Event Reports

Rehabilitating Kashmiri Pandits

Photolabs@ORF
2016
Jan
19

Ascertaining Internally Displaced Person (IDP) status or allowing the status of a reverse minority and a return guaranteed with security and honour are the basic minimum of any attempt to render justice to Kashmiri Pandits, according to Justice (Retd.) Chittatosh Mookherjee.

Justice Mookherjee said this while chairing the panel discussion on “25+ years post exodus of Kasmiri Pandits: The way forward for Kashmir”, organised by Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata on 16 January 2016. ORF was the knowledge partner of the event.

The above three points also emerged as the consensual conclusions of the panel discussion.

Setting the tone of the seminar, Ashok Dhar, convenor of the panel discussion, raised several pertinent questions with regard to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, like the issue of self-rule or autonomy of Kashmir, the question of preserving permanently Article 370 which was initially adopted as a temporary provision, appointment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recognition of Kashmiri Pandits as IDPs, and the role of the inclusive idea of Kashmiriyat in the valley. Introducing the Kashmir Sabha, S.K. Kaul, president, Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata emphasised the enlarged role of Sabha post exodus, from being a centre for social connects to one attempting at rehabilitation and preservation of Kashmiri culture and unity.

Saugata Roy, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), as the first speaker addressed the issue from the perspective of a politician recalling the recent resolution on  rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits moved by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member. He believed that there was  complete unanimity among all the parties regarding the rehabilitation of the Pandits. Pointing out the errors of the past towards the community, he singled out letting Kashmir issue being raised in the United Nations, dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah’s government followed by his arrest, the rigged election of 1987, kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed and release of militants provoking further insurgency in the state, etc.

Roy said giving out Kashmir is not an option for any government in India. Under such circumstance, soft border ensuring free mobility of goods and people is the only solution, he said. This is a matter of the realm of high politics. Although the government has not accorded IDP status yet, it has allocated funds and has decided to establish specific colonies for Kashmiri Pandits. However, he claimed that due to security concerns and slow progress of the process between Mufit Mohammad Sayeed’s government and the Centre, the rehabilitation is nowhere in sight in the foreseeable future. Looking forward, Roy felt that the Kashmiri youth of all religions ravaged by militancy and violence needs a healing touch.

Lt. Gen. John Ranjan Mukherjee, former GOC, 15 Corps, Jammu and Kashmir, shared his lived experiences as a serving officer in the valley. He recalled Kalhana’s Rajatarangini which used to be his introductory text to the valley. He pointed out the history of insurrection and the succession of several religious faiths in the valley as dominant religion at different points of history. He felt internationalisation of Kashmir issue by taking it up at the United Nations could have been avoided. He also analysed the demographic transition taking place in J&K where Kashmiri Muslims and native Kashmiris comprising Buddhists or Hindus are steadily becoming a minority even in areas like Ladakh and Northern Areas. Having considered the problems pervading the valley, he came up with several suggestions: secularism, good governance, nipping fundamentalism in the bud, eliminating election rigging, having friendly relations with Pakistan, China and other neighbours etc.  He cited the European union type of arrangement as a model for settlement of the issue.

Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, and the author of Kashmir- A Story Retold and The Lost Rebellion began by offering a historical snippet into the issue since independence. Highlighting the seeds of fundamentalism that have been long sown in the valley, he questioned if inclusion of areas like Gilgit-Baltistan into the Indian union would be desirable. According to Joshi, the exodus was largely orchestrated by a sense of fear and persecution as the killings of Kashmiri Pandits was by criminals rather than the product of a movement against them. He rejected any proposal to build Kashmiri Pandit colonies as this would ghettoize the community and would distance them from others in Kashmir. Conversely put, there are also many Muslim refugees in Kashmir which would multiply colonies and pockets for several minorities.

Joshi highlighted the renewed interest of China in Pakistan evident in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Talking about self-rule or autonomy, he pointed out that every state would like to have an Article 370 in a lofty situation. However, he raised doubts about efficacy of institutions like Supreme Court or Election Commission had there been one for each state. Although the idea of Kashmiriyat has been throttled from time to time he still finds prospect of life in it. He offered statistics to substantiate the argument of decreasing civilian deaths in the valley. This may be attributed to the rising weariness of the people to insurgency. Joshi urged to analyse the Kashmir issue not from a dominant security angle but invited conscious political opinion to arrive at a workable and acceptable solution.

K. Moza, former President of Kashmiri Sabha and editor of the magazine, Vitasta shared his personal experiences of the exodus and the plight of Pandits thereafter. He referred to history recalling the injustice against Kashmiri Pandits through the centuries with there being a total of seven exoduses including the last one on 19 January 1990. He exhorted Kashmiri Pandits to work together to achieve recognition for themselves and to have their right to return to Kashmir established in the eyes of the law.

Kingshuk Chatterjee, Department of History, University of Calcutta, acknowledged that there has been considerable alienation of the Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir mainstream. So, the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits need compensation is to say the least. However, no solution is possible without political solution. Chatterjee harped on the need to find a durable settlement on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits by setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that disappearing people are accounted for. There should also be admissions for outrages committed by the military forces for years. He further stated that any move in the direction of autonomy for Kashmir has to be negotiated with the help of determined leadership. In conclusion, he suggested that Kashmir’s bond with India could be stronger if India loosens its stranglehold on Kashmir. The moot point was ‘loosen the bond to keep the bond’.

At the end of the discussion, Justice (Retd.) Mookherjee made his final observations saying that the solution must be found in Kashmir politically, emotionally and constitutionally. The solution also lay in rehabilitating the Kashmiri Pandits who have a distinct culture and religion of their own. He suggested three solutions: first, ratification of the rights of the Pandits in terms of international law; second, recognition of the Pandits as IDPs and third, ensuring the security of the pandits along with everyone else.

(This report was prepared by Swagata Saha, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)