(Kashmir Pandits celebrate Kheer Bhawani)
Please note before reading this article that Alder's Ledge is a blog that attempts to dissect the complicated elements of any given conflict. We recognize that issues such as Kashmir are complex and have many different perspectives and are flooded by emotion and opinion. By looking at the issue through several perspectives while taking in mind the information from our contributors, we try to show the given elements of a conflict or genocide in doses. This allows the reader to digest these elements piece by piece rather than having to look at the issue in it's entirety. With that in mind please take time to read other articles here on this issue to get a better view of the subject. Take time to let the information settle in before allowing emotion to affect your opinions of this article or others one the subject.
As always, we attempt to be as fair as possible to all sides (even the alleged perpetrators) until the issue is completely analyzed. This article is not meant to be a complete analysis of the conflict/genocide. It is rather a single entry into our campaign to explore the crisis in it's entirety.
The conflict that the British initiated upon leaving India was one that the world would not see again nor could barely admit once it began. Sikhs were the initial victims of the bloodletting that occurred upon both sides of the Pakistani-Indian border. They were massacred as the world ignored the plight of a people even England had failed to recognize as vulnerable. Yet this warning sign of what was about to become of Kashmir was totally ignored. It was as if the blood of the Sikhs was just worth a tad bit less than that of the Hindus and Muslims that would soon poor out upon Kashmir's soil. Nobody cared whatsoever.
Every battle, every war, has it's first shots. Before the bullets are loaded, before the soldiers take to the field, there are warning signs. The sabers rattle and the leaders begin to thump their chests. But even before that there is a warning sign the world often ignores. The flight of the weak... the migration of the vulnerable. Those who can see the writing on the wall and afford to run do so as silent messengers to a deaf world. Their footsteps prepare the way for the boots of tyrants. And their tears quench the thirsts of savages.
In Kashmir the paths leading into the valley and out were kept hot by the heels of fleeing civilians. People from both sides of the conflict wanted to make it to their side of the battle line before all hell broke loose. Their mad dash was ignored by the world as India and Pakistan prepared for a war that would never come. Instead, those who fled, those who were trapped would be ground between two bloody states.
When Kashmir became a no-man's land of sorts the people that lived there were left at the mercy of either India or Pakistan. If they happened to be Hindu in Jammu they were considered safe. If they happened to be Muslim and on Pakistan's portion of the land they were considered safe. But those in the valley... those were the victims of both sides. These were the pawns used in Pakistan and India's cold war.
The Pandits (or Brahmins) have been documented in Kashmir as far back as the Lohara Dynasty (established in 1003AD). Their roots in Kashmir are impossible to dispute yet have been hard to maintain over the past several decades. With the introduction of Islam into Kashmir in the 8th century the Pandits have often found themselves attempting to live in peace with the passing kingdoms. And for centuries they had managed to successfully maneuver their way through the shifting religious and political landscape of Kashmir's valley.
Yet modern politics and the desire to brutally open old wounds (and create new ones) has left the Pandit community struggling to cling to the land they once called home. With the violence in Kashmir has come the all to easy use of Pandits as scapegoats for militants and separatists. The fact that Kashmiri Pandits now only number around 2,700 to 3,400 makes their small community even more vulnerable.
In 1947 the Pandits were estimated to comprise around 14-15% of the total population of Kashmir. By 1981 the Pandits had been reduced to around 5% of the overall population. This was in part due to the land reforms that immediately followed British withdraw from India and the mass migrations that came with them. It was also however contributed to by Pakistani backed harassment of Pandits who attempted to stay behind when the "Line Of Control" was established (officially creating a line of demarcation between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. Then in the 1980's on through the 90s the continued decline of the community was then helped along by massacres of Pandits committed by groups with military and political backing from Pakistan.
Of the 600-700 thousand Pandits prior to the waves of migration some now refer to as "the exodus" there is only a remnant left.
While Pakistan can shoulder some of the blame for helping to instigate the anti-Hindu violence the rest of the blame rest solely upon India's own government. Kashmir, under Indian rule, has always been the Kashmiri Pandits' home. When the 1980's and 90's violence began the Indian government had an obligation to protect the vulnerable Pandit community. It is obvious from the sheer number of troops that India has in the region that this could had easily been achieved. Yet for whatever reason India comes up with from day to day, the Pandit community was allowed to be repeatedly attacked and forced out of their homeland.
In all reality India did nothing to stop the burning and looting of Pandit peoples' properties, the rapes of Pandit women, and the outright killing of those who attempted to stay or were caught fleeing. Most of India's reactions to the flight of Hindus from the Kashmir valley can be summed up as reactionary while failing to stop the violence at all. Most of the time the response the Indian military gave was more of an opportunistic spree of violence and rape committed against Muslims who had nothing to do with the attacks on Pandit civilians.
Then there are the accounts that Pandit refugees were treated just as poorly by the Indian government once they reached Jammu as they had been in Kashmir by Muslim insurgents. In some cases the Indian government's military was known to use methods described as "survival sex" in which refugee women were expected to accept rape in exchange for food and water. Yet the Indian regime in Delhi, as always, refused and still refuses to address these abuses against Pandits in Kashmir and Jammu.
Return Or Separation?
There is an overwhelming urge on the part of the Pandit community in exile to return. Many have been wary of state sponsored "employment packages" designed to help ease the rehabilitation and resettlement of Pandits returning to the valley. Others have expressed some interests in "carving out" a section of Kashmir valley for their resettlement. Yet most simply desire to return without interference of the government outside the simply offering of protection once back in their homeland.
The myth of a Pandit movement to seek a separate state for the Kashmiri Pandits is one that floats around quite often. While there are some who want to be assured a home in Kashmir, the majority want to return to the way life was prior to the exodus. These Pandits have no illusion of a world where Hindus and Muslims dance around singing love songs together but rather a return to the tolerance and communities that once existed before.
For Kashmir to return to this state of peace the two communities have a long way to go. Pandits and Muslims both have to work at deconstructing the barriers the two communities have built up around themselves. The continued desire to blame one side or the other must be worked past. This would most likely be achieved through following the example of Rwanda and how it has recovered from it's own genocide. Yet more likely will be achieved by focusing on the work of groups like Pandit Hindu Welfare Society who are helping to open up dialogue between Pandits and Muslims.
Then comes the reality of the divisions created amongst the communities of those Pandits that stayed behind and those who fled. The two groups do not see eye to eye when recollecting the history of the exodus itself. The Pandits that left typically record the death toll of the massacres considerably higher than those who stayed behind. The level of violence depicted by those who fled is also drastically more dramatically recounted than that depicted by the Pandit's that fled. These differences are hard to get over as Pandits that stayed are reunited with members who left.
These two groups are even more divided when the reality of the emotional and physical toll of the exodus itself is factored in. Members who fled have an entirely different experience than those who stayed behind. Resentment and a lack of empathy can often make either side feel marginalized as one group or the other petitions for recognition of their given stories.
No Easy Answers
In the end the path forward for the Pandits of Kashmir is difficult at best. Neither India or Pakistan has any real political gain or interest in allowing Pandits to return to their homeland. India has shown no real intent to protect Pandits that have decided to return to their homeland. And Pakistan shows little interest in preventing hate filled propaganda from seeping over into the valley.
For the Pandit community in Kashmir and Jammu the long stalemate between India and Pakistan remains a threat in their continued plight. Those who stayed still struggle to find some sense of normalcy in a life where they cling to mere existence. Those who want to return have to live with the uncertainty of what awaits them when they finally do get to go home.
*Note: not all sources are listed.
Press Trust Of India