Standing Tall With The Kashmiri Pandits

Standing Tall With The Kashmiri PanditsA Kashmiri Pandit offers prayers during the annual Hindu festival at the Khirbhawani temple in the village of Tullamulla, east of Srinagar. (TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The Modi government is the only hope for the rehabilitation and restoration of Kashmiri Pandit glory.

    And it has begun well with the arrest of the genocide mastermind Yasin Malik.

Who killed Cock Robin could be an apt literary metaphor for the certain extinction that faces the Kashmiri Pandit community today. If there is one beacon of hope, it is Prime Minister Modi. Certain developments give some indications that if he is re-elected, it will be with a mandate to address the burning issues of the Kashmiri Pandits, specifically, and that of Kashmir generally.

The first noteworthy development which went unnoticed by political analysts is that in 2014, the BJP manifesto had merely stated that it would ‘facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits.’ This time, in 2019, the BJP manifesto states, ‘We will make all efforts to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits.’ This certainly sets the bar for a much higher level of accountability. By contrast, no other State party and even for that matter national parties such as the Congress cared to even mention the Kashmiri Pandit issue.

More interestingly is the much-delayed government action to arrest Yasin Malik and put him on trial in Jammu for cases against him and his murderous organisation, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. In the words of the Union Home Secretary, Rajiv Gauba, on 22 March 2019, ‘Murders of Kashmiri Pandits by JKLF in 1989 triggered their exodus from the Valley. Malik was the mastermind behind the purging of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley and is responsible for their genocide.’ It is good and long overdue that JKLF has been banned for being a terrorist organisation.

On 12 August 2016, Prime Minister Modi stated at an all-party meeting on Jammu and Kashmir, ‘It is also a fact that Kashmiri Pandits have been displaced from their centuries-old ancestral dwellings in Kashmir Valley. Such an atrocity against a particular community is the misdeed of terrorists trained and armed with weapons by Pakistan, and their sympathizers. These can never be the deeds of those who believe in “Kashmiriyat.”’

By 14 April 2019, the PM had upped his ante. In Kathua, he threw out a public challenge, ‘Will Congress ever be able to provide justice to Kashmiri Pandits? It is due to Congress' policies that my Kashmiri Pandit brothers and sisters had to leave their homes? The party and its allies witnessed the atrocities committed against Pandits but they paid no heed,” he said.

He was addressing an election rally in support of Union minister Jitendra Singh who was seeking re-election from Udhampur parliamentary constituency. Modi said that even today, the Congress was reluctant to speak on the issue of Pandits, but “this chowkidar is promise-bound to resettle them on their land. This process has already been started."

This is again a subtle but a strategic shift. Till now, Kashmir-centric policies have been about managing people towards predetermined outcomes through proxies who have commandeered public resources for great personal gains. This has not only alienated the people but also has not yielded the desired outcomes.

Managing processes is what a democratically elected government is mandated to do. These governance processes are the common ones dealing with security, stability and sustainability among others. Processes are housed inside and are driven by institutions. This is what has completely compromised and broken down in Kashmir.

The Prime Minister and his party seem to have identified what change in management process they want to institute. The first step in this process has to be to present it to the key stakeholders so that they can line up behind it. At the very top of this list of stakeholders is clearly the Kashmiri Pandit community. After all, it is their lives, their livelihood, their future that is at stake here.

Who within the community is the right party for the Prime Minister to engage with in a strategic dialogue? After all, as the rhyme Who killed Cock Robin warns us, all have fished in the troubled waters of Kashmir especially when it comes to the Kashmiri Pandits? And Kashmiri Pandits have their share of saints and their sinners, their collaborators and complicit compromisers.

Happily, there is a group that is eminently qualified, ready, willing and able. The Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD) is a worldwide movement of Kashmiri Pandits which has been in existence for the last 10 years. It has interacted with policy makers at the highest level. Reflecting its own process culture, it conducted a grassroots campaign in Summer of 2018 which resulted in 35 organisations, representing virtually the entire community along with 15,000 signatories agreeing to a mandate.

The demands address the community’s core needs in the area of return, rehabilitation and restitution. This mandate was personally presented to Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh, in the Fall of 2018. GKPD has the representative legitimacy to deal with the Government of India on community matters and should be recognised as such.

Its members have a long track record of philanthropic support for the community which gives them credibility to get things done and, therefore, be seen as able to demonstrate their capacity to execute. GKPD’s operating style, based on transparency, contribution and collaboration, has made GKPD a trustworthy brand within the global Kashmiri Pandit community.

With one stroke of recognition of GKPD as representing the one voice, one demand of the community, Prime Minister Modi can signal his intent to get down to serious business.

The next step is to recognise that for the Government of India to negotiate with GKPD as the community’s representatives is the wrong way to proceed forward. Any people-centric approach will also create a people-centric reaction. There will be fierce opposition by those who would want the Kashmiri Pandits to become extinct. Again, it is the process driven framework that is the best practice answer here.

The Kashmiri Pandits situation fits all of the criteria governing Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). That is the framework which has to be customised to the situation here. This framework ensures that the KP issue does not become a political football but is dealt with in a manner that has legitimacy under international law. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when the global community has already come up with best practices dealing with such a tragedy and to which India is an official signatory.

