09/07/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Dear Leftists, Why Is There No Place For Kashmiri Pandits In The Valley?

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA via Getty Images
Indian Kashmiri Hindu (Pandit) devotees offer alms during the annual Hindu festival at the Khirbhawani temple in Tullamulla village, some 30 kms east of Srinagar on May 26, 2015. Thousands of Kashmiri Hindus, many of whom were displaced two decades ago, attended the festival in order to worship the Hindu goddess Mata Khirbhawani on the day of her birth. 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 and they return yearly for the festival. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

Dear Leftists and Liberals,

Yes, I am talking to you, the likes of Arundhati Roy, who leave no occasion to speak eloquently on Kashmir but have yet to address our plight, the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. I am writing to you because Kashmir refuses to engage with us on the subject of our return except to trot out standard arguments, protests, distortions of fact. Can you, perhaps, shed some real light on why they are opposing our return? I am hoping that in your garden of freedom, utopia, Azadi, Nizame Mustafa (Islamic rule), Intifada and liberalism, there might be some scope to talk about my township or ghetto or any form of return in accordance with my wishes.

Before proceeding further, let me tell you that I am on the same page as you on a number of issues pertaining to Kashmir. Unlike many other Kashmiri Pandits I do not, by default, swear by Indian nationalism. I don't see Kashmir merely as an extension of India's integrity. However, I don't support secession for I believe that it will not benefit Kashmir in any way. Also, since I have an emotional connect with the place, I don't want to see it go Afghanistan's way in my lifetime. Another issue where I agree with you is your opposition to AFSPA and the human rights violations committed by Indian security forces. I also believe there is much more to the issue of the return of Kashmiri Pandits than meets the eye.

"At one end of the spectrum, people will say Kashmiri Pandits are an integral part of the state, but speak of a dedicated place for us to live it becomes an 'Israel-like settlement'."

This letter, though, is to seek some understanding of the dramatic opposition that we are facing from Kashmiri Muslims, be it civil society, mainstream politicians, separatists or your fellow writers. Hunger strikes, demonstrations, protests have greeted our suggestion for a separate township, and it has even been described as an "Israel-like settlement". Why, then, does Kashmir not provide an alternative plan for my return?

Not even a single Kashmiri Muslim leader, regardless of his/her positioning on the ideological scale, bothered to ask for the details of the composite township - where it will be, how will it be set up, what logistics it will entail and so on. Unfortunately, the discourse of the Kashmiri Pandit is often obfuscated or hijacked. Why and how we left, the details of our return, all these are stories that are told others in the Valley. Our voice is not heard. For example, there's a popular conspiracy theory that we moved out of the Valley at the behest of Jagmohan, governor of the state in 1990. It's our version versus theirs. In this matter, shouldn't it be the prerogative of Kashmiri Pandits to decide where and how they will live - whether it's a composite township or a ghetto or a mixed colony? The whole onus of "Kashmiriyat' is placed on the shoulders of this endangered community. Isn't it a brute testimony of Majoritarianism? What do you think, my leftist friends?

I'd also like to discuss the comparisons made to an "Israel-like" settlement, including by our Chief Minister. On what basis was that analogy made? According to Muzaffar Baig, leader of ruling PDP party, this analogy fits since both Jews and Kashmiri Pandits are highly intelligent and persecuted communities. But what bearing does that have on our township, which we envision as a physical demarcated area, nothing more nothing less, administered by state government. If a comparison must be drawn, it would be more appropriate to equate it with Ramallah and Gaza, inhabited by Palestinians who were shunted out by Israel. At one end of the spectrum, people will say Kashmiri Pandits are an integral part of the state, but speak of a dedicated place for us to live it becomes an "Israel-like settlement". They have truly mastered the art of double-speak.

"Our story no longer seems to be ours too tell, our future not articulated in our words. Being denied the right to connect with our roots on our own terms aggravates the pain of exile..."

And if they were indeed keen on integrating us back into the Valley, why is there no alternative plan for rehabilitation? Rhetoric and lip service is not enough. Most Kashmiri Pandits have disposed of their properties in the Valley. Now that property prices in Kashmir have skyrocketed it is not realistic to expect them to return to their original homes. Will the current residents of our former properties be told to leave just because Kashmiri Pandits must be rehabilitated in a "mixed colony"? Given the nature of the exodus and subsequent changes, market forces cannot ensure our return and rehabilitation. The state has to intervene. The best way is to have a smart city or township where the state will assist in our rehabilitation. At the same time, it will be open to anyone with the Permanent Resident Card of the state. (Since Permanent Resident laws don't allow for outsiders to own land in the state.)

Last but not the least it is important to ponder why Kashmiri Pandits have suddenly started protesting vehemently across ideologies or affiliations. Several reasons can be attributed to this 'restlessness' among the exiled community, one of them being the way Kashmir sets the tone of engagement for Kashmiri Pandits. Our story no longer seems to be ours too tell, our future not articulated in our words. Being denied the right to connect with our roots on our own terms aggravates the pain of exile, which manifests in the kind of protests we have seen. Another reason is that we feel adrift and without support. Nobody is ready to take up our cause, whether it's the Modi government, opposition parties, the media, civil society or you, the leftists and liberals who fear that supporting us will tarnish your "secular" credentials.

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