Kashmir Pandits, yet again

Why is it that whenever Kashmir returns to normal, a contentious issue is deliberately introduced to tip it back into turmoil. Over the past some years, there are many such issues that have become a staple of Valley’s conflict discourse. And whenever the situation appears peaceful, one or two of these issues stage an entry, as if on cue, to put Kashmir back on edge.  One such issue is the Kashmiri Pandit resettlement in Valley. On April 3, the minister of state for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told Lok Sabha that the state government has been requested to identify “suitable land” in Kashmir for rehabilitation of the Pandits. He said further action would be taken only when the land is identified. This has generated fresh unease in Valley with separatist groups expressing themselves against any plan to set up separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits.  Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani has termed the plan “unjustified”.  He said both Muslims and Pandits will oppose creation of ghettos in the state which divide Kashmiris “on religious lines”.

 In a welcome change from the past, some Pandit voices have also joined the chorus. Maharaj Pajnu, the general secretary of All India Kashmiri Samaj  has said that creating ghettos was not an answer. “They can’t put us in a place like Badami Bagh (army cantonment). We are not army. This settlement has to be composite culture, not composite township, where both Hindus and people from other religions can live,” Pajnu said. Ashok Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit living in New Delhi has called for bridging the gap between the estranged communities.

It is this kind of conversation that should take precedence over the government effort to bring Pandits back and settle them in exclusive enclaves.  The pro-active role of the state to push the creation of the settlements has only vitiated the atmosphere. What has not been tried is to let the two communities to sort things out through a sustained interaction of their respective civil societies. This has far better chance of succeeding than a fraught state imposed unilateral solution which threatens not only to add to the reigning political problem in the state but also create a permanent gap between the communities. More so, when the dominant public opinion in Valley and among Pandits too is to find a way to live together again, like we have done through centuries.

But beyond the romance and nostalgia of this shared past, the challenge for the two communities is to make it happen again. This calls for a formal and informal civil society contacts, and a serious public debate to discuss and deliberate various solutions and work out a consensus. This may appear a tall order but it isn’t.  Politics may have vitiated the climate but at social level the communities spontaneously connect with each other. The responsibility on all of us is to aid this process. And the central government needs to better give up its overpowering political urge to turn the Pandit rehabilitation into a state-sponsored event.


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