Privilege as right
A few years back, in one of those incessant talkshops which keep circling over Kashmir, swooping down to snatch away any space we might have created for a fresh conversation, a Kashmiri Pandit gentleman told the gathering an extraordinary story of torment he had faced at the hands of his Muslim neighbours.
The composition of the gathering decrees a mention: There were about thirty people, Kashmir Pandits and Muslims in an equal ratio, with one or two Indian Brahmins—organisers of the conference. The gathering was to discuss “The Pandit issue”. Only two among the Pandits were less than 40 years of age, one’s family had migrated, while the other’s had stayed back. Only three among the Muslims were above 40, one of them a woman. The only other women in the room were another Kashmiri Muslim and the chief organiser, an Indian Brahmin. Such composition was not by accident, I had learnt over the years. It was a carefully stacked deck, arranged to produce the desired results. The only variable was “the human factor”: A tendency among women and men not to keep to a script, to attempt a fresh perspective. That is when notepads came out of leather bags and there was furious scribbling by the organisers. The next time you heard that refreshing argument, there was a counter-argument ready, from a new card on the deck. Else you would never hear that argument again because the card making it had been removed.
The oldest Muslim gentleman said he had never heard the term Kashmiriyat before Indian armed forces started using it in their press statements in the early 1990s.
We sat around a round table with really large eccentricity. (There should be a ruling that only tables with eccentricity less than 0.5 can be passed off as round tables.) The Pandit gentlemen, with their sober coats and grey hair, kept shaking their heads as the generally younger Kashmiri men and women in bright-coloured jackets and windcheaters spoke, in the words of one of Pandit gentleman, “irreverently”. One Pandit gentleman spoke of “Kashmiriyat” and how everything was hunky-dory before 1990. The oldest Muslim gentleman said he had never heard the term Kashmiriyat before Indian armed forces started using it in their press statements in the early 1990s. The young Pandit whose family had never migrated spoke about how his Muslim friends would joke that one day or the other they would circumcise him. Everybody sniggered. Another Pandit who had stayed back in Kashmir reprimanded the gathering for trivialising such a serious issue. There was much haggling over “technical” issues. Was the slogan, “Kasheer banne Pakistaan, battav russ te batnev saan” (Kashmir will become Pakistan, sans Pandit men but with Pandit women) really a popular one, used in public, or was it a private fantasy of some? Did another slogan contain the word “Jabiro” (aggressors) or “Kafiro” (infidels)? Were Kashmiri Pandits a “community”, a class or a caste? A young Muslim academic asked, “So, if you were, and are, a community, and you return, will some of you be willing to work as butchers and barbers?” That angered some of the Pandit gentlemen.
Slowly, a consensus started to develop that the Pandit migration was an anomaly, an inexplicable and sudden turn of events which had caught everybody unawares. That is when another young Muslim academic intervened and presented the history of Kashmir’s struggle for freedom from the Indian yoke in great detail, highlighting the roles, both positive and negative, various Kashmiri interest groups, including exclusively Muslim and Pandit factions as well as mixed formations, mostly left-wing, had played in it. The mood of the gathering changed and people started to talk about historical grievances and differences. This riled a few Pandit gentlemen. One suddenly raised his voice and said, “It is true that everything did not change all of a sudden in 1990. There were clear signs before that as well. In my area, we were being discriminated against by the Kashmiri Muslims much before they took up the gun.” The academic who had made the butcher and barber comment earlier was from the same locality as this Pandit gentleman; he asked, “Will you please tell us what kind of discrimination you faced at the hands of Muslims?” “Well, yes,” pat came the reply, “Muslims in our area had started to boycott us even before 1990.” “How?” asked the young academic. “Well, you people started to get government jobs and stopped working in our fields.” All the young Muslims glared at him, waiting for him to break into laughter. He was serious.
Unfortunately, an attitude of confusing privilege with right continues to cast its ugly shadow on the relationship between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits. An alarmingly increasing number of Pandit individuals and organisations have indulged in weaving a narrative so simplistic, closed and self-contradictory, that it can only be resolved in fascism. It is not without reason that the “Holocaust” of Kashmir Pandits is one of the major preoccupations of the new face of Hindu India.
