Bollywood actor Anupam Kher is attracting a lot of attention these days. And one cant even say for either good or bad reasons. It is now for a long time that the actor has set himself up as the champion of the rights of Kashmiri Pandits. He participates in Pandit protests and makes vitriolic speeches against Kashmiri Muslims who, in his view, are collectively responsible for the exodus of the Pandit community from the Valley. In fact, on the 26th anniversary of the Pandit exodus from Valley in January, Kher released a short video highlighting in a thinly veiled language the alleged persecution of Pandits at the hands of Muslims.
He seems to paint everything that happened in Kashmir in 1989 as an eruption between Kashmiri Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits. As if the protests, slogans, violence at the time had but one objective: to drive Kashmiri Pandits out of Kashmir. This simplistic reading of a deeply complex and a tragic situation is frightening for the people in the state. For, it incites an entire country against the Muslims of Valley and presents them as the other. It taps into the prevailing anti-Muslim discourse, both at national and the international level, and therefore cements the stereotype further. It reduces the overarching Kashmir problem to a petty communal issue.
True, Kashmiri Pandits were sporadically killed over a period of one year before they legitimately decided to leave – why get killed alongside a struggle the community had no stakes in. But so were a disproportionately larger number of Muslims killed in the process: by the security personnel, in cross-fire, in grenade and bomb attacks on the roads and of course, even by the militants. While Pandits were getting killed as alleged informants, there were many more Muslims also being gunned down over the same allegation. So why claim an exclusive right to victimhood. And that too by painting the community which has suffered disproportionately more as the oppressor.
Over the past two decades, not only has the Pandit issue become tangled with the larger Kashmir crisis, but the return of the Pandits to their former homes is still viewed as a tricky proposition. Their return has become the most exacting yardstick of the measure of normalcy in Kashmir. Kashmir, it is said, can hardly be called truly peaceful until the Pandits are able to return and settle back freely.
This is true. But the likes of Anupam Kher out to grind their own axe are recasting the entire issue in rank communal terms. Speaking about a situation that is mired in competing narratives, versions of truth and oral histories and still fresh in the memory of millions of Kashmiris both Muslims and Pandits with their own individual takes, Kher squarely blames not only the Islamist militants but the majority community as a whole for forcing the flight of his community. As evidence, he cites the selective killings of Kashmiri Pandit figures in the beginning of the militancy. But again so were several Muslim figures killed
It is also dangerous to divide the larger Kashmir tragedy between Muslims and Hindus. And if we are to communally divide it, what about the sufferings of the Muslims which are egregiously more than the other community. Who will account for their colossal loss? A good actor like Kher who is equally loved by Kashmiri Muslims for a range of his roles in movies could have been least expected to be a polarizing figure. His fans in the state are really hurt.
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