Guest post by RAJU MOZA
It was in the month of January in 1990 that the onset of militancy in Kashmir resulted in the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits to Jammu, Delhi and elsewhere. Every year since then, January brings back the question of their return to their homes, in the press and increasingly on the internet.
There was something different about it this year. Several recent incidents have given the question of return a new impetus.
In Kashmir, 25 local Sarpanchs (elected village council heads) met and discussed the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir. This was the first time when the return of Pandits was discussed amongst elected leaders, prospectively, departing from usual discussion of looking retrospectively with the prism of the Jagmohan “scripted exodus” theory. As per this theory, which has been rebuffed time and again by the Kashmiri Pandit community, the then Governor of state of Jammu Kashmir, Jagmohan, acting as the administrator under President’s rule, was the architect of their exodus, who thought that he will get a ‘free hand’ to deal with militancy without the Pandit community being targeted by armed insurgents as a backlash, or as collateral damage by security forces in the course of their operations against militants.
In early January in Pune, a first of its kind youth conference of Kashmiri Pandits, organised by Panun Kashmir. Panun Kashmir is Pandit organisation that demands a separate homeland with union territory status, to be carved out of the present state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was the talk of the town. Nearly 1,500 people attended the conference, and another 3000 people were watching it online. A unanimously adopted resolution said that Kashmiri Pandits would work towards creating a homeland with “renewed vigour”. While there is nothing new to the homeland idea, this is for the first time it has been adopted by such a wide-ranging representation of Pandits, including some who came from abroad, students in Maharashtra’s engineering colleges, and so on.
On 18 January, ‘Exodus’ and ‘Kashmiri Pandits’ were trending on Twitter India. A national news channel broadcasted a special program, a rare instance, to discuss only the issue of Kashmiri Pandits. A survey conducted at the behest of Ministry of Home Affairs, said 67% the youths of those surveyed (youths from the valley) were in favour of return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley .
Many Kashmiri Pandits have visited Kashmir off and on over the years, perhaps never did they do so in such large numbers as they did in the summer of 2011, which was considered to be “peaceful”. They went like tourists, many of them for the first time since the exodus.
However, the exodus has brought salient transformation in the demographic and economic status of the Kashmiri Pandit community. These changes could well mean that Kashmiri Pandits may never return to Kashmir, whether or not the situation in the Valley is conducive to their return. These key issues should also be taken into consideration by Panun Kashmir while they figure out whether and how a separate homeland for Pandits is possible.
Some years ago, an elderly Kashmiri Pandit, who had migrated to Udhampur, was on his deathbed. His last wish was that he wanted to go back to Kashmir. His family took him to Kud, a hill station not far from Udhampur. The family showed him pine trees from the car. I know this is not Kashmir, said the old man, let us go back.
His was a generation strongly connected to Kashmir. After 22 years of exile, three different generations of Kashmiris co-exist as a community. Kashmiri Pandit youth who grew up outside Kashmir do not connect, identify and relate to Kashmir in the same way.
Statistics related to the community are either disputed or simply not available. We will thus have to do with some crude deductions. One way to do this is to look at the obituaries published in the Jammu papers. On an average, 10-15 obituaries of Kashmiri Pandits are published every day. Assuming that these represent only half the actual deaths, we could take a figure of 20 per day. In the initial years of migration, deaths were also caused by sunstroke and stress, so the number was high. On the basis of such a crude (admittedly contestable) calculation, one could estimate that as many as 1,40,000 Kashmiri Pandits would have passed away since 1990.
Basis this calculation’s (which can be contested) ,the number of Kashmiri Pandits died since 1990 is some somewhere around 1,40,000 .Thus an entire generation , which always wanted to go back ,has been wiped out ,which perhaps could have returned to valley.
Recently I participated in an event where 40 odd Kashmiri Pandit corporate leaders discussed everything from micro-finance to private equity but not Kashmir. There wasn’t even a word on Kashmir, let alone talk of return. Our parents’ generation composed predominantly of state government employees, the new one is largely in the private sector across India and the world. They are equipped with skill sets that are not in demand in the Valley’s economy.
The young Kashmiri Pandit is full of aspirations about his or her career, for which avenues are not available in Kashmir. That would have maintained a connection, just as it is for Kashmiri Muslims who leave Kashmir for work. The top priority in life for Kashmiri Pandit youth, as for anyone else, is new investments, a new car, a house. Perhaps it would have been possible, had the older generation been living in Kashmir, that these corporate Pandits would have been going back to Srinagar or Anantnag to be at home, to visit parents.
A Maharashtrian girl married to a Kashmiri Pandit from Anantnag loves to talk about Kashmir, Kashmiri food, rituals and has assimilated herself in Kashmiri culture. When asked if should would consider living in Kashmir, she said yes, but only during summer vacations.
Inter-community marriages like Yogita’s are widespread and rampant amongst Kashmiri Pandits. Marrying outside the community is now the rule rather than the exception. The community is spread across India and has adjusted itself to local conditions. For me this is the most critical aspect of the accentuation of the process of extinction of the Kashmiri Pandit community. Given that we face extinction as a community, the talk of return migration seems far-fetched.
These are only some issues. A host of other issues will have to be taken into account by anyone seriously considering the subject of Kashmiri Pandits returning to Kashmir.
(Raju Moza is a business professional based in Delhi. Contact: rajumoza at gmail dot com)
From Kafila archives:
- The Disappearance of Susheel Raina: APDP protests unabated disappearances in Kashmir
- ‘Snakebite or sunstroke?’: An extract from Siddhartha Gigoo’s novel, ‘The Garden of Solitude’
- Audacity of hypocrisy: Sameer Bhat
- Kitnay Kashmir