Ghar Wapsi - A Reality Check

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We, Kashmiri Pandits, are the original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley, the inheritors of a proud lineage! Tyranny against our community started with the advent of Islamic rule in 1339 and continued for almost five centuries; in 1826 Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army defeated the Afghans in the Battle of Shopiyan. Unfortunately, by then, the KP community had been reduced to a miniscule minority in the land of their origin through forced conversions and other atrocities. The tyranny continued even after the state of Jammu and Kashmir politically acceded to an independent India in 1947. Seeds of Wahabi Islam, sown in 1930 produced its fruits in 1990 when Kashmiri Pandits faced Ethnic Cleansing at the hands of a militant, Jihadi Islam. Almost 5L Kashmiri Pandits were forced to run away to Jammu, Delhi, and other parts of India to save their faith and families. People became paupers overnight, losing their homes, belongings, property, and livelihood; thousands were forced to live in tents of misery for years as refugees, under inhuman and harsh conditions. Families were torn apart – and scattered all over India – wherever job opportunities took them; properties were sold for a pittance simply to stay alive. We, the displaced KPs have been leading our lives as refugees in our own country for the last 32 years. The time has come to think – WHAT NEXT?

Fact Check:

  1. In spite of the grave injustice meted out to our community, Kashmiri Pandit youth did not pick up arms in revenge! They had the motive, yet, community elders ensured that they stayed as civilized law-abiding citizens. They did not emulate the Palestinian or the Kashmiri Muslim model of Terrorism, revenge, or Intifada.
  2. Every migrant family, even while living in tents ensured that their kids studied hard, even under candlelight. The objective was that even while our people had lost everything, future generations could hold their heads high due to their education and skill. Great help was provided by Shree Balasahib Thakre, the Shiv Sena founder, by ensuring that Kashmiri Pandit kids got admission to certain technical and management courses across Maharashtra. Every year, over 1000 KP kids found their way into various professional colleges - a luxury denied to our community in J&K due to the profoundly pro-Muslim bias in the J&K administration since 1947.
  3. We have completed 3 decades -Post Exodus in which the Kashmiri diaspora has spread itself across India, even abroad. The younger generation (<35 years) has had very little direct contact with Kashmir; their lifestyles have, over the years changed to match the local ones, be it in dress, food, or speech. Our children today are open to matrimonial alliance with colleagues from all over India – the barriers of caste (Brahmin), language, region, and in very selected cases, even religion have been demolished.
  4. Over the last thirty-two years, almost three generations of KPs have passed away – those who had lived in the valley. Most people have by now rebuilt their lives with houses/ jobs in Jammu/ Delhi/ NCR/ Pune/Mumbai/ Bangalore and wherever else fate has taken them in search of livelihood. A good number of our KP biradari members have kind of re-established their lives.

Ghar Wapsi:
Right from 1990, there has been hope in our community that we shall ‘go back to our homeland one day – a Ghar Wapsi! In fact, some community members very fondly thought in 1990 that the ‘migration’ was a temporary phase, the madness would end in 4-5 months and they would be able to ‘go back to their ancestral homes to live in peace and harmony. Many of us were confident that Govt of India, with the might of the Indian Army, 

would never allow such a ghastly tragedy to befall a minuscule minority that had all along kept the Tricolour high in Kashmir. That, alas, was not to be! From January – March 1990, almost all Kashmiri Pandits left the valley. Every political party worth its ‘secular’ salt, has since been ‘supporting’ the Return of the Natives – including terror outfits like the JKLF and Hurriyat Conference! Our community is indeed ‘lucky’ to have so many well-wishers even while everybody realizes that these people are mouthing hollow slogans which they really do not mean! Several socio-political organizations emerged within the community and have tried to keep the flame of Ghar Wapsi alive.

The Post Truth: August 5, 2019
August 5, 2019, marked a watershed in the chequered history of Post-Independence Jammu and Kashmir with the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A, two very contentious articles of the Indian constitution that were touted to reflect the Special Bond between J&K and India. Since the time these two articles were inserted into the Indian Constitution( 1954) under pressure from Nehru (read Shiekh Abdullah), the political class of Kashmir used to wave these as red herrings. One political charlatan went to the extent of declaring that the Indian Govt would not find a person to carry the Indian Tricolour in Kashmir if these politically sacrosanct articles were touched! Modi's Government called their bluff and through an act of parliament, removed on August 5, 2019, these ‘temporary’ vestiges were added 7 decades back to the body of the Indian Constitution.

