'Pandits Will Return Only If They Get A Separate Homeland'
5 May 2003
The Asian Age
Dr Ajay Chrungoo
Srinagar: Q: You are meeting Mr N.N. Vohra. What would you tell him? A: The first and foremost issue we are going to raise before him is that the Naddimarg massacre has reinforced our belief that a separate homeland for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits ought to be carved out within the Valley where there would a free flow of the Indian Constitution. Where those who identify themselves with the Indian Constitution can live as free citizens in peace. It would have a Union Territory status. This has been the main demand of Panun Kashmir and other sections of the Pandit community. We will tell him that no other solution can prove lasting. We'll also put across our view that in the prevailing circumstances, the displaced Kashmiri Pandits will not return to the Valley unless it means a passage into the homeland mapped by Panun Kashmir. Q: One believes Panun (Our Own) Kashmir is to be drawn along the northern and eastern sides of Jhelum and involves a vast area in the districts of Anantnag, Pulwama and Srinagar. A: Yes, it does. Q: It seems a dream unlikely to come true... A: It will become a reality some day. Q: What would Panun Kashmir's contribution and that of the Pandit community as a whole be towards resolving the Kashmir issue amicably? A: Some people try to link the Kashmir problem with the Partition of India and its aftermath. The first thing we want to convey to the Kashmiris, to our own people and other victims of terrorism, is, the problem of Kashmir is actually an outcome of the failure of secular nation-building. The way the issues were dealt with in free India with Kashmir being accorded exceptionality, a communalisation process started. For the last 15 years we have only seen its militarisation in Kashmir. A vicious situation has developed here. To retrieve Kashmir will be very difficult, even if its entire population wants it, unless the de-communalisation process starts in more than one way. One has to address some fundamental issues within the Kashmiri community. No political party or institution seems to be concerned about Panun Kashmir. We link a solution of Kashmir basically to reverse the process of communalisation and militarisation in the state. Unless this happens, peace will not return to Kashmir. Q: You spoke about a vicious circle. The growing feeling in Kashmir is that vested interests on all sides are preventing a peaceful solution to the imbroglio. Do you agree? A: I do. Q: Many people also believe that the Naddimarg massacre was an attempt to stall the process of Hindu expatriates' returning to the Valley. What do you think? A: This is the state government's viewpoint. It wants to pronounce that the ground situation had improved and it had a control over things and, therefore, was all set to bring the Pandits back. We believe that the violence against the minorities right from the start of militancy in 1989 is part of a big ideological campaign. It would be a grave mistake on one's part to delink it from that. We will not be able to tackle it if we see the violence against minorities as a local aberration. For many years, we have maintained that any attempt or effort to separate the religious cleansing from the overall ideological contours of the separatist movement is bound to fail. To raise a religious moralist has been the major imperative of the separatist campaign in Kashmir. To a great extent they have succeeded in their design. I believe what has happened at Naddimarg, and earlier elsewhere, is a strategic butchering. Like in any religious cleansing process, some people stay back in certain pockets, as stands true about today's Kashmir. From time to time they shall fall victim. Mufti Sahib (the chief minister) has sought to draw a link between the Naddimarg massacre and the so-called return process. But I see it only as an attempt on his part to underline his claim that he has control over the ground situation. He does not have any. The terrorist regime has made it emphatically clear to him that it is their writ that runs. The recent spurt in violence reflects an upgradation of terrorist violence following the setting up of a joint jihad council. You must have heard about and seen a series of terrorist attacks taking place in Poonch and Rajouri. As many as 37 houses of the minorities were torched at one place alone. The police was repeatedly targeted. Even Muslims who do not fall in line with terrorists were attacked. In a broader perspective, Naddimarg is part of that upgradation and game plan. Q: If this is the ground situation, can Kashmiri Pandits really think of returning? A: The lesson of the past 100 years is, final solutions don't work now. In the name of final solution, the English eliminated the indigenous population after descending on American soil. In Australia also, the indigenous population was got rid of in a similar fashion. The final solution plan for the Jews failed, the Palestine problem remains unresolved even after the eviction of millions of indigenous Palestinians from their land, the indirect solution to tackle the Kurdish problem also did not work. Until a few years ago, the view held was that the Kurds are virtually a hostage ethnic group that would perish with the passage of time. They have resurfaced with a big bang. A community facing an onslaught and extermination like we Pandits do, builds a logic to ensure its comprehensive protection, which in our case is possible only in our own homeland. Q: And that would be within the Valley? You will not agree to the expatriates' returning to the Valley and again mingling with the majority community? A: There have been several migrations of Kashmiri Pandits in the past. There are instances of the migrants returning to their hearth and home after many years. We'll never forget Kashmir. We just can't live without Kashmir. No one can separate the two permanently. Q: The areas you intend to bring on Panun Kashmir map have a huge Muslim population. What will happen to them? Will they be asked to leave? Will that not amount to a replication of Partition, and hence, defeat the very concept of India? A: Look, when we talk about homeland and refer to its political demand, we have three main aspects on mind. Firstly, we want to bring back all those people who fled from the Valley and settle them in the homeland across the northern and eastern sides of Jhelum. Secondly, the relationship of the homeland with the rest of the country will be of a Union Territory. Thirdly, there will be a free flow of Indian Constitution without any restrictions or impediments. We basically talk about a political alternative that would link Kashmir's destiny with the free flow of the Constitution. Whosoever identifies himself with this kind of an arrangement can come and live in this homeland. We don't talk about a religious enclave. We are keen on a genuine secular constituency - an area where politics will not be done in the name of religious identity. Where there will be no issue of Muslim majority status or Hindu majority status. In the true sense of the term it would be a place where religious-identity politics will be de-legitimised as was envisaged by the founding fathers of this country called India. Q: And the indigenous population of these areas can stay back? A: We don't visualise an expulsion of people. We visualise people living in a dispensation where there is a free flow of the Indian Constitution.