Separate-colonies for Pandits is New-Delhi’s cheap ploy to deepen divide between Kashmiris

Visiting a popular, newly-opened cafe-cum-book shop on Dal Lake was on top of my to-do list when I came home to Srinagar. I was happy to be here – sipping coffee, looking at the beautiful Zabarwan hills, watching clouds dancing all over the landscape.

A group of young journalists caught my attention. They were busy discussing the next issue of their magazine. I overheard their conversations – ranging from politics to culture to the issue hogging the most media and public attention in Kashmir at the moment: the separate colonies proposed for Kashmiri Pandits.

They were discussing the cultural festivities they would be able to cherish once again. I could sense the excitement they felt at the possibility of being able to witness the glorious, integrated culture of Kashmir again – with Pandits and Muslims living together.

The joys of celebrating Eid, Shivratri and Diwali together. Their enthusiasm was infectious. It got me thinking about the day when the two communities would live together in their motherland again. I decided to interact with more Kashmiri Muslims to know their views on the subject.

Most of them were optimistic and cheerful about Pandits returning to the Valley. What they couldn’t figure out was the need for separate colonies for their Pandit brethren.

While these thoughts lingered in my mind, I recalled the interactions I had with my mother as a child. She would struggle as she tried to teach me how to speak Hindi, even though she was fluent in Hindi, English and Kashmiri.

Full of curiosity, I asked her how she knew to speak Hindi so well.

It was a delight to listen to her stories. She spoke of how her teach Omkar Nath Sir tutored in Hindi: “My teachers chose me to check the Hindi answer-sheets of Class 10 students,” she would add, as if to establish her command over the language.

She would recount how Omkar Sir once tied her hair with a red ribbon. He was the one who taught her the first lessons of religion and culture.

She recalled how she was awarded a box of pencils and toffees the first time she recited a few lines from the Quran.

Then, the colours from her stories start fading. What came further were only painful memories. These sad memories are the result of what happened in Kashmir later. The sufferings of Kashmiris, be it Muslims or Pandits, are heart-wrenching.

Discussions on Kashmir have been done to death. Many journalists have made entire careers out of spinning stories on the plight of Kashmiris, and parading their sufferings in front of the prying eyes of first-world intellectuals.

Kashmir has become a marketplace of speculations, conspiracy theories and agendas for everyone – be it politicians, journalists or activists. As a Kashmiri, I find it heartbreaking that the loving, personal relations between Pandits and Muslims have crumbled to dust.

What happened in Kashmir is not a problem between the two communities. They had been living together for centuries. This is a political problem, and it needs a unique solution. Quite predictably, no one has been able to find that solution for 60 years. Governments have come and gone.

Diplomatic continue to be stalled, giving rise to unrest and chronic violence in the Valley. It would seem that New Delhi simply doesn’t want to resolve the situation of Kashmir. Years of conflict have widened the wedge between the Pandits and Muslims.

What we need to understand is that any effort of reconciliation will only be possible by unifying the two communities.

Rising Kashmir’s Op-ed Editor Daanish Bin Nabi recently wrote: “There are hundreds of non-migrant Pandits living in Kashmir. These Pandits families did not leave Kashmir and suffered like Muslims in times of turmoil, but unfortunately no one talks about the plight of these Pandit families. Why is it always that New Delhi and its readymade stooges only talk about these Khers and their likes? What about rights of non-migrants? They have suffered equally like Muslims of Kashmir. These non-migrant Pandits are not part of any Pandit packages released by the New Delhi. They even face social problem within their own community. No Pandit family from Jammu or any other part of India wants to have wedlock with these non-migrant families. Likewise, they are facing hardships within their own community.”

New Delhi’s decision to build isolated colonies for Pandits is an effort in the opposite direction.

Not only does it deepen the divide, but it is against Kashmir’s multi-cultural ethos.

By pressuring the state government for separate Pandit settlements in places like Baramulla, the Centre is hampering the long-term peaceful re-integration of a fractured society.

Setting up separate colonies for Pandits is a ploy to manipulate the existing demography of Kashmir. At present, Pandits are living without fear or animosity with Kashmiri Muslims in various parts of Kashmir.

Among these, we can count Tral, Mattan, Anantnag and Kulgam in south Kashmir and Budgam, Habba Kadal, Barbar Shah in central Kashmir. Likewise, many Kashmiri Pandit families are living in north Kashmir as well.

One fails to understand that when Pandits are living comfortably from north to south in Kashmir, what is the need of creating separate colonies? New Delhi is not only trying to play a game of divide and rule, but perhaps it also wants to settle non-Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir.

One fails to understand that when Pandits are living comfortably from north to south in Kashmir, what is the need of creating separate colonies? New Delhi is not only trying to play a game of divide and rule, but perhaps it also wants to settle non-Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir.

The plan may be this: If the Referendum, as stated by India before United Nations, is ever held in Kashmir, the region will easily go India’s way. One of the present so-called separate colonies for Pandits is in Sheikhpora area of Budgam. Almost every family living in this colony wants to go back to their ancestral place. They are not comfortable in living in separate zones.

This is the case with the Pandits outside Kashmir as well. Those who want to return to the Valley want to go back their old homes, and not move into some restricted security zone.

Sanjay Kaul, a business man lives in volatile Tahab area of Pulwama district. He says, “We are living happily with our Muslim neighbours. There has been no threat no intimidation from anyone to us. As you know about the situation of our area but still no one harms or say anything bad about us. Debates about separate colonies are only gaining momentum because of the vote bank politics. They only want to divide the Muslims and Pandits of Kashmir and nothing else.”

Pandits who don’t have any property are not in favour of separate colonies either. It limits their options in finding wider opportunities of work and business. One can safely say that this plan of colonies is not viable either economically or culturally. It is merely inspired by factionalist politics.

Regarding the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, noted Kashmiri poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef said, “Settling KPs in separate colonies is an act which is totally unacceptable. Separate colonies will create ghettos. These would be similar to the Palestine experience. We all know how that area has turned out to be. The question of KP rehabilitation is a genuine issue. The way to rehabilitate KPs is to let them live among Kashmiri Muslims, as they used to. Those KPs who still have properties in the state can come and live there. For those who have sold all their property, the right measures can be taken so that they don’t have to live separately. If KPs don’t feel safe in living among Kashmiri Muslims, the whole purpose of their return loses its meaning.”

All the steps that the Indian government has taken for the so-called welfare and well-being of Kashmiris are acts of deceit and trickery in the real sense. All that they have done and are doing is against the will of the Kashmiris. This is the cause of the continuous unrest and instability in the state.

The worst scenario in this case would be if New Delhi ends up creating another Gaza. When the state of Israel was artificially created, it displaced tens of thousands of Muslims. This led to the creation of Palestine, and left the entire zone in perpetual conflict.

If the Centre’s agenda is to uproot the Kashmiri Muslims, then their plans are both reckless and unethical. The people of Kashmir, be it Muslims or Pandits, deserve better. After so many decades of frustration and injustice, it is time for a fairer course of action that builds some much-needed trust. Without it, we will continue to fall further deeper into a never-ending abyss.

The Article First Appeared In DailyO

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