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After 29 years of exile, Kashmiri Pandits long to return to Valley

Most people in the country and abroad think that Kashmir is an integral part of India. It is being parroted by leaders of all political hues that sounds like an arbitrary statement designed to rebuff Pakistan and to reaffirm India’s military might over a coveted geographical area.

No, the fact remains that it is not a piece of land. It is the abode of the soul of India.

“Kashmir is an integral part of India” is not a statement but an impassioned avowal.

Kashmir was considered the abode of Saraswati, the highest seat of learning in India, and was also referred to as Sharda Peeth. So much so that students on graduating from Kashi would take four symbolic steps towards Kashmir, denoting their aspiration for higher learning. Almost the entire body of Sanskrit literature has its origins in Kashmir.

Rajatarangini, an authoritative historical tome on the royal lineage of Kashmir, written by Kalhana in the 12th century, outlines the greatness of King Lalitaditya, possibly the most powerful Indian emperor of all times, whose kingdom in the 8th century extended from the Caspian Sea in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south, and included Assam in the east. How many Indians have even heard his name? How many of us know that Srinagar was established by Ashoka the Great?

Mahayana Buddhism was spread across mid Asia, China and Japan by Kashmiri monks. Patanjali gifted his yog sutra to humanity his. Sarangadeva is considered the father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music. Acharya Abhinav Gupta, one of the greatest scholars of all times, wrote 46 literary classics, including the renowned Abhinav Bharti. His principles of ras are being taught in 80 universities around the world.

Why educationists and policymakers are deliberately withholding such vital slices of history from our textbooks?

How will the present as well as future generations realise that Kashmir is the keystone of our heritage through millennia, finding mention even in our oldest scriptures?

Kashmiri Pandits have rich heritage and their roots are engraved in the soil of the Valley for more than five thousand years. That can neither be destroyed nor obliterated by any power more so by unleashing terror and vicious campaign. But the ground reality in today’s age of enlightenment is — Kashmir today is without Kashmiri Pandits. Realities are, at times harsh and strange. Kashmiri Pandits, the aborigine of Kashmir, are out in exile, in this modern age of reason and enlightenment. The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, designed to effect the motivated ethnic cleansing, will go down in the history of these aborigines of Kashmir as a continuation of the persecution and genocide facing for hundreds of years. The atrocities were peaked during despotic rule of tyrant kings.

But the irony is that they did not get any respite even in the bright days of the enlightened times, especially in the post-independent days of India.

Whatever be the vicissitudes of their history all pale into insignificance when we look at their present plight. The colossal crisis through which the exiled community or for that matter the entire Kashmiri society is passing through is in reality the crisis in the country’s great values — the perversion in practise of its constitutional jurisprudence, the socio-political and moral norms. Acute fear and scare had been created which gripped the Kashmiri Pandits from September 1989 onwards after killings of prominent members of the community. The Pandits started feeling what they had felt when hounded by Afgans in the second half of the 18th century — “O heart, there is fear and dread in the city. Prepare for journey, disorder is dominant in this city.”

Killing one and scaring a thousand was a concerted plan neatly executed by local terror groups. The choice of exile was forced on the Kashmiri Pandit community by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists who imposed their writ on Kashmir by unleashing death and destruction. The state government at that time abdicated its constitutional duties and left people’s life and liberty at the mercy of looters, marauders and terror groups. The terrorist violence is unabated till this day. The terrorists maimed, killed, lynched and looted a large number of Kashmiri Pandits. The terror-stricken Pandits ran for life, leaving their homes and hearths behind them.

They sought refuge in Jammu, Delhi and elsewhere in the country. The cleansing process was completed and now the Kashmir Valley has a very small number of Kashmiri Pandits. The native Kashmiris have entered in the 29th year of exile. Pandits crave for return to their roots. They say bidding farewell to the soil they have sprung from is too traumatic as experience to be conveyed in words. They always say — we love our homeland and every inch of its bounteous soil has nourished us all. The everyday resolve of these hapless Kashmiris is — strive, struggle and stop not till the exile is reversed and they return back to their homeland on their own terms.

