On 2 August this year, the government of Jammu and Kashmir (under President’s rule) cancelled the annual Amarnath Yatra. There were “intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra,” it said. The security situation must have been really, really bad because this was the first time the Amarnath Yatra was cancelled altogether.
Yet, the security situation was good enough for the Narendra Modi government to make Article 370 null and void, as also Article 35A, divide the state into two union territories and place hundreds of pro-India political actors in jail.
The contradiction leaves you with the conclusion that the Modi government was in a political hurry to radically change the constitutional status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and such was the tearing hurry that it cancelled the Amarnath Yatra. Yet no Hindu — absolutely no one— seems to have cried hoarse about the hurt to Hindu sentiments. Imagine a Congress government cancelling the Amarnath Yatra for political expedience.
Similarly, the political discourse around the issue of Kashmiri Pandits is replete with political hypocrisy.
A video has emerged recently of Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s Consul General in New York, addressing what seems to be a private gathering of Kashmiri Pandits. For the record, he says his remarks have been taken “out of context,” which is what people say after putting their foot in their mouth.
Chakravorty makes a number of assertions that are either factually wrong, or show no understanding of the history and culture of Kashmir.
Let us take them one by one.
Non-existent refugee ‘camps’
First, he says, “I believe in our lifetime we will have our land back, our people will have to go back, because not everybody can live in the United States. Our Kashmiri Pandit brethren are living in camps, in Jammu, in Delhi, on the streets…”
A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth. So, it is possible that Sandeep Chakravorty genuinely believes Kashmiri Pandits are still living in camps and on the streets. If facts mattered, that is not the case. In both Jammu and in Delhi, they have been moved into proper houses. And most of it has happened under Congress regimes. People would have known more about it if the Congress knew how to tom-tom its achievements like the BJP.
Yet, the word “camps” will be repeated ad nauseam because how else do you claim continuing victimhood? Take for instance this report by Pooja Shali in India Today, which says, “Kashmiri Pandits living in the Jagti refugee camp appreciated PM Modi-led government’s decision to revoke the state’s special status.” The deliberate yet subtle falsehood here is to describe Jagti as a camp and not a ‘township’. You can see here a photo of the entrance to the Jagti apartments. For anyone who doesn’t understand what a camp is, here is a photo of how the Pandits once lived in camps.
Similarly, Pandit refugees in Delhi have been given flats. One could argue about the size and upkeep of the flats given to them, but if facts matter, they are not camps. And no one is certainly living on the streets.
An exaggerated fear
Now that we are clear about the difference between flats and camps, let us tackle another claim by Mr Chakravorty. The claim is that Pandits are not returning to the Kashmir Valley because of fear. He says in the video, “You will not go because of fear of life, but I think that fear will go away.”
If Kashmiri Pandit refugees are unable to return to live in Kashmir due to fear, how is it that 808 Kashmiri Pandit families (or around 3-4,000 people) still live in the Valley in 292 different locations? That’s the count done by the Srinagar-based Sanjay Tickoo of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti. If fear is the reason, how is it that thousands of Kashmiri Pandits visit the Valley, on holidays and personal trips, or for pilgrimages such as the annual Kheer Bhawani festival in Tulmulla?
Cruel and inhuman as the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was, being a refugee is a complicated matter. Kashmiri Pandit refugees may be able to physically relocate to their old homes, but they can’t go back in time. A resilient, educated, well-connected community, the Pandit refugees have got education and jobs and are now spread across India and the world. Would a Kashmiri Pandit refugee’s son or daughter working in a corporate job want to return to the family home in the old city of Srinagar? Why would someone leave a corporate job in Mumbai unless they could find an equivalent job in Srinagar?
Arvind Gigoo is a retired English lecturer from Kashmir, now living in a flat in Jammu with his wife. He moved to Jammu after the exodus in 1991. Over several meetings in Jammu and Delhi between 2010-2012, I asked him why he never thought of returning and living in his home in Srinagar. He explained that his friends were now all in Jammu. It’s the same reason why he doesn’t live with his son in Delhi, the writer Siddhartha Gigoo. When Arvind Gigoo went back to Srinagar after many years, he felt like an outsider, because he didn’t know anyone anymore. People migrate and die, and so on. The young look at a Pandit speaking in Kashmiri like an oddity from a mythical past. But the most important reason he couldn’t imagine going back to living in Srinagar was comfort. The old house, the old way of living, the old kind of toilets, the dirty old lanes. He was comfortable living in a more modern house in Jammu. He eventually sold the Srinagar house — something many Pandits did.
So, when we speak of the “return” of Pandits, it is not a physical relocation we need to think of. Pandits cannot return to a Kashmir that is pre-1989, because it does not exist anymore.
Israel model vs Indian model
Now that we have debunked the myth of security fears preventing Pandits from returning to the Valley, let us look at Sandeep Chakravorty’s Israel model that drew applause from the audience. This model basically implies creating a special enclave for Pandits. So, there could be a Hindu Kashmir and a Muslim Kashmir, physically demarcated, because we haven’t been making Mohammed Ali Jinnah proud enough already.
The idea is an old one, it used to be known as “Panun Kashmir”. Interestingly, the BJP never endorsed it, though one doesn’t know what the BJP of Modi-Shah thinks. The removal of Article 35A has so far not been followed up with any reassurance that the Modi government will not settle Indians in the Kashmir Valley.
So, if the plan is to bring about a demographic change in the Valley (you never know these days, hare-brained ideas are in excess supply), then the Israel model is not what we are looking at. Instead, we are looking at the China model.
And yet, there is an Indian model we have forgotten. This model died in Kashmir the day Jawaharlal Nehru had Sheikh Abdullah arrested, and maybe it’s too late to revive it. The Indian model is one of “integration”. The only meaningful way Kashmiri Pandits could “return” to Kashmir is if the wall of suspicion and mistrust between Pandits and Muslims was brought down. This could be done through a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation exercise.
But the Modi establishment doesn’t seem to think the sentiments, feelings, aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims matter. There is no reconciliation on offer of any kind.
‘Kashmir culture is the Hindu culture’
For an Indian diplomat, Sandeep Chakravorty is embarrassingly ill-informed. He betrays his ignorance of Kashmir when he says, “We all have to keep the Kashmiri culture alive. The Kashmiri culture is the Indian culture is the Hindu culture. I feel as much Kashmiri as anybody else.”
To know what Kashmiri culture is/was, he should Google and read up why a Kashmiri Muslim family is at the centre of the Amarnath Yatra. He could read a few books on the now-discredited idea of Kashmiriyat, of syncretism in the Valley. No, Kashmiri, Hindu, and Indian are not the same thing. They could co-exist, if only people like Sandeep Chakravorty understood the beauty of the Nehruvian idea of unity in diversity rather than follow in Jinnah’s footsteps.
Views are personal.
This article has been updated to reflect that the quote from Arvind Gigoo was taken by the author from 2011-2012.