Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 18, April 25, 2015
Saturday 25 April 2015, by Badri Raina

First a non-sequitor: the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley is
fraught with great perplexities of emotion, organisation, and healthy
sustainability. This contemplated return will not but be attended with
consequences of historic import both for the State of Jammu and
Kashmir and the subcontinent, one way or another. Of that there should
be no doubt. Reason why the premises on which the project is
undertaken need to be as comprehensively and objectively understood
and acknowledged as may be possible.

I write, of course, as a Kashmiri Pandit who migrated from the State
in normal course more than half-a-century ago; and, although I am in
the Valley frequently–every second year if not every year–and have
friendships and inter-actions that span a very wide spectrum of the
population, I cannot possibly lay any claim to the substance of the
experience of those Pandits who were forced to flee the Valley in
1990–a fact which, however, may not rob me of the prerogative to
express myself on the question with otherwise a legitimate vantage,
more perhaps than of those who are neither Kashmiris, nor Pandits, nor
frequent visitors to the State, especially the Valley. It is just that
those of us who have not experienced the brutalities we speak of
worldwide have only the option of empathising with them with what
sincere force of imagination we command.

I am of the view that the terms and modalities of the return of
Pandits to the Valley must crucially issue from our understanding of
the compulsions and culpabilities of the moment of their exodus.

Two broad readings of that moment offer themselves: one, that the
exodus of January 1990 had the full endorsement of the Kashmiri Muslim
population; and, two, that the ordinary lot of Kashmiri Muslims were
as much at the receiving end of an organised militant putsch as the
Pandits, and, although many Muslims across the Valley willed the
Pandits not to leave, they were too helpless and afraid to do much
more than to so will in view of both nasty admonitions from hostile
ideologues and guns on the street.

Depending on which of these readings are favoured, preferred terms of
the return will foreground themselves.

Should the Pandits wishing to return still remain convinced that their
exodus had the endorsement of the bulk of Kashmiri Muslims, their
projected return would inevitably be grounded in mistrust, and
suspicion of a hostile demographic environment. Clearly, this frame of
mind would be informed by a sense of identity of the returnees being
more Hindus than Kashmiris. The insecurities that must inevitably
issue from such a construct will not but dictate reposing trust in the
State rather than the people. And, following from that, a sense of
siege that can only yield a frozen communal divide. That such a divide
would have the consequence of strengthening and formalising the clout
of extreme Rightwing elements in either community must seem an
inevitability. The question then invites itself: would a ghettoised
isolation, however couched in “smart city” terms, be more conducive to
the physical safety of the Pandits, however dour the security provided
to the “townships” by state agencies, where any likely trouble-shooter
could assume the silent backing of a consenting majority population?
Not to speak of the interminable logistic conundrums of livelihood
compulsions of everyday existence that would anyway render the secure
isolation (sic) of the returnees a minute-to-minute hazard, since it
would be foolish to underestimate the animus of a majority “other”
that saw itself everyday of every week constructed as some sort of an
unwavering and smouldering enemy both by the returnees and the state
agencies protecting them. This model of return clearly seems one
fraught with suspicioin, resentment, intractable logistics–how would
the returnees go among the markets, the schools, the colleges,
offices, hospitals etc. suspecting an enemy behind their back wherever
they went, fearing potential violence. Its one virtue perhaps would be
the assertion of a sectarian will and the reclaiming of lost
territory–happy eventualities for some social forces in the fray.

The alternate paradigm of return could be one grounded in the
perception that the Pandit exodus of 1990 did not have the endorsement
of the bulk of the Kashmiri Muslim population, and that, whereas there
may not have followed any concerted or organised attempt on behalf of
the latter to seek the return of the Pandits, they have genuinely
desired such return, albeit on a footing of equality rather than
privilege. Such a view would of course require ideological
reinforcement from long years of historical memory that belies the
view that Kashmiri Muslims have always been inimical to the Pandits’
existence. It would require a recall to 1947, for example, when not a
hair of a Pandit head was touched in the Valley (except those in
border areas who fell to the marauding invaders from the new Dominion
of Pakistan) while large scale massacres of Muslims did happen in the
Jammu province. Fortunalely, in contrast to writing of the 1990
experience from a distance, I am able to speak of the events of 1947
from personal acquaintance. Any number of instances may be cited where
Kashmiri Muslims saved Pandit lives and households at terminal risk to
themselves. Such Muslims included my own six-footer Dai Ma, Zunat, who
stood rock-like to prevent harm to two Pandit households in the
village of Wadipora, three miles north of Handwara.

