This is what I believe, the rest is history

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  • Publish Date: Apr 1 2016 3:05PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 5 2016 3:47PM
This is what I believe, the rest is history

Few issues divide contemporary Kashmiri opinion as deeply as the Pandit migration; every claim and counter-claim is contested, often acrimoniously. This isn’t surprising given that everyone seems to bring her own “facts” and prejudices to the argument. How do you get nearer to truth in such a debate? Perhaps by listening to saner, more mature voices from all sides – voices like the ones that we put these questions to

Dr Sumir Kaul

A reputed oncologist born, brought up and educated in Srinagar, he was the PDP’s national spokesperson until he resigned in 2015 to protest the party’s alliance with the BJP.

Is there a need for both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims to sit together to sort out what went wrong in 1990?
Yes. Both communities owe it to their shared historical ancestry and common way of life, which is termed as Kashmiriyat. Both should actively, sincerely and logically start a fact-finding exercise to approach the many truths behind the tragic separation which took place in 1990. Preventing similar tragedies in future is impossible without fully exploring, analysing and sharing the initiating and promotional factors responsible for this historical disruption. Individual migration Pandits and Muslims is a continuous process guided by a quest for better avenues but large-volume displacement under duress is another matter altogether.

Do you think a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can act as a bridge between the two communities?
Considering that both the communities still desire to set things right, despite the existence of rampant radical and disparaging views, the first step in this direction would be setting up such a commission. The central and state governments and religious groups could initiate, facilitate and monitor a series of dialogues but the main stakeholders have to be civil society groups from both sides.

Also, unless both communities are able to freely vent their repressed ire and beliefs, even if by flinging accusations at each other, how will truth, and logical and constructive beliefs find space? One can only build strong and durable structures, and peace and cooperation on solid foundation. So, we have to lay a solid foundation first. This may done by preceding the main reconciliation process by intra-community dialogues so that fractious views within the community crystallize into one opinion which isn’t the case at the moment.

In both the communities, disparaging views are expressed by hardliners who go on TV and sort of keep making allegations around the clock, and try to play victim. Until there is intra-community dialogue to evolve a point of view that accommodates the views of the other community, we can’t move ahead.

This question has never left the debate on the events of the early 1990s: were the Pandits driven out of Kashmir or did they leave on their own? What do you think?

One can’t deny the fact that external agencies conspired to let loose a series of targeted killings and propaganda which generated instant fear among the Pandits, forcing them to leave hurriedly in large numbers to save their lives. Some were even advised in the right spirit by their Muslims friends and neighbours to leave.

Many people claim that the Pandits were told by the then governor Jagmohan to leave. Is that true?
The Muslims by and large hold Jagmohan responsible for actively advising and facilitating the migration of Pandits. They feel that his motive was to engineer an ethnic cleansing the could be used as the proverbial stick to beat Pakistan with on the global diplomatic stage. I personally feel that both perspectives are possibly correct. A sincere truth and reconciliation process can establish it very clearly and would pave the way for shunning of hatred by both the communities.

Do you think the idea of settling the Pandits in separate townships would really work?
There’s a difference between just working and working well. Jagti is the only Pandit township established so far. No one, however, seems to be analysing the results of this experiment. I am not happy with the results there. I hear reports of unhappiness and a longing for diverse cultural and economic existence. I will not use the word ghetto but the township is very nearly so.

Rural Pandits yearn to go back to the hinterland. The city-based ones, however, may actually face some problems. The solution lies in having mixed clusters, something the late Mufti Sayeed talked about before he battered us away to the BJP unsung during his coalition negotiations. If the government really wants to do something, it should settle the Pandits in mixed clusters.

Some Kashmiri Pandits observe January 19 as “Holocaust Day”. Do you think it serves any purpose?
I have no objection to January 19 being observed as the day of exodus as long it serves to remind the community of the urgent need to introspect the causes of their migration. As long it makes them realise that we need to build bridges rather than burn them. The day should be used to remind us that we need to reconcile and to introspect where we may have gone wrong. It should remind us to build bridges with the Muslims in the valley. It should not be an event that transmits hatred. If the day is only observed by the fascist forces it can prove self-destructive for the Pandit community.

