What about Kashmiri Muslims?

  • Ajaz Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Mar 28 2016 11:21PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 2 2016 5:12PM
What about Kashmiri Muslims?

If the Kashmir Pandits suffered the agonies of exile, those in Valley have been living in a prison which at times turns into a torture cell

It was mid-nineties and I was travelling to Delhi by train. The passengers in my cabin were guys of almost the same age as me, a group of students from Delhi and a Kashmiri Pandit, all of them returning from a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi. We soon got to be on friendly terms. I especially hit it off with the Kashmiri Pandit guy and we would often get up to stretch our legs and light up near the door of the cabin. Our conversation would invariably center on Kashmir; he reminiscing about his old home-place in downtown Srinagar and I relating the horrors of daily existence in Kashmir.  During the course of the journey the other guys asked me where I lived.

“Kashmir,” I said.

The guys laughed, “Of course we know that but where are you living presently, like this guy here lives in Gurgaon?” they said pointing towards the Kashmiri Pandit.

“I live in Kashmir,” I repeated.

They were puzzled and said, “But nobody lives in Kashmir now. There is a war going on there and everybody has migrated?!”

“Yes but people still live there…most of them in fact,” I said with an awkward smile. An equally awkward smile played on the lips of the Kashmiri Pandit who was sitting right across me. Suddenly it felt like he and I were separated not by a couple of feet but by light-years of distance. Later when I was trying to catch some sleep without much success, I looked enviously at the Kashmiri Pandit sleeping peacefully on the opposite bunk.  His peaceful repose was not the only thing I envied him for.

My travel to Delhi and my stay there was like being in an altogether new world. The bright lights and the hustle and bustle on the roads were in sharp contrast to the deserted appearance that my own home-town presented after dark. There were no restrictions, no ubiquitous gun-toting security personnel, and no ominous-looking bunkers or barbed wire to restrain your movement. Of course I wasn’t exactly free of the burden of my identity. Had to furnish a photograph and a facsimile copy of my identity card for ‘record’ in the hotel I stayed in and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that every policeman I encountered was looking rather too keenly at me. So here I was in a free world but feeling fettered here as well because I did not belong. That is how it was then and that is how it is now.

The migration of Kashmiri Pandits in the wake of the armed insurgency and the popular uprising in Kashmir in the 1990s has been a subject of much discussion. There have been attempts to paint this migration as a deliberate ethnic cleansing which is far from true if for no other reason than the fact that the armed insurgency as well as the uprising did not have any clear cut strategy to speak of. Besides the fact that some Kashmiri Pandits chose to stay back and are still there is enough to give the lie to this propaganda. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that a majority of the Kashmiri Pandits did flee their homes to migrate to other places outside Kashmir. Then again it cannot be denied that some Kashmiri Pandits were killed and at least some of these killings were targeted killings. Or that some Kashmiri Pandits might have been given reasons to feel anxious about the safety of their womenfolk. Or that some of them were actually threatened overtly or by implication. Or that some of them were subjected to extortion and intimidation and deliberate humiliation and torture even. All these factors would be reason enough for migration and evidently they were. The matter does not rest at that however, there being a twist in the tale for the above factors held true for the Kashmiri Muslim population as well.

It is a well known fact that far more Kashmiri Muslims got killed in the aftermath of the insurgency and the uprising. The total number of Kashmiri Pandits killed (219 as per the state government revealed statistics) is easily outnumbered by the number of Kashmiri Muslims killed during only a few of the numerous massacres that took place in Kashmir. Besides the fake encounters, custodial killings, killings in indiscriminate firing by the security forces, the Kashmiri Muslim population had to face bullets of rival militant groups, rogue elements among the militants, the counter-insurgents, unknown gunmen, the list goes on! And yes there were targeted killings of the majority community too by both militants as well as by those in uniform which far outnumber the targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits. It is equally true that the Kashmiri Muslims had enough reasons to feel anxious about the virtue of their womenfolk what with innumerable incidents of abductions, rapes and molestation by those wielding the gun. Threats, intimidation, extortion, bullying – the majority population was a stranger to none of these, regardless of who stood there behind the gun. Comparisons are odious but facts are facts.

The conditions that prevailed in Kashmir then – or for that matter as they stand even now – were not exactly conducive to a secure and peaceful existence but that was as true for the Kashmiri Muslims as it was for the Kashmiri Pandits. The Kashmiri Pandits migrated and the whole of India opened its arms in wide embrace for them while any Kashmiri Muslim who ventured outside continues to be an object of suspicion and easy fodder for security agencies. This is not to say that the Kashmiri Pandits did not suffer in their displacement.  The fact is that both communities suffered a lot with the Kashmiri Muslims getting the worst of it. If the Kashmir Pandits suffered the agonies of exile, the Kashmiri Muslims have been living in a prison which at times turns into a torture cell. Hence any discourse that blames either community for the wrongs suffered by each of them is inimical to reconciliation and will not only increase alienation between the two but will also lead to further victimization of both communities. The sufferings of the Kashmiri Muslims have been consistently ignored and adding insult to injury they have also been plied with an unnecessary guilt for the migration of Kashmiri Pandits, which is ironical to say the least. For all said and done the migration of Kashmiri Pandits was not exactly a matter of coercion but of choice, a choice that the Kashmiri Muslim never had.