Return of Pandits?

A twenty-five-year-old designer in my office has not seen the Pandits. Their homecoming, therefore, makes no difference to him.  Similarly, a Pandit boy of the same age has not seen Kashmir. He is not nostalgic about the Valley like his elders. He does not want to come back. The generation that is nostalgic about Kashmir will fade away in a decade or so.  What happens after that? Policy-makers in New Delhi must have considered this question.  Notwithstanding this, New Delhi seems keen to settle the Pandits in airtight compartments in Kashmir.  The Chief Minister has been asked to identify land for `creating a state within a state.’  

The people of Kashmir have never objected to the return of the Pandits. In fact, they have been extending invitations to them from time to time.  When some of them come here for pilgrimage or tourism, the Muslims accord them a warm welcome, host them in their homes and make them comfortable. But, the response from the Pandits has been very discouraging, especially since 2010.

Shabir Shah was manhandled during a press conference at Jammu immediately after his release in 2010.  A shoe was hurled at Syed Ali Shah Geelani at New Delhi. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was heckled three times by so-called nationalists. Earlier, Muhammad Yasin Malik too had been roughed up by some migrants.  A case of sedition was filed against Geelani, Arundhati Roy and Professor Sheikh Showkat Husain for the views they expressed at a seminar.   The situation appears grim. For the first time the pro-freedom camp had realized the importance of engaging with and reaching out to the Indian people, but the migrant- turned-nationalists seem determined to foil all such attempts. Naturally, this has created deep misgivings and apprehensions among the Muslims of Kashmir. They have begun to believe that the migrants have been excessively pampered by the government and also by the resistance leadership.   

But they still want them back and are ready to play an important role in their honourable return and rehabilitation at their native places. Separate homeland or compartments are simply unacceptable.  The Government of India and the migrants have to bear in mind that the people of Kashmir alone can facilitate the return of the Pandits.  With all its military might, the Government of India has failed to get the migrant community back to the Valley for the past twenty-five years. An experiment urging the Pandits to stay in the Valley after their appointment (in government service) has failed. Some people were appointed and made to live in quarters at Ganderbal, Budgam, Pulwama and elsewhere. All of them want to go back. They do not want to live in `prisons.’ That is what they conveyed to a visiting parliamentary delegation a few months ago.

Kashmir is known for its pluralism and inclusiveness.  Pandits and Muslims have lived together peacefully for centuries. But something went wrong in 1990, and Kashmir lost this privilege.  Twenty-five years down the line, they are willing to restore this glorious tradition. But New Delhi cannot thrust pluralism on them for its political compulsions.   

It seems that the most important exercise about the issue has not been undertaken yet. Are the Pandits interested in returning? Has anybody asked the most important question?  The Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR)-sponsored interactions between the two communities shows that the Pandits, especially their youth, are not ready to return. Of course, some elderly people want to visit the Valley for nostalgic reasons. Most of them do not want to settle here permanently. Their young believe that they have got azadi (freedom) from what they call `Muslim hegemony.’ They get admissions in technical institutions, jobs in multi-national companies – something which they could not even dream of in Kashmir.  So why should they return?

Another unfortunate development that has to be considered by the Kashmiris, their leadership and New Delhi is the declining number of `resident’ Pandits. Their number has registered a marginal decrease during the past seven years. Now only a few families live here.  Has somebody explored the reasons?

There is no dearth of saner elements in the Pandit community.  A harsh reality has dawned on them and they seem genuinely concerned. According to them, the Pandits have drowned in a huge human ocean called India. Their race is getting diluted with every passing day. After fifty years, the endangered Saraswat Brahmin may become extinct.  The race needs to be preserved, but not the BJP way.  It cannot be preserved in a hatchery. The elements mentioned above have already taken a series of measures and are in touch with people in Kashmir. They have urged the younger generation to speak in Kashmiri, avoid family planning and strengthen Kashmiri culture.  Their joint efforts may one day fix the problem.  Rushing the process through in a mechanical way is not going to serve any purpose. The migrants, for the information of all, are not experimental entities.