chance to infuse a new life into the Kashmiri Pandit culture that got diluted in the diaspora.
Of course, we would love it if Pandits were to choose to live amongst us with full dignity, as our neighbours, in their erstwhile addresses, like in the days prior to the dawn of the 90s. This indeed is what most of us want. However, we will understand if the Pandits choose to resettle elsewhere – what with their houses having been sold or destroyed, and the situation still being volatile in the valley. We wish for them to settle wherever they feel comfortable – the whole of Kashmir is their home. They are free to settle in separate townships, if that is what will make them feel secure. We will understand that and accept it as a start, hoping someday we will all live together.
- Aamir Ahmad Amin, medical student
- Abid Mushtaq Wani, scholar
- Abrar Mustafa, self-employed
- Arshia Malik, teacher
- Ausifa Munshi, management professional
- Haroon Rashid, doctor
- Ifra, student
- Khalid, student
- Khalid Baig, entrepreneur
- Mushtaq Dar, salesman
- Sabahat Malik, learning and development professional
- Sadaf Munshi, artist and academic
- Safeena Malik, homemaker
- Shabir Magami, assistant professor
- Shafi Wani, doctor
- Shahid Hussain, procurement professional
- Shakir, environmental journalist
- Shamim Qaisar, doctor
- Sualeh Keen, cultural critic
- Yavar Khan Qadri, aviator
- Zainab, doctor
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)