These constitutional changes created a sense of euphoria within the KP community. Many KPs fondly thought that Ghar Wapsi was just the next logical step. They somehow did not take into account the resistance to the very idea of Ghar Wapsi from the Kashmiri Muslim Community, particularly from their political leadership. The resistance to the Delimitation process shown by the Muslim leadership of Kashmir, irrespective of political colors, and the continuous targeted killing of KPs in Kashmir Valley are dangerous signals that must be taken into account. Community organizations obviously were bullish about Return to the Valley and some foolhardy brave hearts even started clamoring that Modi Govt paradrop them into Kashmir now that the original bluff has been called. As happens with all such issues, there are deep layers that need to be taken care of, lest the exercise turns into a fiasco. Some of our community brethren are also making outlandish, unreasonable demands which further complicates matters.

A practical reality check for the ‘Return to Valley’ idea:

  • The era of living in Kashmir valley in semi-harmony with Muslims (as in the 1960s or even 1970s) is dead and buried, whether we like it or not. The population used to be mixed in our Mohallas/ localities/ villages -2 or 3 KP families per 100 Muslim families. Now, returning to that kind of scenario – of a mixed population living peacefully (by and large, without major frictions), is not feasible anymore. That culture of peaceful coexistence is gone, as are the people who knew that culture and lived by those norms, on both sides of the religious divide. The new generations in the valley do not want to share the cake!
  • KP properties in Kashmir were mostly sold in distress, at throwaway prices, following Exodus; houses, land, and orchards were usurped by the ‘friendly’ neighbors or the local toughs. Turning the clock back to restore ownership is likely to create numerous problems. The local populace has assimilated those properties. The house where I was born has been demolished and a new structure has come up in place! Any attempt to undo that, in whichever form, shall generate further ill will and venom. We have seen the reaction of Muslim political, social, and religious leaders to the recent decisions by Govt of J&K to list out ‘distress sale properties in the valley.
  • Creating ‘dedicated townships for KPs’ is akin to creating ghettos – easy targets for merchants of Islamic Terror. Besides, do the proponents of ‘dedicated and exclusive KP townships’ expect people to work in isolation or families to live in seclusion? It is futile to expect any Govt to provide security to every single KP living in Kashmir. People living in ghettos can easily be targeted at their work places or while in the market, as happened in the case of Mr. ML Bindroo(Retail Chemist) and two Non-Muslim teachers in Srinagar. The concept of dedicated townships or security bubbles for returning KPs is excellent in theory but not practical at this point in time. You cannot keep people in safety bubbles forever. People can’t live in the shadow of security personnel forever.
  • Are our people ready for the jump? Does Kashmir offer adequate jobs to our youth? Are our kids ready to throw out their current well-paid jobs and start living in Kashmir? Even people in the post-retirement phase might not be willing to go.
  • Two, if not three, generations of Muslim youth in Kashmir have grown up without a trace of Pandits. They shall find the returnees as good/ bad as aliens or ghosts from a shadowy past. They shall also find the returnees as intruders, who can eat into their share of the cake – be it in the form of jobs or educational opportunities. Not a welcome thought at all.
  • Islamic Radicalization has created more hot heads with narrower minds, globally. Education has not been able to make radicalized youth look at facts. In fact, the number of educated (technically/ professionally) young men from well-to-do families becoming radicalized has come as a shock to our ‘social theory’ apologists who would cite poverty, lack of educational avenues, job opportunities, police oppression, etc as the ‘reason’ for radicalization. Events in Sri Lanka( April 2019) blasted that theory as have the numerous instances of engineers/ doctors/ scholars joining hatred-bred terror organizations like ISIS etc. Therefore, a return to the valley for living amidst such radical elements shall be an open invitation to disaster. organizations like ISIS etc. Therefore, a return to the valley for living amidst such radical elements shall be an open invitation to disaster.

What Options Do We have?
We need to take a realistic look at the options available to us in the present political scenario. As I see it, our community has very limited options for the immediate future. Primarily, there are two options:

Status Quo Ante: As a well-educated, minuscule minority, we can find entire India as our playground. Our people do not face any discrimination nor do we experience/ generate any local resentment as of date. Like the Parsi community, we can mingle with mainstream India even while maintaining our distinctiveness! We can live like normal citizens in any Indian state of our choice (including the Jammu region of J&K). This can prove to be the path of least resistance and quite acceptable to the majority of our community members. In the last 32 years, many of us have created little cocoons of comfort, built property, and businesses and found jobs. Leaving this for the Promised Land could prove to be chasing a chimera! I spoke to half a dozen relatives who had lived in Kashmir till 1990 – not one is willing to permanently go back.

