Return we will on our terms


ast few weeks have been quite eventful. Kashmiri Pandits congregated in huge numbers at the revered Tulmul shrine to celebrate Zeyth Ashtami. Exaggerated claims of ‘numbers’ not with standing the presence admittedly was overwhelming. The media hype almost lead to the belief that the ‘return of the natives’ had begun. But for the protests by Kashmir Pandits in Delhi & Jammu on the following day that happened to be the International Refugee Day which also received relatively impressive media coverage, the impression almost went that Kashmir was back to normal.

Then there was the demolition of shops allotted to Kashmiris Pandit refugees in Delhi to rehabilitate them after their forced exodus from Kashmir in nineties. In a jiffy hapless Pandits were uprooted once again, this time in exile. Those who had directly suffered & those who came to show solidarity were dismayed & felt disgraced.

If the Tulmul congregation accounted for our yearning for our roots, the demolition of the refugees’ shops in Delhi clearly was a reminder of the fact that we were refugees in our own country. Individually, we may have ‘settled down’ any where in India or abroad but collectively as a community we remain displaced. Our ethnic existence can be preserved only within the geographic precincts of the land of our origin.

Return we will to the land of our ancestors-is not a mere slogan for most of us but a conviction that we will not surrender our right on Kashmir. We will rebuild our lives in Kashmir once again while ensuring that we do not suffer persecution any more.

Ideal situation, no doubt would be to resurrect our habitats in our old neighborhoods. The images of the homes & hearths as well as the surroundings that we were forced to abandon are fresh & so tempting. Our present feeds on the collage of existential memories of our past back home. But ‘is that possible’ is the question that we may not need to seek answers from others. A lot of water has flown down the Vitasta in the past two decades. The frequent visitors to the valley admit that Kashmir has lost its soul & what was once cherished by many as ‘kashmiriyat’ is for all practical purposes dead. This is an impression shared by Kashmiri Pandits too. It is not to undermine our sentiments for those Kashmiri Muslim individuals who showed up to extend help & courtesy to us in what ever way during the crisis. We continue to greet our former neighbours, classmates, acquaintances & colleagues with utmost warmth to the extent that it will not be wrong to claim that what all is left of kashmiriyat, it exists only outside the valley in the hearts of Kashmiri Pandits in exile. “The reintegration of Muslims and Pandits appears difficult. An Islamic identity has taken shape, reportedly more in the countryside. Kashmiriyat, a secular ethos, is beyond repair” is what Kuldip Nayar, a known compulsive peacenik & sympathiser of Kashmiri Muslim separatists’ cause, wrote in The Dawn on Oct.23, 2009. It is a different matter that Kuldip Nayar & his ilk representing the so called civil society refused to intervene when we were being hounded out by the Kashmiri jihadis.

Islamisation of Kashmiri society saw systematic ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley then & Kashmir Talibanised since then will no more accept us now. We have a standing fatwa that we will have to join ‘their’ freedom struggle on our return. No one in Kashmir or outside has challenged the Kashmiri Islamists’ caveat on our return. Mainstream political mascot Omar Abdullah’s gracious presence at Tulmul recently was heart warming but are we ready to ignore the underlying belligerence in his speech in the parliament, the English part of which won him laurels from the so called civil society & the political class alike while the provocative portion in Urdu that sought to challenge our right to exercise our authority on our own land was conspicuously ignored “...hamari zameen ka mudha tha, ham apni zameen ke liye lade, aur marte dam tak ladenge…” (… the issue was about our land, we fought for our land & we will fight till death…).

It is the acute political bankruptcy prevailing at the national level as regards Kashmir over the years ever since its accession with India that has lead to the mess there. If Kashmir has acquired the notoriety of a ‘conflict zone’ internationally, the successive central Govts. must share the blame. Today, situation in Kashmir is a threat to the very idea of India. Yet the mishandling continues. When the whole world is up against the jihadi terror emanating from Pakistan, it is only India the worst sufferer of pan Islamic terror ever since its advent in Kashmir two decades ago, that is seeking reconciliation with & not accountability from Pakistan. Surrender at Sherm –al- Sheikh paved the way. Recent bonhomie seen between the officials & ministers of Pakistan & India in Islamabad suggests that the 26/11 Mumbai carnage is ‘past’. Perpetrators are no more on the agenda now. India has only ‘requested’ that the master jihadist responsible for plotting the Mumbai massacre should be restrained from making anti India provocative statements. India is under immense pressure & is yielding. There is every possibility that India will compromise on its sovereignty over Kashmir & a ‘resolution’ may be on the cards soon.

It is in this backdrop, we need to be prepared for the eventuality. PM’s relief package, concrete refugee camp whether in Jammu or in Srinagar are no answer to our political aspirations. Kashmir Pandits were forced to abandon their homes leaving behind their jobs & assets. It is the responsibility of the Govt. to provide economic succour to Kashmiri Pandits in exile. But to connect it with our return is unethical. It is a ploy to secularise the widely anticipated Kashmir accord by exploiting the helplessness of Kashmiri Pandits. Forced return with the lure of jobs can not be allowed to be seen as Kashmiri Pandits’ complicity in any ‘resolution’ on Kashmir that is solely meant to satiate the proponents of ‘azadi- bara- e –Islam’ in Kashmir (freedom through Islam). If only the intention was to ameliorate our sufferings, those few of us who chose to stay back for reasons of their own would not be living in pitiable conditions today. Mass massacres at Wandhama & Nandimarg were carried out much after the initial phase of exodus.

Return we will but on our own political agenda which is based on our aspirations that include ‘return with honour & dignity’; ‘a legitimate political space’; ‘a new city or a district’; ‘a large area for concentrated settlement’ etc. emanating from various groups & individuals. What are our options to seek our return that would for ever ensure the end of the persecution that Kashmiri Pandits continue to suffer since medieval ages. A ‘large area for concentrated settlement’ in the valley that is accorded a status of a union territory instead of just ‘a new city or a district’ with the guaranteed free flow of undiluted secular constitution of India ensuring ‘a legitimate political space’ can possibly be the only way for our ‘return with honour & dignity’. Let us leave the founders & proponents of ‘Panun Kashmir’ & their purported affiliations aside & then see if we have any other plausible option…???......

*Lalit Ambardar: A Building Design Consultant, presently based in Delhi. Has been a ‘programme coordinator’ for foreign TV & Radio bureaus. Regularly writes on 'Kashmir' in response columns of national dailies. Interests include acting & modelling.

Has acted in various tele- films, short films & TV serials for DD, Sony & Zee channels. Has done scores of ad films & print ads.
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