Set the date
There is this matter of marking the date. In recent years, January 19 is increasingly being observed in India (but not in Kashmir) as the date when Pandits were forced to migrate from Kashmir. This is factually incorrect. Pandits had started to migrate before that day and a substantial number migrated after that, on the remaining days of January as well as in February, March and April. Many, it is never said enough, decided to stay. There was nothing special about the night of January 19, 1990, except that it was the night during which a large-scale door-to-door search operation for weapons was launched by Indian forces in Srinagar. Not to say that there was not an atmosphere of fear for Pandits around this time, but it was a general period of fear for them, there was nothing particular about the night of January 19, 1990. Not even to say anyone but the Kashmiri Pandits can claim the right to continue or dismiss the commemoration.
Not to say that there was not an atmosphere of fear for Pandits around this time, but it was a general period of fear for them, there was nothing particular about the night of January 19, 1990.
But since it is not a fact, the only useful deliberation is to ascertain its motive and meaning. Why is January 19 being marked thus? The question actually contains two. Why is a single day being used to commemorate a fairly long period? Why is that day January 19 and not any other day?
Various theories are circulating, trying to provide an explanation. The night of January 19 was the one immediately after Jagmohan took over as the governor of J&K for the second time. It marks the beginning of a long era of state terrorism the like of which the world has seldom witnessed. January 22 marks the Gawkadal massacre.
Obviously, it makes much more sense to commemorate a single day than spread your grievances over many weeks and months. In the heartlessly indifferent and busy world we live in, who has the time for enduring grief? You can’t write “Holocaust” on Twitter every single day of the year without being dismissed as a troll.
Kashmiris who never migrated have learnt this lesson well. So we use Kunan Poshpur and Shopian as a sort of synecdoche for the institutional sexual abuse inflicted by Indian armed forces on Kashmiri women—and men. (More than ten thousand women raped.) Yejbeor, Handwoar and Sopore massacres become typical examples of how Indian armed forces have been killing Kashmiris with impunity. (Around 70,000 killed.) So does the Gawkadal massacre. The Chattisinghpora massacre symbolises how the Indian state engineers murders of minorities in Kashmir so that it can divide and rule. The Al-Faran kidnapping case is used to mark how the state can go to extreme lengths to raise the spectre of Islamic terror. (White tourists were picked up by a pro-government militia, with the full knowledge of the “authorities”. The body of one of them was discovered later, the rest disappeared without a trace. Pro-freedom militants continued to be blamed for many years before the truth came out.) Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP) commemorates the enforced disappearance of around ten thousand Kashmiris once every month. If we were to mark every killing, rape, enforced disappearance, house destroyed, torture session, beating, crack down and humiliation, we would need a calendar as big as the seven continents and more.
So yes, marking dates, even inaccurately, helps. But it brings along its own set of problems. There are many people in India and beyond, some even in Kashmir, who believe that a measure of judicial intervention in a particular case like Kunan Poshpur is the solution to how rape has been used as an instrument of war in Kashmir. Similarly, marking a single day as the day of forced migration implies a tidy cohesiveness among the people who migrated and also among those who forced them to migrate.
Basket full of hatred
This is a crucial matter. There are two major baskets containing the eggs of facts and arguments about the migration of Kashmiri Pandits. The contents of the first basket are as follows: Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits are separate communities that have hated each other for more than eight hundred years after lower caste Kashmiris converted en masse to Islam, making Kashmir an overwhelmingly Muslim society and robbing the upper caste Brahmins of ideological superiority over them. (In theory, all Muslims are equal.) Whenever one of these two monolithic groups allied with foreigners at any stage in Kashmir’s history, it gained advantage over the other. In the early 20th century, the Pandits had the upper hand because they were allied with the Hindu Dogra rulers. They owned a disproportionately large amount of land and property in Kashmir and dominated the bureaucracy.
At the beginning of India’s rule over Kashmir, the Indian government had some misplaced notion of democracy and promised Kashmiris a plebiscite. It continued to pander to the whims of Kashmiri Muslims at the cost of Kashmiri Pandits, allowing what was at the time—and continues to be—a most radical land redistribution programme granting ownership to the tillers, mostly Muslim, thus dispossessing the Pandit zamindars of their estates. It also allowed conditions to develop whereby Muslims could get a decent education, which resulted in a few Kashmiri Muslims breaking into the higher echelons of government departments and the bureaucracy that used to be the domain of Kashmiri Pandits earlier.