Return to the Valley: This is the ultimate dream - the Utopia, the ideal romantic vision. Natural justice too demands that the land of our ancestors be restored to us. This, however, looks like a pipe dream today, given the socio-political realities of the country. Not many KP organizations, unfortunately, have given serious thought to the nuts and bolts of this emotion-laden slogan. Return to the valley shall mean getting uprooted once again, and moving to the valley, lock, stock, and barrel – half measures won’t do! It shall demand immense sacrifices from the Community and every individual. We can’t expect the Government to hand over things on a platter or to do all the dirty work for us. It shall mean a ‘return to the ditches’ approach as demonstrated by the Jews in reclaiming land in Palestine. A few brave hearts, particularly from rural Kashmir did make attempts from time to time at going back to live in their original villages in the last 32 years. They, unfortunately, were not very well accepted – covertly by the local communities (Muslims) and directed by the terrorist outfits operating in the valley. Wandhama( January 25, 1998) saw the cold-blooded massacre of 26 Kashmiri Pandits- men, women, and children On March 23, 2003, another lot of 24 Pandits was gunned down brutally in Village Nandigram, near Shopian. On June 8, 2020, Mr. Ajay Bharti Pandita, Sarpanch of Lukbhawan Village, Anantnag, was murdered. In the killing of Mr. ML Bindroo( October 2021), the message was clear – ‘Don’t even think of returning as residents – you may come as visitors, though!” It is important to note that as of date, there are + 30 Terrorist organizations/ groups operating in J&K, of which 11 are Proscribed, 6 more in the ‘Active’ Terror Group List, and 18 in the ‘Inactive’ Terrorist Group List.

What we need is a proper plan with short-term objectives as well as long-term targets:
In the short term, we can look at:

  • Securing our Religious Roots: Our temples/ places associated with our religion/ culture are our outposts. We first need to secure those, clear the encroachments, and digitalize their revenue records. For example, the location of eight Bhairav Temples in/ around Srinagar (originally these form the shape of an Octagon when the locational dots are connected), is almost lost. A separate Kashmiri Pandit Teerth Authority, along the line of Mata Vaishno Devi Trust, can be established for control, maintenance, and governance of all KP Religious & Cultural properties. This becomes all the more important in view of various unsavory incidents of internecine squabbles (the Chakrishwar episode is a sad reminder).
  • Re-establishing Connect with Kashmir: Three decades of exodus have diluted our connect with the Valley! We need to revive our connection by VISITING KASHMIR REGULARLY, even as visitors to begin with! I believe at Jeethyaer (Srinagar), excellent facilities have been established to facilitate visitors to this teerath. Similar facilities can be created at Durga Nag, Hari Parbath, Pokhribal, Tul Mul, Devibal Asthapan (Baramulla), Mattan, Jwala Ji, Tikkar (Kupwara), and other important landmarks. Wherever necessary, additional land can be purchased for important centers like the Tul Mul to encourage visits/ stay by the younger generation - a kind of Religious Tourism. Periodic visits to our religious sites alone can keep Kashmir alive in the hearts & minds of our children.
  • Keeping Alive our Traditions & Language: We need to keep alive our Religious & Cultural traditions. Pann, Herath, Jyeth Aatham(fasting on every zoonpatch ashtami has been a tradition in Kashmir), Zarme Satam, Gaade Batte, Kyetche Maavas, Navreh Thaal, etc are some of our very specific socio-religious festivals; observing Birthdays/ Shraad as per our Kashmiri Panchang are symbols of our +5097-year-old heritage. If we wish to maintain our tradition and identity, then each KP shall have to come forward to own up to the responsibility. We must help our children speak/ learn Kashmiri by making it the ‘language at home. If a Bengali/ Gujarati/Tamil/Malyali origin person, living anywhere in India can maintain his/ her mother tongue at home, why can’t we KPs do it? Unfortunately, Kashmiri speaking is the first thing that we shed; generations that started moving out of Kashmir in the 1950s are guilty of this social crime – not making their kids speak Kashmiri. Performing Yagneopavit in a designated manner before marriage is another of our traditions. The role being played by the Vijayeshwar Panchang in keeping this flame alight is highly commendable. They are the repository of both knowledge and history. We can request them/ other scholars to start elaborating on our numerous places of religious importance so that the Next Generation can know what Martand Teerth Yatra or Thajjyaer Yatra signifies. Efforts for the revival of Sharda language learning have already started – that project too needs to become broad-based.

