‘Rehabilitation for Kashmiri Pandits’ is a recent phrase to have caught the attention of the public, reverberating in political discourses throughout the country. While it’s good that the masses are finally being made aware of the grave injustices faced by the Kashmiri Pandits, there are still some significant issues that people and politicians alike are not grasping. I have been thinking on this subject for a while, and the following questions were the first to come across my mind
1. Is rehabilitation possible?
2. Will it be successful or will it lead to another exodus?
3. How can we make it work?
Being a Kashmiri Pandit myself, I know the pain my family went through during the exodus. Leaving our sprawling eight-bedroom ancestral bungalow in the beautiful valley among lush apple orchards, to get squeezed into a 60 meter two room set in Delhi was comparable to a modern Trail of Tears. A family of six spread over three generations, including my father’s elderly aunt— everyone living like a refugee in their own country. In fact, we were quite lucky to have whatever little we had due to my father’s government job and family savings— I have heard stories of families shifting from mansions to tents overnight. I have experienced the stress and anxiety of a brother who had to wait for his sister to escape the violence and take the first flight to Delhi. I can say with absolute certainty that every Pandit family has suffered and lived with painful memories all these years. These memories have led to a lot of venom against my neighbors, colleagues, and friends— people with whom I spent all of my childhood. After 30 years, when I think about the future of the community in the valley, do I still live with that animosity or do I go back with pride since I’m a son of the soil? My return should not be enforced by authorities, but rather welcomed by locals.
Politicians from across the political spectrum love to talk about the return of Pandits to the valley, but they fail in putting the issue in context of our lives. Reservations in colleges and government jobs or allocations of land are mere electoral promises that fail to take into account the atmosphere that Pandits will eventually live in. Even if we get our land back, will the two communities agree to live in peace again? Will the Muslims still come and wish me on Shivratri or will I still dress up to greet them on Eid, like we did during my childhood?
The generation that lived through the exodus has one final chance to go back to the old times, as future generations will have no idea about our co-existence, our Kashmiriyat. This is the last generation which has seen the Kashmiri way of life, and it also the last generation that can reignite that lost friendship. Political differences may have led to anxious moments against each other during India-Pakistan matches, but we still had some respect and tolerance towards each other. I can say this for a fact since we lived in a Mohalla with no other Pandit family, but never lived in fear. What changed in those years leading up to the exodus? For that, I have no answer. But, do I still cling on to that 3-4 year period when I became an enemy of my friend overnight, or do I let go?
And this question must arise on both sides. The new generation of Muslims in the Valley must acknowledge the wrongdoings of their predecessors, and the Muslims who lived through the exodus must also think about their actions or inactions. The time to trust our politicians to resolve the issue is now over, for they have massively failed. We must work collectively as Kashmiris to bury the hatchet and give peace a chance. If I, as a victim of ethnic cleansing, am ready to unite and join hands with my fellow Kashmiris after 30 years, I am sure there will be some who echo the same sentiment on the other side as well. I am sure the new generation of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims will also find a common ground to work together, so why should we burden them with our woes and not let them rediscover the joys of living together in the ‘heaven of earth’?
Times have changed, India is now a global force to reckon with, and neither does India lose a cricket match to Pakistan now. It is time for a cultural solution, not a political one. Politicians have kept this issue alive to use it in every election. Pandits and their issues have been reduced to cannon fodder to fuel political debates and win votes. It is time for a common man like you and me to get up and work towards a new dawn.
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