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.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bridging the Divide Between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims

Riyaz and the author exchange notes on how the gulf between Kashmir Pandits and Muslims can be bridged. Mr. Ahmad's thought provoking commentary is followed by the author's message, both printed in the Greater Kashmir

Truth and Reconciliation

Riyaz Ahmad

After a while, Kashmiri pandit migration is back in focus. This time, the mood is more introspective and less bitter. This is evident in the movie I Am by the director Sanjay Suri, himself a Kashmiri pandit whose father was killed by the gunmen in 1990. The movie has triggered fresh debate about the circumstances of the pandit migration from Valley and the relations of the community with the Muslim majority in the state. And for once, there is an element of recognition of each other's pain in the discourse.

The resulting environment of reconciliation has been further aided by the return of around 1700 pandits to Valley as part of the Prime Minister's Rehabilitation Policy. And what is heartening about the development is that not all of them are staying at the housing blocks set up at the secluded places by the government. Many have gone back to live in their native villages as tenants with their Muslim neghbours. Separatist leaders have contributed their mite by extending a warm welcome to them. Hurriyat (G) chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani went to meet the pandits staying at a camp in South Kashmir. Similarly, JKLF supremo Yasin Malik did the same. He raised his voice for the missing Kashmiri pandit youth in North Kashmir.

While we need to appreciate the positive tenor of these developments, the reconciliation will need the two communities to confront and accept the truth of what came to pass in the first place.

The current mood of introspection provides a rare opportunity to revisit the troubling source of the prevailing estrangement between them. The Pandits fled Valley soon after the outbreak of the separatist violence towards the end of 1989. Their migration has also its explanations and counter-explanation. While Muslims generally believe it was the handiwork of the then Governor Jagmohan, the pandits too have a standard reasoning: their selective and exclusive killings by the militants. Even though, one could grant a shade of truth in both the accounts, there was a fundamental apolitical driver of Pandit migration which both the communities find unattractive. That is, Pandits also left for ideological reasons. Here was a community caught unenviably between the expectation of a majority community with contrary political aspirations and the allegiance to a country they called their own.

What made things further difficult was that the majority population was locked in an unyielding tussle with this country which severely tested pandits’ efforts to negotiate the divide. And within the first year of the separatist movement itself, the pandit community had reached a point of no-negotiation and its own moment of truth. Random killings of its members only further accelerated this end-of-the-road feeling. Because they didn’t believe in the militant movement for an independent Kashmir or accession to Pakistan, why get killed alongside a struggle they had no stakes in.

But while we acknowledge the haplessness of the community under the circumstances, there is a parallel narrative, historically more convoluted and with a humanitarian angle that is much more pronounced. It is not the ‘rightness or wrongness’ of the situations that makes it so but the sheer size of the relative suffering. And it is the suffering of the Muslim majority in Valley in the course of the separatist revolt. Of course, it is difficult to blame a particular community for launching a political struggle or to put it more neutrally, for getting caught in an unfolding historical process. And once we have sorted out this intellectual tangle, one can formulate a degree of moral equivalence between the situations of the two communities.

The narrative of the Muslims in the state goes like this: Pandits were not selectively killed. Many more Muslims also died along their side for the same reasons. That the Pandit killings were essentially political rather than communal in nature. And of course, Jagmohan played a certain role in seeing pandits off. There is also an argument that the volume of the tragedy of Muslims in the state is disproportionately bigger than that of the pandits. Some call for the “compartmentalization of the grief”, which, it is argued, makes the Kashmiri pandit situation a small part of the larger Kashmir tragedy. Some also refer to a degree of recognition and sanctity for pandit deaths and complain that the killings of Muslims by comparison has become as a statistical heap, with ever-growing number of widows and orphans littering the landscape. This narrative feels outraged by the allegations of genocide by some Pandit sections, over-the-top propaganda about Talibanization of Valley, website after website spewing hate against Muslims of Kashmir and distortion of history.