Hindu India was not kind to Kasmiri Pandits. It allowed them to rot in migrant camps. It has not created the conditions for their return
Despite such leniency on the part the Indian state, the ungrateful Kashmiris continued to demand the right of self-determination and several rigged elections later, they went in droves to Pakistan and came back with guns and ammunition, starting an open war against India. The Indian State machinery totally collapsed. Kashmiri Pandits were representatives of the Indian state in Kashmir and were given three choices, “Raliv, galiv ya tsaliv.” (Mixing—with the Muslims—dissolving—as in dying, destroying themselves—or fleeing.) Of course they could not mix with the anti-national Kashmiri Muslims, so the only real option was fleeing.
But Hindu India was not kind to them. It allowed them to rot in migrant camps. It has not created the conditions for their return.
This basket does not contain the egg of reconciliation. If Kashmiri Pandits are indistinguishable from the Indian state and armed Kashmiri Muslim combatants are the same as non-combatants, then where is the space for reconciliation? It is a total war which can only end in the annihilation of all Kashmiri Muslims.
This basket clubs Pandits whose families had migrated to India much before 1990 (case in point: Anupam Kher) in search of better jobs and opportunities (Kashmir might be beautiful but it is a small place) with the migrants of 1990 as “victims of genocide”. It is an interesting device. It helps swell the numbers. Apparently there are people who think that statistics (the Indian government’s figures put the number of Kashmiri Pandits killed at 219, rights groups raise it to 629) will win them some war.
The number of Pandits in Kashmir in 1990 was about 2 lakh. All of them did not migrate. So the number of people who migrated must be somewhere between one and two lakh. But does that make the fact of people being forced out of their homes any less tragic? Does it reduce the culpability of those responsible? Have we reached a point in human history where we do not have time for anything less than genocide?
There is another perspective on genocide. As Mohamed Junaid put it in a completely different context, if a power “is hoping, expecting, thinking, planning, or executing a strategy aimed at annihilation of a people as a people, is it genocide?” Some commentators, while acknowledging that the number of Pandits killed in Kashmir since 1990 is somewhere between the Indian government figures and the figures given by the rights group, argue that it is still a cultural genocide because migration destroyed an entire way of life.
It does not take much prompting for them to explain what that way of life was. Pandits were born to be the intellectual class; Muslims were welcome to various working class vocations. Muslims revered Pandits as the keepers of knowledge. If Muslims were educated, they had to be grateful to their Pandit teachers for that. Pandits owned a ridiculously disproportionate portion of arable land, orchards, businesses, government jobs, private sector enterprises and had better, bigger houses because they were more meritorious than Muslims and worked harder while Muslims spend their daily earnings on their dinner “naati phol”—piece of meat. Many Pandits say this openly, they miss the orchards, the cherry, almond, pear and apple trees in their courtyards, the well designed spacious houses and libraries. They miss the weather. When they mention the Kashmiri Muslim he is always a simpleton whom everybody from Pakistan to Burkina Faso takes for a ride; he is a dangerous barbarian, his violence stemming from his ignorance; he is a savage who, when he was allowed entry into Pandit households or bought their houses at “dirt-cheap prices” after they migrated, could not tell his elbow from his ass and destroyed the beautiful façades and the delicately placed trees. They miss the reverent Kashmiri Muslim.
It is obviously a way of life no self-respecting Kashmiri Muslim will want a return of.
Are all ways of life sacred?
The essence of this basket is, therefore, the Kautilyan diplomatic path of samsrya, Kashmir Pandits ally with a powerful friend, Hindu India, against Kashmiri Muslims. The rationalisation of that essence is an ancient one: Brahmanism in India is propped up by Hinduism (in case you want to make a distinction between the two), in Kashmir, after an overwhelming majority turned Muslim, it could—can—only be upheld with help from an external power.
Kashmir Pandits ally with a powerful friend, Hindu India, against Kashmiri Muslims
The basket does not also contain an answer to another important question. If the government was capable of the kind of crackdown it unleashed on Kashmiri Muslims, with regular search and cordon operations, killings, arrests, torture, massacres (the Gawkadal massacre, in which 51 were killed by Indian forces on the bridge and some 250 were injured, took place on January 22, 1990, on January 25, 1990, 26 civilians were massacred in Handwoar by BSF) etc., how come it was not capable of protecting Kashmiri Pandits and preventing their migration? Why did the state machinery fail selectively, so decisively?
This basket is not for sale to Kashmiri Muslims. It speaks to the Indian state, to Hindu India and to the ubiquitous category of “Islamophobia”.
