Thirty winters of longing: Kashmiri Pandits are still waiting for justice, and homecoming

It is for our forefathers that we ought to return, even if it takes another 30 years.

WrittenBy:Varad Sharma
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This piece was originally published on the website on January 19, 2020.

Salman Rushdie, in his novel The Satanic Verses, writes, “Exile is a dream of a glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back.” Rushdie’s description of exile aptly encapsulates the predicament which Kashmiri Pandits face today.

January 19 marks the beginning of the 30th year of the exile of Kashmir’s minority Hindu community. This day in 1990, ethnic cleansing of Pandits started in Kashmir. Pandits have persistently clung to the idea of homecoming in spite of the fact that the clouds of terror haven’t faded in their homeland, Kashmir. The thought of return to their homes has kept them going in their exile even when the road to the homeland has shrunk over the years.

Thirty years is a long time — a whole generation of Pandits has been lost while another generation is on the verge of departure. In the last 30 years, Pandits have protested, made appeals to government and human rights organisations, knocked on the doors of the judiciary and whatnot. Pandits have longed for their homes in Kashmir, struggled for survival in unfamiliar lands, faced humiliation and trauma, tried to rebuild their lives, and strived to thrive. The 30 years of peregrination in exile have been marked with massive losses — killings, deaths and heartaches. The wounds have lingered on all these years with no effective balms.

Attempts to seek justice for the ethnic cleansing of Pandits has been met with abysmal responses. There has not been visible justice for the community whose only crime perhaps was survival in trying times. Instead of justice, Pandits received assurances and opinions from different political parties in India. Above all, the highest court of the country rubbed salt in the wounds of Pandits.

The Supreme Court of India, on July 24, 2017, rejected a public interest litigation which sought investigation into the killings of Pandits during the armed insurgency against India, driven by Islamism. The apex court remarked, “We decline to entertain this petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, for the simple reason that the instances referred to in the present petition pertain to the year 1989-90, and more than 27 years have passed by since then. No fruitful purpose would emerge, as evidence is unlikely to be available at this late juncture.”

This can probably be described as the highest order of humiliation for the homeless community of Kashmir that has always sought justice through constitutional means.

Pandits never picked up guns or stones for making their voice heard. Instead, they have relied on paper and pen which have been their fulcrum in exile. In order to keep their struggle for justice and repatriation alive, Pandits have steadfastly remained resilient — books, blogs, films, and debates forming the instruments to convey the injustices and demanding their rights. However, the issue of internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits has not penetrated enough inside the consciousness of the Indian state yet. Had that been the case, there would have been concrete measures for justice and repatriation.

Pandits have waited for 30 years. They will continue to wait — hoping for homecoming and demanding their rights through constitutional means. Frankly speaking, Pandits are tired too. The wait may be eternal if there is no progression towards the reversal of their ethnic cleansing. In that case, their existence will be the testimony of their longing for home and survival in adversity. Pandits know how to survive and thrive; they have done so seven times in over 5,000 years of the history of Kashmir. The survival of Pandits is beautifully described by the Kashmiri mystic poet Lalleshwari, popularly called Lal Ded:

Asiy aes te asiy aasav

Asi dour kyer patuvath

Shivas sori na yun te gachun

Ravas sori na atugath.

(We have been in the past, we will be in future also

Throughout ages we have been

Forever Shiva creates, dissolves and creates again

Forever the sun rises and sets.)

The Narendra Modi government has given a glimmer of hope to the Pandit community by abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution which provided a certain degree of autonomy to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nobody could imagine such a drastic step for course correction in the history of J&K — hence the hope. This move has certainly altered the Kashmir equation domestically as well as globally. Only time will tell how Pandits are placed in this complex equation because the Kashmir equation will never balance without Pandits.

On a personal note, I have lost both my paternal grandparents, maternal grandfather, and father in the last 30 years. My father built a house in Jammu and named it "Lidder", after the river that flows through our ancestral village Akura in Anantnag, Kashmir, perhaps in what Edward Said described as “efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement”. My octogenarian maternal granny still reminisces about the temples of Nagbal and Devibal, the shrine of Resh Moul in Anantnag, and Jaya Devi temple in her maiden home in Bijebahara. The envisaging in exile continues.

It is for our forefathers that we ought to return, even if it takes another 30 years.


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