Anupam Kher

The renowned actor was born in Shimla but has his roots in Kashmir. In recent years, he has emerged as one of the most prominent voices of the Pandit cause on the Right.

Is there a need for both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims to sit together to sort out what went wrong in 1990?
My childhood memories are of Qazi sahib’s family and Sayeed sahib’s family. We were like one single family. I believe terrorism has not only affected the Pandits but Kashmiri Muslims have been its victims as well. The terrorists forcibly married many Muslim girls at gunpoint. I know so many Muslim friends who fled along with the Pandits in 1990. Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits should sit together and look at what went wrong in 1990. Reconciliation has to begin as Kashmiri Pandits want to return to their homeland.

Do you think a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can act as a bridge between the two communities?
Setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a wonderful idea. We have never thought about it. My suggestion is that there should not be politics involved in setting up such a commission and the Hurriyat people should be kept out of it. I always say that Kashmiri Muslims want to prosper like the people of other states, that Kashmiri youth also need jobs and other facilities.

You are emerging as one of the more popular faces among Kashmiri Pandits. Do you see yourself as a future leader of the community?
I do not want to be seen as a leader, but I do want to emerge as a voice of my community. I want to highlight the suffering of my community at every forum. I was recently denied a Pakistani visa because I am a Kashmiri and speak openly against terrorism and the wounds inflicted upon our community by terrorists.

Do you believe that the Pandits were driven out of Kashmir or that they left on their own?
It’s a reality that the Pandits were thrown out of their homes. They didn’t leave Kashmir on their own. They were brutalised, murdered, raped, and that’s why they left.

Many people claim that the Pandits were told by the then governor Jagmohan to leave. Is that true?
That’s not true. There is documentary evidence of how the Pandits were forced to leave. You can’t deny that slogans like “Waliv ya chaliw (come or leave)”, “Ase ghasey Pakistan, bataw rustoi, batnaway saan (We want Pakistan without Pandit men but with Pandit women)” were raised in the streets across Kashmir.

Do you think the idea of settling the Pandits in separate townships would really work?
If the Pandits return, they would always remain fearful, not of their Muslim brethren but of the gun. If a 1990-like situation arises again, they should not be forced to flee again. If they stay in a separate colony it would make them feel safer and more secure. People who are saying that separate colonies for the Pandits can lead to the emergence of a Gaza-like situation are wrong.

Another factor is that most properties of the Pandits have either been sold or abandoned. So how can you settle them along with Muslims? I am of the firm belief that the Pandits who are staying at Jagti, Nagrota, Udhampur and other makeshift colonies need to be rehabilitated in Kashmir and a separate colony should be set up for them.

Some Kashmiri Pandits observe January 19 as “Holocaust Day”. Do you think it serves any purpose?
It’s important to remember when and where the wounds were inflicted. We observe that day as the anniversary of our exodus from Kashmir. As Jalianwala Bagh, Nagasaki and Hiroshama are symbols, January 19 is a symbol for us. It doesn’t mean that life has not moved beyond January 19; it certainly has moved on. But the day reminds us of the doomsday that befell our community.

Prof Sidddiq Wahid  

The noted academician and founding vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Science & Technology has followed the Kashmir conflict closely, as its chronicler and as a political activist.

Is there a need for both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims to sit together to sort out what went wrong in 1990?
Yes, but under very strict conditions. Such meetings would be fruitful only if the two communities “sit together” with the intention of listening to one another before telling each other the “truth”, and in the belief that reconciliation is important for the larger good and not as compensation for wrongs committed by individuals of either community. Both these conditions are equally important.

Do you think setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can act as a bridge between the two communities?
No and Yes. No if this “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” operates under the Indian or the Pakistani states. The rift in relations between the two communities is the result of the contorted politics in this disputed and conflicted state. New Delhi and Islamabad are responsible for this rift; it’s a result of their acquisitive ambitions for its territory. So, they can hardly be conciliators.

And “yes”, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can be a bridge if it is willed by or “organic” to Kashmir, that’s it’s home grown, without any sponsorship, overt or covert, of external power structures.

