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Composite Townships In Kashmir: Cantonments Of The Other Sort
Wednesday April 29, 2015 10:08 AM, Sheikh Shahid

Ever since the partition of British India, Kashmir has been growing into a conflict of international stature and with each passing day an acceptable resolution seems to elude with the new problems only adding up to the conflict. However, the most stirring of the events was the genesis of the armed resistance in 1989 that saw the Kashmir conflict born again in the eyes of the world community. With the culture of guns and grenades setting in, Kashmir witnessed the renaissance of the Aazadi sentiment, anew. Deafening slogans of Aazadi could be heard from every corner & street of the valley. Mosques provided a good medium to mobilize people against the state occupation & Aazadi seemed only the matter of some weeks then.

In this context, some scholars have argued that Kashmiri resistance always moved along the ethnoreligious lines, but that's a mere fleeting response to a much deeper complexity. The truth, however, is that the resistance, if charged sporadically with religious impulses, has largely been characterised by its religious accomodation all through its progression & It was & still is a clear manifestation of the dicontentment among the people struggling for their right to self determination promised to them by India's first Prime Minister while adressing at the historic Lal Chowk & accorded with the UN resolutions of 1948, 1949 & 57.

For more than six decades peace in Kashmir has been overshadowed by the perpetual strife with killings, of mostly teenaged boys, being a regular spectacle. This year has already claimed two young innocent lives of Khalid & Suhail. Killings in Kashmir have always been the leitmotives of the music of Indian bullets. However, even in this charged atmosphere, minorities continued to live a life without any aversion from the muslim majority. It would be hard to find an instance in the history of Kashmiri resistance where the religious sentiments of the minorities were debased. Even at the zenith of militancy, not a single Temple, Church or a Gurduwara was ever destroyed, unlike countless mosques razed to the ground by Indian troops during encounters. Muslims have celebrated the festivals of their non-muslim neighbours like Sikhs & Pandits with the equal zest of their own festivals like Eid. Walter Lawrence, deputed to Kashmir as settlement commissioner in 1889, has also lent credence to the communal harmony present then in Kashmir. He also writes about many sacred sites where Muslims & Pandits worshipped together, notwithstanding their respective beliefs.

Nevertheless, the armed struggle too had its bitter consequences & one among them was the fearful circumstances it generated all over the valley, especially for the minorities who, as a natural corollary of a major upsurge, were fearful of their existence. Although, the exact reason is disputed between Kashmiri Muslims & Pandits as much as it stands debatable among the scholars, the all-pervading fear can't be negated for the fateful exile of Kashmiri pandits from the valley in the 90s, as their political affiliations didn't relate with that of the majority. As the historian Mridu Rai notes 'While it is true that Kashmiri Muslims & Pandits shared many links of common cultural practice & overlapping religious beliefs, this did not prevent them from seeing their political interests as widely divergent.' As no formal probe was ordered into the exile, resons seem to only grow into a clutter of assertions & refutations.

Nevertheless, the question that has been overhanging since their exile is their safe reintegration back into the valley. Successive govts. have been attempting to work upon the issue, but every time it proves to be a damp squib, with not a good number of Pandits returing back. A good example would be the KP housing complex at Sheikhpora in district Budgam where at least 200 apartments were made in 2008 but only few families showed up & those who did show up were only tempted by the Job reservations alloted to them by the government. Now, with the BJP at the centre & state (in coalition with PDP), the rehabilitaion issue was likely to get some new air & it in fact did when after meeting the J&K CM, Mufti Syed, the Home minister Rajnath Singh sought land for the construction of 'Composite townships' for KP rehabilitation. As it was expected, the separatists took no time in likening the plan to that of Israeli settlements in Palestine & it was seen as the Balfour declaration of 1917 which provided Zionists an opening for Jewish settlements in Palestine & thus strike calls were issued, forthwith. An interesting point is that even some Pandit representatives like the head of Kashmiri Pandit Sangrash Samithi, Sanjay Tickoo also objected to the proposal. The issue is likely to get more attention as the Sangh parivar's agenda on Kashmir is obvious to everyone, hence these townships are likely to be seen askance at. For efforts could be made to change the muslim majority character of Kashmir, for instance by settling thousands of west Pakistan refugees in these townships & that would certainly be a threat especially to the cause of Plebiscite promised by the UN.

