World blind to Kashmiri Pandits'' plight?
26 December 2001
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The plea made to the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, by the All India Kashmiri Pandits Organisation that the community too be made a part of any political dialogue aimed at resolving the Kashmiri problem is part of the Pandits'' long-sustained movement to focus world attention on the predicament that has left them in a state of despair for well over half a century. A look at western media reports on the scene in Kashmir reveals that for a long time India has been at the receiving end. If the Pandits feel that they have been victims of ethnic cleansing in Kashmir, New Delhi has also not been able to repudiate effectively the charges made by Kashmiri Muslims about the violation of human rights in the State by the Indian Army. While the world press was quick to highlight ethnic cleansing in ex-Yugoslavia, the Pandits feel that the media had been wholly indifferent to their misery which was just as bad. However, the scene seems to be changing of late because of the trend towards giving greater importance to matters relating to the violation of human rights. The earlier inclination of some of the journalists, as for instance Mr. Tim McGirk of The Independent, was to play down the seriousness of the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits by underestimating the number of the Hindu refugees at 90,000 while the actual number is said to have been 200,000. The community was however glad that the writer had taken note of its existence as far back as in 1995 when not many around the world were even aware of it. The Pandits felt that there was deliberate suppression of the truth about their agony by yet another newsman, Mr. Edward Desmond, in his despatch, ''Himalayan Ulster'', to the New York Review in 1993. They are even more appalled by what they called an attitude of total heartlessness on the part of well- known Indians like Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar who was credited with the comment that Mr. Jagmohan, Governor of Kashmir, in the winter of 1989- 90, herded the Hindus out. ''The Kashmiri Pandits,'' he wrote in 1993, ''left the Valley in droves in 1990 because they were corralled and herded out like cattle by the cowboy Governor of the day.'' Hitting back at Mr. Aiyar, with just as much punch, Mr. Jagmohan wrote, ''Aiyar wants the public to believe that the Kashmiri Pandits are so unintelligent that they left their comfortable homes and beautiful valley at the instance of a pied piper called Mr. Jagmohan and not by the militants'' strategy of killing one and frightening one thousand. He ignores the hard fact that eminent Kashmiri Pandits had been butchered before I took over.'' Commenting on the observations of Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dr. Koenraad Elst, a Flemish scholar, has said, ''this was in disregard of the numerous testimonies of the refugees themselves who were glad enough that Mr. Jagmohan had sent troops to escort them to safety and most of whom had horror stories about once-friendly Muslim neighbours.'' He has also drawn attention to a comment by The Economist in April 1993 that the Hindu refugees from Kashmir were ''cowards''. Mr. Arun Shourie, who is now the Union Minister for Disinvestment, paid a tribute to Mr. Jagmohan when he wrote that it was he ''who saved the Valley for India. He slowly re- established the authority of the State. He put the terrorists on the run.'' The present scenario in Kashmir no longer bears this out as the terrorists, far from being on the run, seem to have fully entrenched themselves there. Dr. Elst further points out that ''if due publicity had been given to the expulsion of around 200,000 Hindus from Kashmir in early 1990 by Muslim separatists, or to the instant expulsion of 50,000 Hindus from Kabul immediately after the conquest of the city in April 1992, this might have influenced world opinion in a pro-India and a pro- Hindu sense. Now most westerners have never heard about the Hindu refugee problem.''.