In short, this paradigm would base itself in trust of the people
rather than the state which in any event must always be seized with
the responsibility to protect the lives of any and all citizens from
either internal or external agencies that seek to harm them. One is
quite aware of the fact that this option is not easy to take for those
Pandits who did not merely leave the Valley but saw unconscionable
brutalities at close quarters, and who may not feel too enthused by
the further fact that all of the known culprits of those brutalities
have some to no legal reckoning. A structure of feeling that
corresponds to what many Kashmiri Muslims have experienced to see
state agents culpable of gratuitous atrocities go equally without

But, were this paradigm to be embraced as a transcendant act of faith,
the conclusion that would follow would be that the best bet for the
Pandits might be to rethink their view of Kashmiri Muslims and of the
nature and quantum of their collective complicity in the putsch of
January 1990, engage in reconciliation procedures, ask the state to
rehabilitate them in localities where they belonged, and join forces
with secular and democratic segments of the population to deter a
common enemy–namely, the sectarian ideologue or militant, as well as
the jackboot that complements their depre-dations. It does seem to
this writer that, contrary to an obvioius view, the prospect of the
Pandits and Muslims living in close proximity as before is likely to
be far more conducive to the physical security of the Pandits than
living in discrete townships. Not to speak of those townships turning
into versions of a Juhapura in Ahmedabad, or, contrarily, islands of
provocative prosperity–both equally deleterious.

On this issue, it ought to be a matter of considerable significance
and counsel that the Secretary of the Association of Pandits who never
left the Valley, Sanjay Tickoo, should have expressed the emphatic
view that they may not be persuaded to shift into “townships” in
preference to their traditional and existent location among mixed
neighbourhoods–a reminder that a faultline has existed between
Kashmiri Pandits who left the Valley and those that chose to stay

It should be obvious that depending on what option is exercised,
commensurate consequences for the life of the Indian Republic (and
Pakistan as well) will ensue, damaging or beneficial variously, not to
speak of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. What needs to be understood
is that rehabilitating the Pandits among the Muslims will
simultaneously also affect the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Muslims,
a vast number of whom wish to live down the shame of having “failed”
to prevent the exodus of the Pandits–a painful thought most explicitly
expressed just the other day by the saintlike Education Minister of
Jammu and Kashmir, Naeem Akhtar, publicly, and in private confidence
by many Muslim Kashmiris.

All in all, this might be a moment that carries within it the onus of
extremely consequential possibilities, and therefore one that deserves
to be weighed with deep foresight. All parties to the issue, for
example, will need to recognise that if much has remained the same in
the Valley over the last quarter-century, much also has changed. There
is now a stoutly educated Muslim intelligentsia that, looking back, is
persuaded that the gulf between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits for a
hundred years or more has been one of class perceived as social
experience; it is hardly to be expected or desired that the sort of
hegemony that the Pandits once exercised over the life of ideas or
officialdom be restored as part of some “package”. Kashmiri Muslim
scholars, academics, and civil society ideologues I know and interact
with are more than willing to have the Pandits come as equals and
enrich the concerns and debates that range among them with greater
empathy for the sufferings of Muslim Kashmiris than the Pandits may
have so far felt or shown. Put another way, one would think that if
the Pandits indeed wish to return to a life of composite Kashmiriyat,
they might need to be less opportunistically “nationalist” than may
have been their predi-lection, without any retreat from their
allegiance to a republican India–same as the mainstream political
parties in the Valley that still draw more than impressive support
from the electorate. Indeed, their bold participation in the political
process could not but have the effect of fleshing out new secular and
democratic dimensions of cultural and intellectual concerns that may
have remained quiescent over time, just so long as their politics
remain free of communal-sectarian emphases. Ideally, one would have
thought, such matters should have received wide public debate and
attention preparatory to any precipitate legacy-driven impulse that
may remain ill-thought.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi
for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and
poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he
wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His
latest book, The Underside of Things–India and the World: A Citizen’s
Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.