There is a valid counter to this thinking among Pandits. That is, while Muslims are seen to have suffered for their rebellion against the state, pandits suffered for the mere fact of being co-inhabitants of the place. The community also harbours some genuine existential fears. While migration may have plugged a substantial section of pandit community into a brave new world of opportunities – many from the community largely make up a prosperous slice of Kashmiri diaspora – the community is menaced by some real doubts about its survival and identity that that have a resonance over and above the indignities of the camp life. The community has a legitimate all-pervading fear of ethnic extinction. And nothing exemplifies this better than the websites like whose singular task is documenting the names and profiles of Kashmiri Pandits in the country and their diaspora. The was launched in Jammu in February, 2008. “Knowledge about the community is fading,” wrote the site promoters grimly. “It needs all out effort to revive the same”. One can also find the exclusive kashmiri pandit matrimonials on some sites. There are also the lists of prominent pandit personalities on wikipedia documenting names of everybody from philosophers to politicians, bureaucrats to journalists and theatre artists to film actors. The community is also paranoid about its institutional and religious properties in the valley which it alleges are being sold off in the absence of effective government legislation to check it.

Over the past two decades, not only has Pandit issue become tangled with the larger Kashmir problem, acquiring the fraught political overtones of its own, but their return to their former homes is still viewed as a tricky proposition. So much so, that their return and rehabilitation in Valley has become the most exacting yardstick of the normalcy in Kashmir. Kashmir , it is said, can hardly be called truly peaceful until Pandits are able to return and settle back freely.

But this is not easy. Return and resettling back into the warp and woof of Kashmiri life cannot happen by state intervention which so far has tried to do it by building separate walled blocks and creating pandit ghettos. Such an approach will only perpetuate the divide and may even render it permanent. Only path is an honest acknowledgement of the truth of each other's narrative and building on it a vision of a shared future. But does this idealistic and wishful prospect have any chance in an intrinsically flawed setting of Kashmir, where vested interests monopolize the agenda and often subvert a clear perspective of the reality. But then what is the way-out?

In response to Riyaz Ahmad's Truth and Reconciliation

I commend Riyaz Ahmad for writing an honest and objective commentary about terms of endearment between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims in his thought provoking piece titled, “Truth and Reconciliation” (GK, May 25).

What I found missing was the potential role of the civil society in bridging the divide, which cannot be repaired by visits of a few notables to meet returning Pandits or attestation of goodwill by well meaning commentators. One needs to look beyond such superficial gestures in understanding what is truly holding back Pandits from returning to their homeland.

For 20 years, the Jammu and Kashmir Government has dumped the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the lap of the Central Government in New Delhi. While the State government is eager to own up to kith and kin of militants and those who crossed the border to receive terrorist training, it has yet to define a place for Pandit rehabilitation within the State Budget and priorities. The result is that the physical divide has been accentuated by an economic divide, leaving Pandits outside of State economy. The 3,000 or so jobs paid by a grant from the Central government is not a solution to what is essentially a State problem involving a State constituency. Indeed, the economic condition of Pandits who stayed in the valley and did not leave during the peak of militancy is not a reassuring picture and does not bode well for Pandits who would like to return from their self-exile.

Similarly, I have yet to see a single element of the civil society fret about diminishing political visibility of Pandits in the State. The election on a couple of non-political Pandit candidates in the Panchayat elections is a welcome news, but it can in no way replace a Pandit State cabinet minister, which the state did have until recently. Without political standing there is no future in a democratic institution. That is why such institutions are pluralistic and do not always represent the “tyranny of the majority.” If it were not so, India would not have a Sikh Prime Minister or a Christian as a leader of a major national party.

Besides seeking economic and political space, Kashmiri Pandits have a reason to demand security for their cultural space which is shrinking. I wonder why the civil society has never sought an explanation from the State Government regarding the Legislative Bill on reorganizing valley Hindu temples that was published in the State Gazette on 9th January 2008 (, and then simply put away.

In the end, though, it is not Abdullahs, Mufts, Geelanis or Maliks who will decide whether Pandits have a future in the valley. Their likely return and sustainable survival in the valley will be decided by similar urges of “aam admi” on the street wishing for justice, dignity, jobs and good governance in the valley today. For too long, people in the valley have been told that such “favours” are inappropriate without a final political settlement of the State. Time is fast approaching when the public will see through such lies and demand a change. Someday there will be a “Kashmir Spring.”

What is good for Kashmir is good for its inhabitants, whether Muslims or Pandits.

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

(the editor of the GK chose to delete the word "terrorist" from my write-up)

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