Do you think the idea of settling the Pandits in separate townships would really work?
No. To force the Pandits to live in separate townships is to confirm the communal divides and, in fact, exacerbate it by assuming that there need to be conditions of apartheid. Nor should the return be defined by such terms and conditions as the Pandits having to “settle with the Muslims”. The circumstances of the return of Kashmiri Pandits will be defined by the intent and quality of the dialogue between the two communities on their estrangement.

Some Kashmiri Pandits observe January 19 as “Holocaust Day”. Do you think it serves any purpose?
No, it does not serve any purpose. In fact, it twists historical interpretation of events. I did not know that the word “holocaust” was used to describe it. “Holocaust” is not a word that can be used lightly by anyone who is reasonably educated. It refers to the extermination of six million Jews and other minorities by the Nazis during the Second World War. The use of this term to publicise the injustices suffered by Kashmiri Pandits – including the killings – is symptomatic of how perverse the politics of identity in the valley has become, not to mention the insult it flings at the memory of the six million people murdered by Hitler’s Germany.

Captain Shiben Tikoo

 

A retired military officer born and brought up in Srinagar, he is the author of The ‘Longest Night, a chronicle of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

Is there a need for both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims to sit together to sort out what went wrong in 1990?
In fact, there’s a dire need for both the Pandits and the Muslims to sit together to sort out what went wrong in 1990. I wonder why no effort has been made in this direction. I think it’s high time that a beginning is made and allegations, counter-allegations made against each other across the table. The paradox is that many Pandits and the Muslims continue meeting each other as friends and are seen together at social events in and outside Kashmir, as if nothing has ever gone wrong. This process has to be formalised and an agenda drawn up, more and more members of both the communities involved in such meetings.

Do you think setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can act as a bridge between the two communities?
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was and remains the prime requirement for finding the fundamental causes that have resulted in this devastation and mayhem, the killing of thousands of Kashmiris and the displacement of an entire community from their habitat of 5,000 years.

 Back in December 1995, soon after returning to Kashmir, I had started re-establishing contact with old friends and by April 1996, I had reached a good number of academics, intellectuals and professionals. Initially, most of them were reluctant to talk freely but when reassured, they spoke their hearts out. And, surprisingly, most of them were more keen than me to seek an answer to our common query, “Yeh kaisay huwa, kis ney kiya?”
It was, in fact, one of these people, an educationist, who first talked about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it did not take me one second to agree. Both of us were convinced that our query could be answered by this commission. I fixed up an appointment with one of the advisors to the then governor and the two of us went to meet him late the next evening. It was pitch dark. The meeting went well and the advisor assured us that he would convey this proposal to His Excellency. I was told later that the governor had agreed in principle but he would leave the implementation of the proposal to the democratically-elected state government since the process to hold the Lok Sabha polls had already started and election to the legislative assembly were not far away. That was the last I heard of this commission. But it is never too late.

Do you feel that the Pandits were driven out of Kashmir or did they leave on their own? 
This question is more of a joke. Here was a lunatic on a killing spree who was brazenly boasting on camera that he had killed 20/30/40 of them just because they were Pandits; he was saying he had lost the count of those he had killed. And yet this question is asked.

If my memory serves me right, it was your esteemed paper (Greater Kashmir) that had carried an exhaustive story on the ISIS-type killings of the Pandits in one of its issues in April-May 2002. Some of the barbaric acts narrated by the writer included: tying a Pandit couple to the back of a jeep and dragging them to death; sawing a Pandit woman into two halves; and nailing Sarvanand Premi to a tree and gouging his eyes out. Yet this question!

If anyone still has any doubts, I request him to read Irfan Gul’s recent Facebook post, “Kashmir is Incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits”. I’ll just quote a bit from this well-written, factual account of our exodus: “We can’t deny the fact that loudspeakers reverberated with the slogans, ‘O! Merciless, O! Kaffirs, leave our Kashmir. Anyone wishing to stay has to get converted to Islam’; ‘O! Muslims, Arise, O! Kaffirs scoot’; ‘Islam is our objective, Quran is our constitution, Jihad is our way of life’; ‘Kashmir will become part of Pakistan, Islam defines our relationship with Pakistan’.”

