Let Pandits return

March.18 : I support Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s proposal to allow people from the Kashmir Valley, who moved across the border and the ceasefire line in the early days of Kashmir’s accession to India, to return to their homes, so as to lead an honourable life as Indian citizens and enjoy all the rights and privileges which they do not have in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Although there are possibilities of undesirable elements also gaining entry, that can be controlled through proper intelligence, monitoring and surveillance.

But we should also request Omar Abdullah to remember the case of Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus who were forced to flee the Valley. Most of them are still living like refugees in other parts of India. This is an appropriate moment for the Centre and the state government to remember their plight and to sympathise. The government should take energetic steps to bring them back to the Valley.
It may be recalled that contrary to the declared secularism of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and the National Front, these unfortunate people were compelled to leave by Islamist fanatics who were temporarily beyond the control of the government of the day.
To briefly recall those unfortunate circumstances, in January 1990, in the wake of the controversy over the elections that had taken place, a few local Urdu newspapers published statements by so-called jihadi leaders calling upon all Hindus to pack up and leave the Valley, and demanding Jammu & Kashmir’s secession from India and accession to Pakistan.
In the next few days, masked hoodlums ran around the Hindu localities waving AK-47 rifles, shouting anti-Indian slogans and threatening to kill all Kashmiri Hindus. Several reports of killing of Kashmiri Pandits began to trickle in and in some localities, houses owned by the Hindus were marked out. There were posters on the walls asking all Kashmiris to strictly follow the Islamic dress code, imposing ban on cinemas and video parlours.
Faced with this situation, the government of the day behaved in a shameful way. Why the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah abdicated his responsibility and went into a sulk is not understood. Meanwhile, the Centre sent a new governor, Jagmohan, to take charge forcing Farooq Abdullah and the National Conference to withdraw.
Jagmohan’s government, no doubt, imposed curfew but it failed to have a proper effect. On the other hand, it prevented normalcy and facilitated the terrorists in spreading their message of terror towards the Pandits. Nearly the entire Pandit community left Srinagar and other parts of the Valley in order to save their lives expecting to return after the things were normal. Sadly that never happened.
Even after the situation was under control there was no move to bring them back. In all these years nobody has seriously bothered about the net effect of this unfortunate development that led to the “ethnic cleansing” of the Valley, making it only a homeland for the Muslims.
Time has come when the government should resettle the Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus and let them lead a honourable life. I have no doubt that the majority of the Kashmiri Muslims will welcome and support them. What is strongly needed is a signal from both the Centre and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. Hopefully Omar Abdullah will take the lead.
This should bring us to the general issue of how Kashmir, in many respects, is the acid test of India’s secular identity. If it is important that all non-Hindus must be allowed to live with full dignity and rights as Indian citizens, it is equally important that Kashmir’s non-Muslim population must be allowed to live in their home with same dignity and equal rights.
Among the Kashmiri Muslims, we have to separate the fanatics who are in small number from the peace-loving majority who are affectionate towards Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Sikhs.
We should remember that few among the German people during the days of Hitler, were true Nazis, but they were misled by Hitler’s propaganda and simply sat back and let so many odd things happen. They were deluded by the return of the German prestige internationally and were in any case too busy with their day-to-day life to care.
The peace-loving Muslims have to be on their guard against Islamic fanatics who preach things contrary to Islam. They should be guided by examples such as that of the late former President Abdul Rahman of Indonesia (who died recently), who was initially an orthodox Muslim but, as President, valued the importance of secularism and enlisted the support of not only the majority of the Indonesian Muslims but also Indonesian Hindus and Christians.
There is no doubt that if the Centre takes initiatives to restore Kashmiri Pandits, along with the migrants from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to their hearths and homes, they will have the support from the silent majority of the Kashmiri Muslims.

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India

Nitish Sengupta

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