Within the IDP framework, the number one priority is to work jointly on an imaginative confidence-building measure which is focused on rehabilitation measures. These cannot be token handouts which lead to second-class citizen status within J&K state and are not sustainable in the long term. Kashmiri Pandits are not lacking in courage or desire. For example, the news media has today covered the story of Roshanlal Mawa who was hit by four bullets in 1990 while returning to Kashmir.

But his attackers are still at large. In addition to a zero-tolerance policy against terrorists, there has to be a punitive policy against those who are threats to the miniscule Kashmiri Pandit minority in the Valley. This must be the foundation over which other measures can be overlaid. Kashmiri Pandits can be the poster children of a state empowering displaced people through skill training so that they can take their rightful place in society.

Again, GKPD has been running programmes in this sphere with infrastructure in place. The government need only provide the scale-up resources. A point of note is that the first and largest skilling university in India is run by a Kashmiri Pandit activist who can be co-opted in this mission.

The end game of the Kashmiri Pandits is to live in a secure, smart, sustainable area within their homeland in the Valley. A glide path can be formulated with milestones so that there is an understanding on how it will be affected. When this is initiated, then and only then can the Government of India take comfort that it has discharged its responsibility to its citizens in the state. Responsibility carries both components of responsiveness and ability within it. Prime Minister Modi can, therefore, demonstrate that what was lacking to date on both fronts has been rectified suitably.

When this goal is achieved, the Kashmiri Pandits can become stakeholders and partners in solving the Kashmir problem. After all, we have lived with it for 700 years and know the contours and the inside out of it. One way to understand the Kashmir problem is to once again examine the learnings from similar situations.

The most applicable is the famous Stanley Milgram experiments which were conducted at Yale University. The shocking results which defied what expert psychologists expected were that ordinary people would commit violent acts not because they were sadists or evil but because they were loath to disobey an authority figure’s directives.

People follow those who are perceived as having moral or legal authority. This response is ingrained in them in school, in the family and in political groups. Miller’s article on The Perils of Obedience laid out how people will go to any extremity from an autonomous state to an agentic state based on authoritative triggers and commit horrific acts.

What this suggests is that the Indian state has got it completely wrong. The milieu that needs to be created is that the cabal of religious political leaders in the state needs to be severely curbed even as the common man is given more freedom. This will take the oxygen out of the terrorists who today are glorified by Valley society. In a liberal democracy such as India, this has been difficult to execute but a way has to be found which is legal.

The panchayat empowerment initiative is a step in the right direction and no wonder the separatists hate it. Removal of Article 35-A should be an immediate priority. In my article in Swarajya on 14 August 2017 titled, “Explained – How The ‘Article 35-A Lawsuit’ Can Right a Historic Wrong in Jammu and Kashmir” I stated, ‘It will let new leaders with a liberating vision take the place of old Sheikhs, injecting fresh development within the state.’

Finally, the Government of India should examine the merits and demerits of the Kashmiri Pandit community’s desire to take Pakistan to task in international venues for being the key instigator of the genocide of Pandits. Rhetoric by Prime Minister Modi on naming and shaming Pakistan is necessary but not sufficient. While Prime Minister Modi should be commended for his firm stance and eventual success in getting Masood Azhar declared a global terrorist, the difficulties in doing so highlight the challenges in applying the terrorist framework to reform Pakistan. And there will be no shortage of Masood Azhars as history shows.

By contrast, a judgement against Pakistan for aiding and abetting the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits will have teeth and claws to it. The Government of India can cooperate with the Kashmiri Pandit diaspora in providing the information that will nail Pakistan’s complicity. The Government of India has nothing to fear here. It does not violate its dictum that India does not want international interference. It is the civil community which will act.

When one looks at ethnic cleansing data, the genocide conclusion is inescapable. The Kashmiri Pandits were given 48 hours’ notice to leave the Valley. The community was completely cleansed, 450,000 had to flee under enormous duress with loss of life, limb and assets. As many as 1,397 Kashmiri Pandits and other non-Muslims who were killed have been identified to the individual level and more names are being added, a painstaking and painful exercise.

Srinagar was the number one locality but Varahamulla and Anantnag and Kupwara followed in their count. What is shocking is that the number of locations they were killed in which is in the hundreds, demonstrating the reach and spread of the theofascist command and control system that is in place. There were 1,403 Hindu religious places, 975 temples and 428 cremation grounds. Out of these, 347 have been desecrated or destroyed, and 217 dharmshalas destroyed. Others have been taken over or the land encroached. All revenue records have been suppressed or falsified.

The Kashmiri Pandits know their truth. It has served them well and they will never compromise on it. This truth cannot be subverted and is only growing stronger with time as the community spreads its wings around the globe.

Their hand of partnership is extended to Prime Minister Modi to craft win-win outcomes based on robust processes which are instituted by him. A predecessor BJP leader at the very top of the governance hierarchy told me a decade ago in New York, ‘Mr. Kaul, what happens to Kashmiri Pandits will be the litmus test of the idea of India.’

The idea of India should be an inspiring India where every Indian stands tall. As a winner and not a victim.

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