Size matters. Did you read the report that quoted an army officer who served in the Kashmir valley saying, “Why would the police kill a militant who carries only Rs. 10,000 on his head? It is a better idea to let him grow big to command a reward of Rs. 3 lakh”?
Are you impressed by the prudence or disgusted?
“Does the government have any responsibility towards us? Their actions show they are responsible only towards the militants,” said a shop owner, when the New Delhi Municipal Corporation razed a few shops that belonged to Kashmiri Pandits at the INA Market.
What do the two comments tell us? That the militants are pampered or, like sacrificial goats, fattened before slaughter?
Unlike the 140 terrorist groups, the Pandit lobby is strong. It can organise itself. Displaced Pandits are now demanding reservations in the Jammu and Kashmir legislature and government jobs for the community as well as setting up of three townships in the Valley for their rehabilitation.
It is time they made these demands for the simple reason that it will take away the onus from the local Kashmiris who did not drive them out. And therefore they cannot claim to be refugees; they are regular immigrants, as much as other Kashmiris.
The Pandit issue has been romanticised. If anyone is interested they truly ought to go to the so-called refugee camps in Delhi. I revisited Amar Colony and Pamposh Enclave. I had been there as suggested by Sunita Tikoo. I told her they were all proper houses. She had smiled, “What did you expect? This was not 1947. People had begun to move things. Every Pandit had two-three bags. They were rehabilitated within a year. Our education is our strength. Some were given two-three jobs here. You won’t find a jobless Pandit. Most are well-off. If you are looking for those camps, you will find them only in Jammu.”
I managed to trace one such place in Mangolpuri, a suburb in Delhi. It is most certainly spartan with common facilities. Vinati Kaul had invited me into her one-room house. She, like several others, was a victim of threats from “terrorists or someone”. There was an exodus. They approached the Kashmiri Samiti and they provided them with this place. When they first arrived the government gave a stipend of Rs. 500 for a four member family and rations every month. The payment was increased every year and is now almost Rs. 4,000. As she said, “Jagmohanji (the then governor) was the one who pushed things. The BJP had helped us a lot, giving us ghee and blankets. They would feel bad giving us aid because earlier we used to give them funds.”
Here too a hierarchy prevails. What one sees in the posh Pandit areas is the pugnacity of government employees and those who could afford to keep the people in power happy. They took advantage of the largesse reserved for those who needed it most. Vinati admitted, “A lot of aid comes from abroad, but it goes to the Samiti, it does not come to us.”
The power-play begins with the manner in which Panun Kashmir was born. In 1991, the Margdarshan Resolution was passed. The General Secretary’s Report mentioned about “retrieving Kashmir as a nationalist bastion” and then went on to talk about its determination “to carve out a union territory on the soil of Kashmir”.
When Ashok Pandit of Panun Kashmir once said, “We should have perhaps gone the way of the Yasin Maliks and Shabir Shahs. Perhaps the government would have taken us more seriously then”, he might have helpfully quoted figures of the number of them who have been killed or arrested by government organisations.
There is no doubt they would have faced threats from terrorists, as is most of the population. That is the reason there are so many killings taking place to this day. Who are the dead? It isn’t the Pandits because they have left. Are they concerned?
While the rest of the Valley commemorates July 13 as Martyrs Day in remembrance of a dozen Kashmiris who were killed in 1931 by the Dogra regime outside the Central jail in Srinagar, the Pandits observe September 14 as Martyr’s Day. It is not in memory of innocents but the murder in 1989 of the BJP vice-president.
They have talked about bringing technology and progress in the Valley and yet they complain about the poor conditions. They take pride in how secular they are, but they are asking for a separation on the basis of their religious identity.
It would be wise to remember that much before outside forces came into the picture, local militancy was already active. What were Kashmiris disgruntled about? Isn’t it possible that in a Muslim majority state it was the Pandits who cornered all the prime jobs? Hari Jaising in his book, Kashmir: A Tale of Shame, observed, “Strangely, the Pandits were the first to oppose the entry of ‘foreigners’ (i.e. the Punjabis) into the Valley after partition. They were afraid of losing their jobs. This shows how narrow and time-serving their aims were.”
Yet, it isn’t a government agency that has talked about providing them with security, but a militant outfit. Hurriyat Conference leader, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, has stated, “Kashmiri Pandits are a part and parcel of Kashmiri society and we will bring them back.”
Will they return? No. In a state where the army waits for a militant to grow big, their only hope is to keep reminding the authorities that chess cannot be played without pawns. And they are willing.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based writer-columnist. This piece first appeared in The Asian Age, India. She can be contacted at email@example.com