Many people claim that the Pandits were told by the then governor Jagmohan to leave. Is that true?
This question adds insult to injury. If not for the then Inspector General of Police Mohammed Azhar Nomani, you would be talking about me, if at all, and not to me today. I was told that mine was the first successful rescue operation by the police in downtown Srinagar. I can assure you that the entire Pandit community is immensely grateful to their Muslim friends and neighbours who warned them in time and requested them to flee and save their lives and the honour of their womenfolk. Those who listened to this sage advice survived and some of those who didn’t were murdered collectively in Wandhama and Sangrampora later on.

What do you make of the idea to settle the Pandits in separate townships? Do you think it would work?
Separate townships to start with, yes. Let’s be practical and realistic. We can’t go back to our original habitats. Almost all residential properties in Srinagar and major towns have been usurped or sold; most of this was distress sale. So, we’ve nowhere to go.

Now, if and when the Pandits have to be resettled as a group, a new settlement has to be created. Why not create a township for them where they could live as Indians, celebrating the Indian cricket team’s victory, hoisting a tricolour on Independence Day or Republic Day. Sooner rather than later, many Kashmiri Muslims would move into such areas because they too want to indulge in such patriotic activities, and within a couple of years things could hopefully get better and back to normal.

As it is, some Pandits have chosen, individually, to return to the valley and build homes and live peacefully with their Muslim neighbours. They have no “cricket problems” because as one of them candidly told me, they “do in Rome as Romans do”. Let’s leave it at that.

Some Kashmiri Pandits observe January 19 as “Holocaust Day”. Do you think it serves any purpose?
Yes, it does. It was a gigantic tragedy and you just cannot forget it. Such tragic events in the past have not been forgotten even after 1,000 years; they are observed the world over with mourning and indignation. Maybe one day the conscience of the perpetrators of this ghastly crime against humanity gives them a jolt and they repent – a remote and diminishing possibility as the years roll by. But for now, certain questions need to be answered: how is it that an entire population belonging to one faith gets mad and most of them do not even know why? How can anybody kill a friend or a neighbour for no rhyme or reason?

More than the Pandits, I would expect, and request, my Kashmiri Muslim brethren to observe it as a Day of Penance for being silent spectators when such savagery was being committed against a hapless community whose survival depended on their goodwill.

Upendra Kaul

A well-known cardiologist

 

Is there a need for both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims to sit together to sort out what went wrong in 1990?
Absolutely. We come from the same roots and culture and it’s a shame that there is so much of hesitation on both sides. This needs to be sorted out and the feeling that the Pandits are not welcome in their homeland should be dispelled. The Muslim brothers need to take an initiative for this since they are in the majority and their initiative can be convincing.

The Pandits, on their part, need to be understanding and start looking forward; talking only about 1990 is not going to be useful. Looking at the BJP or any other political party for help is pointless. Their numbers will never make the Pandits a votebank anywhere, so seeking political patronage isn’t going to yield anything. Unfortunately, some Pandits believe that Kashmir is a part of India because of them. That’s not the truth.

Do you think setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can act as a bridge between the two communities?
Yes, it’s a good way to bring in reconciliation.

This question has never left the debate on the events of the early 1990s: were the Pandits driven out of Kashmir or did they leave on their own? What do you think?
The mob mentality in the valley made the situation look so alarming, there was so much fear that any minority community would have left for their safety and honour. It’s a moot point whether they were driven out or decided to leave. It’s also a known fact that Kashmiri Muslims too have seen a significant exodus due to the prevailing situation and the collapse of law and order.

Many people claim that the Pandits were told by the then governor Jagmohan to leave. Is that true?
This is not true. The situation was so grim that it would not have made any sense for him to force them to stay back.

What do you make of the idea to settle the Pandits in separate townships? Do you think it would work?
Not at all. It would be like staying in cages, it would be no better than camps. It would defeat the whole purpose of restoring harmony.

Some Kashmiri Pandits observe January 19 as “Holocaust Day”. Do you think it serves any purpose?
Well, that date can’t be forgotten by the people whose suffering began that day. It can only be neutralised by the well wishers of Kashmiriyat. It must be made irrelevant by all of us, together. Reconciliation can’t come through politicians; it needs sustained efforts by the community. And all such need to be expedited, less it’s too late.