  • Develop a Centralized Pandit Authority: As Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Zionist Leader and Israel’s first President would often say,” Put two Jews in a room and they shall have three opinions”. One of the common elements we share with Jews is that we are highly argumentative, fragmented, and opinionated. We are also quite prone to individualism. However, these traits are ‘acquired’ - a result of 5 centuries of barbaric treatment meted out to KPs. Also, being knowledgeable Brahmins, a certain amount of ego is inherent! There is much that is to be preserved, much knowledge that is to be given shape. There is so much still available that needs to be recorded and digitalized. Currently, we have a few hundred organizations across India claiming to represent Kashmiri Pandits. Unfortunately, some of these are ‘sponsored’ or ‘promoted’ by one political party or the other. Some of the ‘leaders’ also have personal agendas which kind of obliterates the selfless work a number of our brethren are doing or at least casts a shadow of doubt on their work. There is much that is to be preserved, much knowledge that is to be given shape. There is so much still available that needs to be recorded and digitalized. Unlike the Jews, we were living in Kashmir all through our history.

  •  Start the Back to Roots movement: This is a long-term project. Buying back land in selected pockets can be the nidus for the future. Only when we are connected to the land in Kashmir by way of agriculture/ horticulture etc can we re-establish our presence say 10 - 20 years down the line. The world currently is going through a period of churning – the next decade shall see a major restructuring of world power and the economy as oil shall lose its importance. Both China & Pakistan may not exist in their current shapes by then; the Middle East Oil economies (UAE, Saudi) are already seeing major changes in preparation for the post-oil scenario. That shall be the time for our community to move into Kashmir in larger numbers. Islamic Jihadist movement in Kashmir was funded by petro-dollar inflow from the Middle East and Pakistan. As the sources run dry, this movement shall lose its steam.

    There is an age-old saying,” One who learns from his own mistakes is wise but one who learns from other’s mistakes is the wisest,”. We KPs are at crossroads. We can’t expect ‘others’ to fight our battles always. Our own people shall have to come out of their cocoons of comfort and enter the ditches to cleanse the muck. This project shall take a minimum of 2 generations of KPs because we do not have strong political backing. This task requires sacrifice as well as a vision. Time and necessity shall bring a Theodor Herzl for our community too who can bring all ‘individualistic’ Battas onto a single platform. Remember, the Israeli parliament even today is the most ‘fragmented’ assembly of elected representatives in the world! Yet, they have survived and become strong. Our community too shall have to produce a David Ben Gurion and a Golda Meir if it wants to fulfill its dream of Returning to the Land of its Forefathers.

 

    Sanjeev Munshi

    Sanjeev Munshi

    Budhgir, Jammu & Kashmir, India

      • Suniel Kumar Dhar
        Suniel Kumar Dhar

        I think we as Kashmiri Pandit Community should together strive for creating a one platform or a Central authority for our community which will only help us in preserving our rich cultural heritage!

        • Brij Krishan Raina
          Brij Krishan Raina

          Nicely analyzed by Mr. Munshi. He is very practical in his narration. We have to forget about resettling in Kashmir. Our younger generation is already scattered all over the globe. My own two children are settled in the US. I can’t expect their progeny to come and live in a shitty place in Kashmir….sorry for using slang for Kashmir… yes it is so for us KP’s alone. The killing of KPs on a regular basis through time is a clear signal that we are unwanted whatsoever. No KM political leadership is interested except for the oft-repeated statement “ Kashmir is incomplete without KP’s “ for superficial digestion. When they were in power did a single leader take any initiative towards bringing them back but instead made things further complicated by denying even what was due to them?
          Corollary with Jews is appropriate but unfortunately, we stand no comparison to them in their extreme commitment to their cause. Besides, they are far more resourceful and moreover still own a piece of land of their own.
          While the writer has pleaded to at least save our heritage and culture, even that is bound to get eroded within a few decades' time. 
          The KP's who fled Kashmir centuries before still retained a semblance of their roots, but the present progeny won’t even preserve that because of large scale intercaste marriages.
          To me the scenario 40-50 years hence would be ….. yes their used to a community like KP’s in India and would be relegated to those of Red Indians in America’s.
          The pain we feel having lived in Kashmir will fortunately not be felt by our progeny.
          So best is to go on with life and try to flourish through our own efforts and hard work.
          🙏🏼

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