Why Using Kashmiri Pandits To Discredit 'Award Returnees' Doesn't Make Sense

10/11/2015 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Yawar Nazir via Getty Images
SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA - MAY 26: An elderly Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) devotee recites Holy Bagavad Gita during the annual Hindu festival of the Kheer Bhawani in it's namesake temple on May 26, 2015 in Tullmull 25 Km east of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Administered Kashmir, Indian. Thousands of Pandit devotees line up in the Spring with plates of sugar and milk and other sweets to pay homage to the Goddess Kheer Bhawani. Some 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits fled the region in the early nineties at the start of an insurgency against Indian rule mainly to the Hindu-dominated southern city of Jammu. Many have returned since under various rehabilitation packages launched by the government. (Photo by Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images)

The recent spate of awards being returned by writers, scientists, filmmakers and other eminent personalities in protest against the growing "intolerance" in India has triggered an acrimonious debate between supporters of the BJP and those who believe that the recent incidents of communal violence in India are symptomatic of darker political machinations. In this debate, the exodus and exile of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) is often summoned as an example of Liberal indifference towards certain issues. Those who do not support the so-called award wapsi wave ask, why did these writers and filmmakers not return their awards to protest against the turmoil suffered by the KPs?

In this backdrop, there are several jokes doing the round. In one, a BJP spokesperson asks a writer who has returned his award" "Where were you when the KPs were forced to flee Kashmir?" To this, pat comes the reply, "I wasn't born then!" In another response to a similar question, the writer in question replies, "I only got the award in 2005." Now, I'm not sure if these are actual exchanges or lighter extractions but thing is certain: Over the last few weeks, KPs have been invoked fiercely in various op-eds, TV debates and on social media.

"The KPs are a cow to be perpetually milked for settling arguments, but everything else is just lip service."

I am baffled by this. If one looks at the larger picture, this summoning of the KPs' exodus as a counterpoint every time one speaks of the communal politics of Hindutva forces often defies logic. Most of the time it is a classic case of "whataboutery". I will try to examine several nuances of this, and why talking about KPs has become the new benchmark and prerequisite for "speaking about secularism".

First and foremost, why is the plight of KPs invariably a point of discussion every time Hindus are implicated in communal violence, such as during the Gujarat riots of 2002? Perhaps this is the lone case in post-Independent India of a Hindu community getting displaced and falling victim to "Muslim majoritarianism". Since minorities have been victims in most cases of riots and communal violence - the Sikhs in the riots of 1984, Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, and so on - KPs have become perfect poster children for winning or settling an argument.

A cow to be milked

One would imagine that the BJP, given its proclivity for bemoaning the trials and tribulations of Kashmiri Pandits, would have been doing something to help the beleaguered community. The truth, however, is far from it. The KPs are a cow to be perpetually milked for settling arguments, but everything else is just lip service.

Let's take the case of Kashmiri Pandit leader Tika Lal Taploo, who was killed by armed insurgents in the Kashmir Valley in 1989. He was referred to in an Indian Express op-ed piece by Tarun Vijay, a Rajya Sabha MP of the BJP: "I wonder why there was no outcry from the secular media and leaders when Tika Lal Taploo was killed by jihadis and his daughter was left alone in this world?"

Given this rhetoric, one would assume that the BJP might have done something to look after the aforementioned daughter, but the fact is that they have never even enquired about the family or sought to find out their condition. I was told this by none other than Tika Lal Taploo's son, Ashtosh Taploo. The apathy towards this community is not restricted to the BJP, but given how much KPs tend to feature in their discourse, this contradiction comes into relief.

"[W]ould the militants have laid down their arms if a few intellectuals returned their awards? The equation makes no sense."

Not long ago, last year, the KPs sought to revive an old pilgrimage known as the Kaunsar Nag Yatra. Facing opposition from Valley, the current government which never shies away from displaying its absolute majority disallowed the Yatra to commence. In the previous NDA government, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a common sentiment amongst the KP community was that if a separatist or surrendered militant wanted to meet the government in Delhi, he'd receive a red carpet welcome in the PMO, but for a KP, even the under-secretary at the home Ministry wouldn't have time.

A fallacious equation

There's another problematic aspect of equating the KPs' exodus from the valley to what the writers believe is happening in India - the "growing intolerance" abetted or condoned by the ruling party. The KPs fled the Valley due to an armed Islamic uprising, while what the "award returnees" are fearing is that the state is becoming totalitarian and that incidents of extremism are implicitly encouraged. So, in the first case we have gun-wielding non-state actors, assisted by the local populace, responsible for uprooting the Valley's Hindu community, while in the other we have the very institutions of State being indicted for acts of omission and commission. What confounds me is that how can anyone expect a movement of returning awards to have any impact on militants - would the militants have laid down their arms if a few intellectuals returned their awards? The equation makes no sense.

Selective outrage? Yes. Invalid? No

Last but not least, let me make it clear that I am not someone who blindly concurs with the Liberals of India. In my last piece in the Huffington Post I even wrote against their intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy vis-à-vis the Kashmiri Pandits. However, this or any other critique does not mean that they cannot speak about other issues concerning India. Putting the spotlight on their selective outrage cannot be an alibi for turning a blind eye to the communal violence in India. It cannot be used as a tool to discredit their voices.

" [R]aising their voice against the recent incidents of intolerance is the need of the hour - irrespective of whether these same voices have raised relevant questions about Kashmiri Pandits or not."

There is no doubt that secularism as practiced by some liberals in India is skewed towards just protecting minority rights, but even that should not legitimise the opposition to their views or their right to show protest by returning awards. This standard superficial argument, used rampantly used in high-decibel TV and social media debates -- "where were you then" and "what about Kashmiri Pandits" -- does help in deflecting the issue, but doesn't serve the larger interest of the nation. Hindu communalism has to arrested, not only for the survival of India's secular fabric but for retaining the tolerant space amongst Hindus too. One of the ways of arresting it is by speaking against it. The monster of extremism, as seen world over, is a genie, which once allowed to take root, leaves devastation for everyone in its wake. Thus, raising their voice against the recent incidents of intolerance is the need of the hour - irrespective of whether these same voices have raised relevant questions about Kashmiri Pandits or not.

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