The successive Central as well as state governments have done precious little for the rehabilitation of this community, which has contributed in a big way to the freedom struggle of India against the British imperialism, and also to the national reconstruction in the post-Independent era. It is a community whose history generates envy at their achievements as well as sorrow at their plight today. The long history of these exiled Kashmiris has been of triumphs and tragedies. The antiquity of the Kashmiri natives and its Aryan origin are well established. Human memory is short and so is, unfortunately, the memory of our leaders, especially of the current dispensation. It was I.K. Gujral as Prime Minister who said: “If the nation’s coffers have to be emptied for dignified return and rehabilitation of this illustrious community back in the Valley, still it would be a lesser price for their contribution towards modern nation building.”

The forced migration of 1990 left the Kashmiri Pandit community shattered physically and psychologically. Scores of social organisations worked day and night on voluntary basis to bring succour to the exiled. In a permissive, soft and caste-ridden Indian state and in many ways cruel, the exiled illustrious Kashmiri Pandit community have been created as refugees from its own flesh and blood and have been cast aside to fend for themselves. To survive as a distinct community is next to impossible in present-day world until the exile is reversed and rehabilitated physically back in the Valley. They are working relentlessly for the protection of their distinct socio-cultural entity. Their struggle is still going on. It is taking a lot of time for the leadership of the community to put across its considered views on the ultimate resettlement of the entire Kashmiri Pandit community in Kashmir on its own terms.

From 1989 till date Kashmiri Pandit groups are devoting a lot of time to their mission in one form or the other towards the task of restoring the honour and dignity of Pandits. There is no one at the political level, not even the PM and the home minister or at bureaucratic level, prepared to stick their neck out and demand action to restore the dignity and honour of Pandits and come out with an actionable time-bound plan for the return of the exiled community.

Hopes that with huge mandate the BJP-led government would pay serious attention to the plight and future of Pandits were sadly belied. The party leadership only exploits the victimhood of Kashmiri Pandits in every electoral campaign. The BJP-led government is as confused and as inactive as any of the other governments that had held office since 1989. No government has ever consulted the representatives of the exiled natives nor there is any return module plan in public domain.

The exiled Pandits have been waiting for 29 years, hoping that the day of their return with honour, dignity and security to their homeland will come. It has not so far, despite claims of the considerable improvement in the ground situation.

In the meanwhile, the plight of Pandits has been slowly forgotten. Everybody sheds crocodile tears over their suffering, but there is nothing by way of action. The future of Pandits, as an important stakeholder and component of the Kashmir imbroglio, is less and less talked about.

There are attempts by various social groups and civil society activists to ensure that the promises made by the nation, to restore the honour and dignity of Pandits, are not forgotten. These groupings are interacting vigorously with leaders of the government and Opposition political parties to ensure that this dimension of the Kashmir scenario is not forgotten. The socio-religious leadership of majority community and the groupings those who have for some reason have chosen not to be part of the mainstream are helpful factors towards the return of natives back home.

The return of Pandits to their homeland cannot be achieved unless the nation and the people of Kashmir are in unison and create consensus. The Government of India and that of the state have to plan out a common and comprehensive return module and enforce the same in time-bound framework. New Delhi has a constitutional and political responsibility for working towards such a consensus and demonstrate a strong political will. It has to create infrastructures, housing colonies, etc, provide adequate jobs to the educated youth and rescind the distress sales of immovable properties and secure all the religious places, cultural centres and endowments. The greater obligation on the Central and state governments is to create a conducive economic and socio-political environment for reversing their exile and facilitate their safe and dignified return to their homeland. Native Kashmiri Pandits are longing to return to the Valley — their roots and homeland.

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