The rehabilitaion of KPs is not the issue of mere physical integration, but rather the integration of the entire life. It should be aimed at social, political & cultural integration as it used to be before their migration. If today they're physically separated from their muslim brothers in Kashmir, the proposed townships would further alienate them psychologically. Also, Pandits, if they return to these townships, would have to be secured againt the fear of perpetual militant attacks & hence they'll be guarded with layers of concentrina wires & the gun-wielding troops on the watch towers. So they've to live in cantonements of the other sort. They would be seen as simply the vulnerable appendages of the security grid present in Kashmir & we'd see some elite & alien men visiting our world, but not our brothers & neighbours who once left us. A common Kashmiri would look at these townships like he looks at the Cantonments at Badamibagh or somewhere else in Kashmir- a sign of colonialism & suppression. They'd be seen as agents of India furthering their grip on Kashmir & hence as an enemy to the long cherished sentiment of Azaadi. If talked about in the words of Oscar Wilde, Kashmiri Pandits might keep on exisiting in these townships, but they'd cease to live. For living is so much different than mere existing. KPs would miss their muslim brothers while celebrating Heirath & other festivals & so will their Muslim neighbours.They'll feel like aliens in their own home. So, rehabilitation ought to be the reintegration of life back into the exiled veins & not just a fulfilment of official formalities. On the part of the KPs themselves, it's unfortunate that they've not been able to shun the fear which was the primary cause of their migration, as they say. And one thing is clear that until they don't believe their Kashmiri muslim brothers, no one can help them to get reintegrated back into their homes. This is a fact, undeniable. So, it's mainly upto them to help themselves to make a new beginning by recognising their muslim brothers as their well-wishers rather than blaming them for the migration & thereby only augmenting the mutual mistrust, that will go against the very grain of reintegration.

Further, while the fate of countless probes ordered by the Indian government into the innocent killings, fake encounters, enforced disappearnces & extra-judicial killings is well known to everyone, a renewed cry for another probe, this time into the KP migration is being heard from different quarters. However, if investigated fairly in a time-bound frame, the results can settle a melange of muddled perspectives. Since the migration, both sides - KPs & KMs - have been voicing their respective perspectives about the migration. The majority community blames the then Governor Jagmohan Malhotra of hatching a conspiracy to ensure migration of the KPs, while the KPs on the other hand blame the majority community (not the militants) for triggering their migration. However, the KP version doesn't stand quite well on facts. As 'Kashmir Reader' in one of its editorials notes:

"The KPs observe January 19 as a `holocaust day’. While it is a sheer exaggeration of facts by the KPs, the truth remains to be dug out. Surprisingly and contrary to the claims of the KPs, nothing happened on January 19. A very important person, who now heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangrash Samithi, was in Mumbai in February 1990. He wanted to celebrate Shivratri with his family in Srinagar. The festival fell in the last week, most probably 26 or 27 of February. He reaches Jammu and hears about the registration office for migrants. He goes there to register himself as a migrant and he is registered at a serial No 46. This means only 46 persons had migrated up to February 26.''

Also, the fact that only KP community migrated while the other minorities like Sikhs stayed back makes for yet another element of curiosity.

So, a probe into the migration can help set the facts straight & bring the two conflicting perspectives to an appreciable convergence which in turn would help in the rehabilitaion of KPs.

[Sheikh Shahid from Thammuna Pulwama is a student of English literature & Philosophy.
On twitter @TheValeBoy]

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