And one of hope
The second basket contains the following: Kashmir has had as chequered a history as any other place in the world. There have been interest groups based on simple and complex interplay of economics, religiosity, location, language, kinship and history. These interest groups have sought to dominate one another through any means possible, including allying with outsiders, persecution and war. The British brought Dogras to Kashmir, but paradoxically they also introduced the ideas of democracy and nationalism. The Pandits and a small class of powerful Muslims, inferior in number, allied with the Dogras. A majority of Kashmiri peasantry and the rest of the working class, almost entirely Muslim, lived in misery and abject poverty. The growth of modern education and the ideas of democracy, nationalism, communism etc. influenced many Kashmiris, Pandit as well as Muslim, mostly left-wing, to attempt to change this situation.
This was the situation at the beginning of India’s rule in Kashmir. India offered Brahmin domination but also a ritual obeisance to the idea of democracy. There were many reactions to this situation. Left-wing Kashmiris wanted neither Brahmin domination nor the Hindu idea of democracy and secularism, but saw possibilities of manoeuvre in the later to reach the ultimate goal of azadi. Islamists, many of them pro-Pakistan, rejected both but choose “tactical” peace at crucial junctures (Islamists love tactical peace). Upper class Kashmiris, both Muslim and Pandit, lost much property in the immediate confusion but sought to ally with the ruling configuration—in this case the Indian state—to salvage whatever they could.
Since there was no possibility of intermarriage between upper class Pandits and Muslims, a bitter rivalry thrived between them, as they were contenders for the same favours of the state. The Indian state, being secular, preferred Pandits over comprador Muslims (also because many Kashmiri Pandits were the state). Both warring factions sought to strengthen themselves. Pandits were much smaller in number, so upper class Pandits sought to hug the Indian state even more tightly and rope in more Pandits from the mofussil into the workings of the government. Muslims resented Pandits passing on sacred knowledge of statecraft to unknown Pandits rather than to known Muslims. Upper class Muslims sought to employ the spectre of democracy, or majoritanism. Pandits saw Muslims organising themselves into large political formations and feared for their future.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of Kashmiris, including a miniscule proportion of Pandits, was getting frustrated in their peaceful and low-key struggle for azadi. At a certain point, an understanding developed that the movement had to be scaled up. The line of control was soused first by the sweat and then by the blood of young Kashmiris crossing over and returning with guns, ready to give and take lives for the sake of freedom. This they did. Anybody seen collaborating with the Indian state was an open target, as pro-freedom individuals had already been for more than forty years. The war was an old one but now both sides had armies. People had to choose sides.
People who had no interest in the war fled from Kashmir or shifted to garrisons, hoping it would be over soon. The Indian state let loose a reign of terror. Kashmiris fought bravely but were outgunned. More than two decades and 70,000 dead Kashmiris later, the war, though subdued, rages on. Kashmiris have decided to memorialise their many defeats to immortalise their fight. The Indian state knows this and fights the itch to claim victory, instead denying the war altogether, to deny Kashmiris even defeat. In the meantime, those who had fled have found out that India is not as much their own as they would like to think. There is a sense of loss. There is a desire to return, now, before it is too late and the next generation does not care at all.
Only the second basket seeks both Muslims as well as Pandits buyers. This basket has some bad eggs, but it also contains the eggs of hope.
“What about Kashmiri Pandits?” This latter question can be—should be—part of the answer to another question, “Azadi ka matlab kya?” (What does azadi entail?)
In recent years, there has been an attempt to empty one basket into the other one, which holds more traction with Hindu India. This cannot be done without breaking the eggs, all of them. A growing number of Kashmiri Pandit commentators are resorting to partial grief over selective memory. On the one hand the elephant in the room, the politics of azadi, is being ignored completely. On the other hand, Kashmiri Muslims are extolled to welcome migrant Kashmiri Pandits back. The discourse of Pandit migration is being used as a weapon against Kashmir’s struggle for freedom, and nothing else. This is a self-defeating agenda.
Generations of Kashmiris have already answered the rhetorical question, “Hum kya chahte?”(What do we want?) with “Azadi”—freedom from India. If there is to be any possibility of reconciliation, it cannot be answered with another question: “What about Kashmiri Pandits?” This latter question can be—should be—part of the answer to another question, “Azadi ka matlab kya?” (What does azadi entail?) But for that to happen, the first question must be heard, and answered.