Return of the Natives

Shehjar e-magazine

Dalip Langoo from a stage perfromance with Kashmir Valley in the backdrop, Image & graphics by Deepak Ganju

Response to questions

First of all please do not think after reading my storyReturn of the Natives (Shehjar April 2009) that it is my intention to encourage piecemeal return to Kashmir. This is an unusual case. That is why I said "incredibly true' when I sent the story. This is not the usual experience of KPs wanting to return. Most of the times it has been a hollow welcome, just words - you know the Kashmiri double speak, the refrain we hear that Kashmir is incomplete without Pandits? Yet, what I have written is true to detail. The protagonist, Prithvinath, met me again last month. He came to show his wife and said, “Please make her well soon, I have to go back to Kashmir; my fields are waiting." I asked if all was well with the villagers and he said, “A BA graduate Muslim girl comes to sweep my house.” I cannot believe it myself but that is how it is. Prithvinath is a genuine person, I can vouch for that.

It is gratifying to learn that there still is a small reservoir of fellow feeling towards us in Kashmir, even if it is for a single family. That a whole village will rise in welcome and make you feel comfortable, is such a unique experience, a feeling you want to share with others. The big question is: Can it replicate? Is there anything we need to do to make such things happen? Do we need to change course and reach out to the Muslims? Have we made any overtures, taken any measures at reconciliation? Should we stop treating our adversaries as evil incarnate with which we should have nothing to do or should we talk to the devil himself if that helps us redeem our pledge to our homeland. Should we put an ened to weeping and wailing for what we lost and begin looking for ways and means to retrieve it, individually and collectively? That is why I wrote the story. There must be more cases like this. I know of another and may write about it some day.

Now to your questions: Before I reply them let me thank you for putting store by my judgment.

  1. First, I do not think it will be dangerous if some KPs start going back on their own because there will be so few that will do so. As you yourself agree that is how we left Kashmir, exercising our individual judgments, which ultimately proved to be, inadvertently and tragically, a collective decision. That is how the protagonist of the story decides to return without seeking guidance from any one, not even his own children. Probably that is the only way some of us, only a miniscule though, will ever go back. Such people are not looking for an equal status in Kashmir, or for any conveniences, for they know the administration will never provide that. They just want to return and escape the drudgery and desperation, the hardship and humiliation of living in those refugee cubicles in the camps which are worse than death rows. They won’t even be welcome by the local population if they return in great numbers. A single family returning to a warm welcome (like the protagonist in the story) is like a solitary swallow that does not make summer.
  2. Second, each one of KPs has his/her own timetable for every major decision in life for we are so fiercely individualistic and can not be driven as a community like sheep, like other religious communities. Given the developments during the last 20 years, and the crass neglect and indifference at best and contempt at worst, with which our problems have been looked at by the different dispensations at the Centre and the civil society of India, I do not believe there ever can be a negotiated settlement for our return to Kashmir. The Governments of the day may, at best, announce a shoddy package, and, at worst, let the problem fizzle away with time. The nearest we got there in 20 years was Manmohan Singh’s package which is an anathema to our political/geographical aspirations. But, we can not blame others for our own failings. Let us be truthful to ourselves, we do not even know what we want. Not many would like to return, even if given a homeland, the way we have dissipated and dissolved in the melting pot that is India. Many others have moved overseas. They are all doing well for themselves and would not like to return to Kashmir except to have a ‘claim’, so that you could have a little hut/place for a short holiday. That is not the way a whole community can stake claim to its homeland. To do so you need to love your homeland more than yourself, more than the lure of a good life away in a different clime, more than the spirit and resolve we have shown. We have to be even fiercer than Jews in our zeal for a homeland, ready for sacrifices greater than the Palestinians.
  3. Third, in my view, our position in Kashmir if we ever go back, under whatever dispensation, and after even a full resolution of the Kashmir issue, will always be as 2nd class citizens whose life and existence – vocation and education, safety and security, religious freedom and individual liberty - will be at the sole discretion of the majority Muslims, and we will have little political clout, if any? I say this because I do not think we will ever have it better than it was before exodus when autonomy, self-rule and other formulae were still quite distant in the resolution of Kashmir dispute. If things were so bad then that we faced a relentless squeeze and total marginalization in all walks of life – political, social religious and economic - and were forced to seek better avenues away from the valley and finally driven into mass exodus by the religious ferment that took over the valley and still grips it in its iron claws, what hope can we have now? For, at this point of time, autonomy is almost a done thing while self rule etc was distinctly in the realm of possibilities had Taliban not turned their guns on their own mentors in Pakistan which has relented for some time visa vi her pressure tactics on Kashmir.
  4. Fourth, Kashmir, we have to agree, is not India even as it is a part of India. A different, a de facto, Islamic writ runs there and will always do, whatever its relationship with India. In Islamic dispensations anywhere in the world, all religious communities other than Muslims (and even Muslims who do not fall in the strict code like Ahmediyas etc) are second rate citizens. It is not easy for them to survive or survive with dignity, let alone thrive in any measure. That is the dilemma of the Kashmiri Pandit. Can he ever taste the freedom again which he savored since the exodus, even in the burning furnaces that the one room tenements become in summer?

We have just 5 thousand KPs in Kashmir at present. Ask them what life they live. It cannot be anything other than one of everyday compromises.

With best wishes
K L Chowdhury

*Dr. K L Chowdhury Dr. K L Chowdhury retired as a Professor of Medicine, Medical College, Srinagar. Presently he is the Director of a charitable institution, Shriya Bhatt Mission Hospital and Research Center, Durga Nagar, Jammu.
He is a physician and neurologist, a medical researcher, poet, social activist. He writes on diverse subjects – medical, literary, social and political and has numerous research papers to his credit, his pioneering work being “The Health Trauma in a Displaced Population” which was presented at national and international conferences.
He has published three anthologies namely:
1- “Of Gods, Men and Militants”. Minerva Press (Pvt.) India -2000
2- “A Thousand-Petalled Garland and other Poems”. Writers Workshop Kolkata – 2003
3- “Enchanting world of Infants” Peacock Books, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors-2007
He was declared Shehjar's ' Kashmiri Person of the year ' for 2007.

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