Return of the natives

Arshid Malik

arshid-malikFlood. The term “flood” sounded so archival till the September 2014 floods woke us up to the resounding fact that nature once tempered with can hit you right in the face while you are not even suspecting. Post September 2014 the very mention of the word flood sends Kashmiri people running in “opposite” directions till their heads bang against each other. It is PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – since the 2014 floods wreaked havoc here, rendering hundreds of families homeless while hitting the trading community right in the gut. Last Sunday was hectic for our family. As soon as the pictures of a flooded (actually water-logged) Lal Chowk started floating over social networking sites, we grabbed our goods and dropped them off on the 2nd floor. It was like a “dry run for a nuclear attack”. As soon as the essentials were taken care of we rattled out of our locality off to the farthest point in Srinagar and spent a week there till the “threat” subsided. It is but human to run for safety at the earliest signs of “danger”. We all love to survive, don’t we? This criteria applies to the Pandits of Kashmir too, since they are as human as we are, who “fled” Kashmir in the late 90’s, no matter what conspiracy theories shuttled around “post-partum”. By all means we all should agree that many Kashmiri Pandits were “murdered in cold blood” leaving aside the pretexts and subtexts at the very onset of Kashmir insurgency and the sight of “murdered” relatives, friends or acquaintances left the Pandit community with an only, yet tough choice, and that was to leave Kashmir and “settle” outside. It was tragic, I believe. PTSD.

There has been a lot of talk about the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley and the recent one has generated tremendous debate here in Kashmir with most of the people disgruntled with the idea of providing a “safe and separate” (please do not read segregated) residential area for them. Logic in the light of PTSD provides for the said ideation which has been tabled as a proposal for the return of Kashmiri Pandits. I fail to understand why people are so averse to the idea of a separate residential colony for the Kashmiri Pandits, although when terms like “ghettoization” and “another Gaza” are used, one cannot help but ponder over the not-s-obvious “negative” impacts of the creation of a particular, say, “township” for our Pandit brethren. There are certain things I would love to point out vis-à-vis the debate.

Kashmiri Pandits belong to Kashmir and generally people, Kashmiri Muslims including the separatist leadership has not been averse to the idea and they have been time and time again providing scope and rendering in their affinity about the same. The only “chaotic criteria” which applies as an addendum to the idea of the return of Pandits this time over is that a separate habitation is being proposed for them.

Of rights: Kashmir is the homeland of Kashmiri Pandits and they must come back since they have every right to. We, Kashmiri Muslims, I believe agree that we did not have any hand in the exodus of the Pandits and every household wanted its Pandit neighbor to drop the idea of leaving and stay put. So, I guess no qualms here.

Of wrongs: Kashmiri Pandits did not leave Kashmir just because they “felt like it”. They fled in the face of a “threat” to their life (I am not implying that Kashmiri Pandits were under the shadow of a terminal extermination but just like the floods provided us an insight into how much we value our lives and how rigidly we can fight for our survival – even though only a few localities in Kashmir were absolutely inundated by floods but we did learn our lesson well – so did the Kashmiri Pandits). Pardon my non-use of the term “herd mentality” here since I actually never attach much credit to it. And while they left they carried the burden of an “associative hatred” with them. So, any talk of return for the Pandits is not easy talk but a serious issue where a wounded history is involved.

Of nucleation: Most of the houses in which the Kashmiri Pandits resided were gutted down, occupied or bought at dirt-cheap rates. I don’t see much of what used to be the “habitation(s)” of Pandits in Kashmir except for in the shape of ruins or renovations. So when the Kashmiri Pandits do return, if they ever will, where will they stay? Of course we Kashmiri Muslims are “known” for our hospitality and when it comes to our own separated brothers and sisters, we would leave no stone unturned, I guess, but then how many of us would let them live in our homes. No, I am not saying we would not let them in but citing the fact that we love to live in segregated residences now, a fact that is further elucidated by the fact that most houses in Kashmir which have the capacity to provide shelter to a handful of families are inhabited by two or three people at the most and that is culture and we can never turn our faces away from what we have chosen to create, culture in this case.

Of security: While the Kashmiri Pandits supposedly return to Kashmir and we want them to live amongst us  Muslims even though the previous two points provide subtle indications that it is not feasible since they do not have their homes anymore and we can seldom accommodate them, there is a question of their security. Who would ensure their safety here? We Kashmiri Muslims would guard them with our life but what about miscreants, paid agents et al? Can we guarantee that no Pandit would be killed if they come down and start living amongst us? We cannot, but the government, the establishment has to, for, that is why it is ruling us. So the proposal for a separate residential area for them, contested though.

Of what goes around comes around: What we are discussing here is a proposal or we may say the demand of the ruling elite of India and it has to go through hundreds of filters before it actuates into reality. In the past, we have “entertained” the claims of successive governing regimes vis-à-vis the return of the Kashmiri Pandit fraternity to Kashmir but these claims turned out to be as dodgy as a fish being grappled out of the fresh water with one’s bare hands – they seldom worked out. What makes you think this one is going to make it to the finish, especially when such table-talk only runs till it suits the suggested mentors?

Of Choices: Most Pandit families who left Kashmir back in the 90s are well settled elsewhere across the globe. My interactions with some good Pandit families back in 2008-2012 tell me that they are comfortable with the idea that the got to get out of the “rut-hole” that Kashmir is and that since their kids got brilliant opportunities to study in some of the most reputed colleges and universities across the world and thereof got the opportunity to work for some of the top names in the corporate world they, the aged ones, “love” to linger in the memory of a “lost homeland” and the blissful thought of “settled children” as parents . So, eventually how many Pandits would return to Kashmir even if they are provided with every mechanism which would provide for their “ultimate” safety and thereof residence here?

The history of Kashmir has been thoroughly scarred post 90s especially in the light of communal harmony and there is dire need for attending to those scars. Beyond politics, which I understand is a “bitchy” game, we should not even unintentionally scrape at the healing wounds of our Pandit brethren.

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