It is not the first time they have left the valley and it is certainly not the first time they are supposed to come back. In the third decade of fifteenth century when Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen, popularly known as Budshah ascended the throne, he made it sure that Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated from valley for Indian plains return and assimilate in villages, towns and bazaars of Kashmir and in no isolated walled cities. As history has it, in Sikh and in Dogra rule they held positions of significance and prospered, to use a tough term collaborated with them. In 1947 in a series of chaotic events leading to the formation of present day state of Jammu and Kashmir, and partition of sub-continent, a lot many people landed on the wrong side of borders and lines. Jammu Muslims fled fearing persecution after killing of no less than three lakh of them, about thirteen lakh of them migrated to Pakistan. Similarly in 1965 War more Muslims migrated to Pakistan. When the armed uprising against Indian rule started in Kashmir, it identified two targets, the state and its stooges irrespective of their religion. Thus it was secular if not in its objectives but in its identification of targets. It was also a point when Kashmiri Muslims after centuries of victimization and slavery, barring few incidents of revolt, had taken a course to change their destiny by the barrel of gun, having exhausted all other means. This did put Kashmiri Muslims for the first time in over four hundred centuries on perceived or actual position of power. Sensing disadvantage and the panic created by Governor Jagmohan and his policies, Kashmiri Pandits left the valley.
In successive years since then, Kashmiri Pandits in order to invite their stakes in the Kashmir conundrum with a tacit approval of Indian state managed to pitch them and their stated manufactured goals exclusive and diametric opposite of Kashmiri Muslims. Over years the demands of Kashmiri Pandits achieved extremities with demands of “Homeland”, a disproportional chunk of land along the banks of river Jehlum, popping out time and again. The successive Indian governments, exultant with using the Pandit question as a counter to defame the resistance movement and to hide its own human rights track record behind the Pandit quilt, sponsored mere lip service to Pandit return.
The right wing Hindu politics in India and the Hindu Nationalism that it claims to propound functions solely on threat perception and securitization of threats as such. The Kashmir issue and the Pandit question provide adequate fuel to the fire of threat machinery. Kashmiri Pandits for the shear miniscule proportion of population that they form is not a vote bank as such but a raging issue that can manage a vote bank. In J&K now that the BJP is a ruling partner with PDP, the BJP has to please the Pandit lobby that has over two decades identified with its Brahaminical Right wing Hindu politics, so the policy of settling Pandits in separate townships is being adopted. This is being perceived as a beginning of the stated goal of “Homeland” by Kashmiri Muslims and is being equated with Israeli settlements. No Kashmiri Muslim is, however, opposing the return of Kashmiri Pandits as such but is vehemently opposed to idea of separate townships. There are demographic concerns as well and rightly so as migrated Jammu Muslims don’t figure in any policy framework of rehabilitation. Over the years the question of “What about Kashmiri Pandits” has been ringing and raging, and perhaps it is the time to ask “What about Jammu Muslims”?
Umair Gul is a PhD Student at Nelson Mandela Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
(Views expressed are author’s own)