“‘Kashmiri Pandits (KP) are partly responsible for the situation in Kashmir and their own plight. They happily supported Article 370, which does not allow people from the remaining part of India to migrate and settle in Kashmir. Pandits wanted to live the life of maharajahs in Kashmir, but see what has happened to them eventually!’
The above words were spoken yesterday during an informal chat by a family friend, an educated lady of Indian origin. She comes from a large family of ‘mid to high’ level Indian army officers. Interestingly, her husband, a retired senior Indian army officer, also questioned why KPs left the valley (in 1989-90) instead of fighting the armed militants in Kashmir.
Undoubtedly, I was taken aback by those deeply hurtful comments, that too coming from such dear friends – a lovely family – whom we have known for more than a decade. I was simply petrified and flabbergasted to a large extent in that moment! Terming those comments, although not spoken deliberately, as ‘insensitive’ or ‘irresponsible’ would be an understatement. Obviously, such opinions (about KPs) can’t be expected to be limited only to this couple; these thoughts must be shared by their other family members and by many other people from the wider Indian community, in Perth and in India.
I did not react, as I am not expected to react; I belong to an educated community, a civilised community. I had to restrain myself from being emotional, albeit I was deeply hurt. This was not about me as a person, this was about my whole community which was being held responsible for their exodus and the instability in Kashmir – a community that comprised only around five (5) percent of the population in Kashmir – a community which belongs to the Saraswat Brahmin cadre – a community which emphasises mainly on education (educating and getting educated) – a community which has mostly professionals, clerks and shopkeepers – a community which comprises the indigenous people of Kashmir – a community which has traditionally been extremely peaceful – a community which has at best been a ‘middle’ class community in the socio-economic terms – a community which has had no say, whatsoever, in the politics of Kashmir.
Politely, I explained the position of KPs to my hosts and why they had no say in Article 370. I also pulled out my ‘sacred thread’ from under my collar – with my right thumb – and explained the following, possibly with a tear in my eye:
‘Have you ever wondered how we KPs remained Pandits till our exodus? Just because of a strong conviction and sacrifice of our ancestors over several generations. They must have suffered considerably – in the face of saam, dhaam, dhund, baedh – and never scummed to sustained social / political pressures for conversion or to the material temptations / incentives to convert. Colloquially, it is known Hindu valad Rupiya, but that did not fit with my ancestors. So, I am a son of those hard-core Pandits, for whom Guru Teg Bahadur gave supreme sacrifice. I bow my head in deep reverence to the Guru and to all my ancestors. I am an authentic Hindu whose ancestors have had to fight consciously to retain their unique spirituality and faith. Did my counterparts from the other parts of India have had to face similar pressures to remain Hindus? No, possibly not! So what do they know about us Kashmiri Pandits? If Kashmir is still with India, it may be because of us, our sacrifices. If there was no Pandit in Kashmir in 1947, where would Kashmir be in 2018?’
How do I explain the thoughts of our friends? Ignorance at best! The alarming part is how many Indians also share such ignorance about KPs? This was not the first time someone asked me why KPs did not fight the militants; many Indians, including retired defence personnel, have asked me this annoying question before. If such question comes from a civilian, I may not bother much; but such question coming from an ex defence personnel raises an eyebrow, especially if you are known to him for more than a decade and if he has heard your story in person, as well as through your books and written articles. Logically, one goes on to wonder what and how much do these people actually know – about Kashmir, India and the wider world – and most importantly, what do they not know!
As for Article 370, some basic questions must be answered:
- Do we know the real reasons and the practical compulsions why it was included in Indian Constitution?
- Did KPs have any role in its inclusion in Indian Constitution?
- How would KPs benefit by its inclusion in Indian Constitution?
Maligning an aggrieved and uprooted community for its plight is unacceptable at all levels. People must first undertake a proper research though history and facts, and then think responsibly before casting aspersions on this community.
Many Kashmiri Muslims, who are related to their Pandit counterparts by blood – both sharing a common ancestry – also think KPs were cowards. I have already addressed that slander in my book, 22 Years – a Kashmir Story, and strongly turned the argument around. So there is no need to elucidate that matter in this article. But, interestingly, a retired bureaucrat from the valley recently challenged my claim – in my writings – that five lakh Pandits left the valley (in 1990 and thereafter). He wrote:
‘Thank you Koul sahib, I read your brief regarding your academic endeavours. Please keep it up with same zeal and vigour and of course with credible evidence, facts and figures. I am not sure about the credibility and authenticity of claim that half a million KPs migrated. This is … and the people like … and … narrative. It is like the KM narrative that an equal number of civilians for last 70 years have been killed by army and security personnel. Hope to receive you soon in the valley.’
I replied as follows:
‘Respected … sahib, thank you for your email. Since my childhood, I have heard 5 lakh KPs lived in the valley, although no one actually counted them physically. The census data in India was always questionable. So, the number quoted is purely colloquial / symbolic in many ways. I had never cast a vote in Kashmir, as I did not have any Voter’s card or anything … Although the actual number of Pandits can be disputed but their actual feelings / sufferings can’t be challenged. I left a month before my parents left the valley in Jan 1990. The year 1989 saw me mentally crippled due to extreme fear. The same can also be said about my Muslim brethren. Feelings and sufferings are what actually matter! Fifty thousand or five lakh, how does it matter? Over time, as I grew in life, my fear metamorphosed first into anger, then desperation, frustration and finally to empathy and compassion. Right now, I have nothing but compassion for all … just to clarify, I have no connection, whatsoever, with the two gentlemen or any organisation, as named in your email. I am working on my own, as I always have been, and will continue to strive to bring peace to my motherland – my Maej Kashmir, and prosperity and happiness to all her people.’
Coming back to KPs, they were never cowards and have had no say in Article 370. They did what they deemed right in those dark days of 1990 – they left! They felt betrayed by everyone – by their Muslim brethren, by the then government and by the security personnel! Otherwise, who leaves one’s traditional home?
Now, in 2018, do we deserve to be misunderstood by both our Kashmiri Muslim brethren and our fellow Indians, as we were misunderstood way back in 1947 or later in 1990? What is our fault? We have lost our home and, alas, no one is feeling responsible! They blame it on us. Ironically, both call us cowards. Both expected us to be brave and fight the militants instead of leaving. Fight the militants, but with what? With bare hands? Of course not! They wanted us to equip ourselves with guns, like the militants and the soldiers. Are common civilians now expected to be armed? What has happened to the world? Where has wisdom disappeared? Should we, therefore, really care about what they think about us, now that we are Global Pandits?
To conclude, this world does not need any more armed civilians to fight one another; it needs compassion, dialogue and sincerity to resolve all issues. It needs civility and humanity.” … Bill K Koul