Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Package for Survival, but Rehabilitation is Impossible Without Political Space

Story in the New Europe magazine highlights the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who have been forsaken in the valley by both the government and the State civil society

Separatist cleansing in the valley may end

On April 25, 2008, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened a cantilever bridge over the Chenab at Akhnoor and announced that more than 50,000 internally- displaced Kashmiri Hindu families would be rehabilitated back to the Jammu valley. For the first time since Kashmir secessionists launched a campaign of terror sending 350,000 Pandits - the Hindu minority in the region - fleeing from their homes in 1990, a comprehensive package for their return has been consolidated, setting at rest the insecurity that has beset Pandits for decades. Singh confirmed that New Delhi had requested land be identified for raising habitats and localities where the returnees would be relocated.

By the end of the year, a cluster of houses and flats currently under construction should be ready for occupation. But, given past violence against the peaceful minority, Indian security will have to be vigilant. In 1947, when the majority Hindi India and majority Muslim Pakistan gained independence from Britain, Maharaja Hari Singh, leader of the majority Sufi state of Kashmir, threatened by Pakistani annexation, asked to be part of India and benefit from the protection of its secular and democratic constitution. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, head of the largest political party (the National Conference) representing the Muslim majority, ratified the accession, judging the Kashmir secular Sufi-Islamic way of life would be best served by the decision.

However, Muslim fundamentalists and secessionist movements backed by Pakistan began exterminating and chasing the Pandit community from the Elysian valley, through a planned process of ethnic cleansing shortly thereafter to secure a Muslim territory over which India would no longer have any rightful claim. Before the 1990 exodus, the 15 percent minority population had already been decimated to a meagre two percent. Currently, fewer than 20,000 Pandits live in the area. What an ancient Mogul emperor once called paradise on earth turned out to be a modern haven for ethnic cleansing. Since Islam became the majority religion in the 13th Century, the Muslim and Hindu peoples of Kashmir lived in relative harmony.

The Sufism practice complemented the Rishi tradition of Kashmiri Pandits, leading to a syncretic culture where Hindus and Muslims revered the same local saints and prayed at the same shrines. Only in the 20th Century did Islamic fundamentalists declare holy war against India, unleashing acts of terror against Pandits that have resulted in the murder of more than 2,000 Pandit individuals, forced conversions to Islam, burning and looting of thousands of private and public properties, including more than 400 secular state schools, and mass exodus. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, has officially welcomed the call for the minority’s return. Even while attempting to stall the return of Kashmiri Hindus and undermine their claims to return, secessionists cannot afford to justify their actions publicly. Kashmiri Pandits’ success at promoting the political visibility of their genocide has censured the Kashmiri separatist movement on the issue of Pandit religious cleansing.

Separatist leaders should abjure violence and realise that separation from India is both disastrous and impossible. Moreover, as long in Kashmir is unstable, both India and Pakistan will remain so. Instead of holding people in the entire subcontinent at ransom, Kashmir separatist leaders should focus on developing stronger economic ties with both India and Pakistan. The return of Pandit natives to the valley of paradise will, undoubtedly, mark the return of normalcy to Kashmir and the victory of the forces of secular democracy.

No comments: