The question of Kashmiri Pandits returning to Kashmir is again up in the air as a more-or-less renowned journalist for an online media house just published something about it. I personally don’t care about what exactly is opined in the said article as facts, especially the historical facts, about Kashmir in general and about Kashmiri Pandits’ communally forced exodus in particular.
Even after 30 years, the facts and the interpretations of those historical facts about the Kashmiri Pandit exodus are still either denied, misrepresented or misconstrued, and still the onus of proving the crime against them is on the Pandits themselves. After questioning everything Kashmiri Pandits are and stand for or what they have been through, even the successes have been used as a narrative to whitewash the atrocities on them. And then they are asked whether they would go back.
Above all, the questions – will you return? When will you return? How many will return? – are now another instrument to deny justice. Even if you say “yes”, they say you really won’t. In this context, some very basic facts need to be cleared on why we as a community are ambivalent on the “question of return”.
To begin with, the question of returning to Kashmir that is/was home is an oversimplification. For most of us, home has been burned, wrecked and razed to ground. When there exists no practical and pragmatic policy or intent to rebuild it or to make it habitable again for the Hindu minorities, how can anyone expect us to give a sure-shot answer on whether we want to return or not? Can anyone live in a wreck? Will anyone return to the place that still is in the same situation socially, economically and politically when Kashmiri Pandits were forced to get out of their homes. Add to it, the constraints of xenophobia, security threats and threat of communal violence, which triggered the exodus back in 1990.
In addition, after the exodus, most Kashmiri Pandits had to start from zero. They worked and struggled hard against all odds. A person who was completely uprooted from a place and after years of toiling has made it all work for him/her, is now confronted with an existential question of leaving it all again, relocating, and starting again from a place that doesn’t offer much, where most of the youth are either unemployed, radicalised or studying/working outside.
Can uprooting oneself again or expecting one to take the whole pain of relocation again based on just some fantasy, which is nothing more than castles in air, be expected of the Kashmiri Pandit community? And if they are ambiguous, undecided or don’t want to go after struggling for 30 years to get re-established, they are judged, their plight is denied and their right to the place of their origin is discounted.
Plus, a one-room quarter that was provided after struggling in the tents for almost two decades is pronounced as some luxury. And, a false narrative of “non-existent” refugee camps is created wherein the fact that the tents got replaced by concrete quarters is conveniently misrepresented so as to hint that Kashmiri Pandits have already gotten enough and shouldn’t be demanding a dignified return to their homeland.
This narrative is a convenient denial of what and how much Kashmiri Pandits lost. It overlooks the fact that justice hasn’t been done even after 30 years. This narrative is a replica of the jihadi propaganda that Kashmiri Pandits left because they were given huge sums, lucrative jobs, and property by the government of India, but in reality, it was snake and scorpion bites, scorching heat and half a tomato.
Moreover, the simple fact that escapes the comprehension ability of some people is that Jagati Township is a camp because people there still want to return. The term ‘camp’ signifies the state of long-term impermanence regardless of the physical structure or the name. The very reason the Jagati Township is called a camp is because the history and events of Kashmir exodus haven’t reached their logical conclusion and justice still evades us.
Unless and until the practical constraint of the return of Pandits is not dealt with in a realistic and pragmatic manner, the question of return remains futile and meaningless. It is nothing but another rhetorical tool in the hands of those who want to deny the decades-long suffering of the community.
The author is a Research Associate at Citizens’ Foundation for Policy Solutions (CFPS). Views are personal.
This article was originally published on The Medium on 3 December.