Why should India care about Kashmiri Pandits?

Bill K Koul

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Kashmiri Pandits (‘KP’) are an endangered community. It seems to be only a matter of time before they disappear as a community, considering how their world suddenly turned upside down about three decades ago and has, unfortunately, continued to drifting away since.

Many KPs, who had to bid goodbye to their homeland in 1990 and thereafter, may have died in exile in the past nearly three decades. Many of them, especially the older generations, would have breathed their last in despondency, carrying memories of, and cravings for, their early life and home in Kashmir. And many surviving members, especially the older ones, must still be living in the hope of spending at least the sunset months / years in their homeland. And many must have just given up that hope in disgust and hopelessness!

But do KPs really matter for India, the world’s second most populous country; a massive country of 1.36 billion people and still growing? The bitter truth is that, practically, they don’t! They do not have the numbers, or any political base, or any nuisance value.

(1) KPs have a characteristic low child-birth rate; their main focus has always remained generally on a healthy upbringing and good education of their children, which they don’t compromise.

It is relatively difficult to estimate the actual number of KPs living in India. ‘Kashmir Pandits are dispersed in different parts of India. It is hard to find figures, but the Joshua project gives quite detailed analysis and points to a current population of around 725,000, but few now reside in their homeland the Kashmir valley.’ (Ref. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-estimated-population-in-2016-of-Kashmiri-Pandits).

Even if the population of KPs is considered to be one (1) million, they comprise just about 0.07% of the Indian population at the most which, in simple terms, means ‘there is just about one KP amongst nearly 1,400 fellow Indians’. So statistically, they don’t matter. It is not hard to imagine how much of say or weightage a lone KP would carry in a set of 1,400 people!

(2) They have not been proactively helping themselves – to preserve their identity and culture, and survive as a community. They are undermining themselves through gradual dilution and replacement of their language and their traditional customs, due to various factors born mainly out of their inherent struggle to survive and prosper. After their 1990 exodus, they just blended-in with their host communities in India and abroad, which has worked both ways – they have progressed individually, but failed as a community. Inter-ethnic marriages have also not helped the preservation of their language, traditions and culture.

As per 2001 Census (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India), India has 1,635 rationalised mother tongues, 234 identifiable mother tongues and 22 major languages. Kashmiri language is one of those 22 major languages. Its original script (Shardha) is all but gone. As if that was not enough, the educated Kashmiri community – both Pandits and Muslims – have shown a conscious bias against their mother tongue, which has accelerated after 1990, by speaking mainly in Hindi, Urdu and/or English languages.

(3) Instead of practicing dignified austerity, KPs have been performing lavish weddings every year – at Jammu or Delhi or elsewhere – and the message they have been constantly sending around to their fellow non-Kashmiri Indian citizens, and the establishment, is that they are not in any visible shock of losing home or an uprooted / downtrodden / helpless community. It is a different thing that, whilst suffering from a rat-race syndrome, many of them take hefty loans to perform such weddings, and endeavour save every penny over their entire lives, only to (foolishly) show-off their (hard-earned) wealth in those weddings, and to whose benefit?

The bitter truth

As they don’t have the numbers and one leadership, they do not have any effective political base. Individuals have been performing at their individual levels, but as a community, they are simply losers or, in other words, political orphans. In a so-called ‘secular democratic republic’ of India, where numbers matter, it would be unthinkable if the political leadership or bureaucracy will ever show any genuine concern or sincerity towards them. They are sacrificial in political terms!

Other than politics, there is no profession on the earth, involving the white-coloured jobs, where KPs have not individually performed exceptionally well. They have traditionally thrived based mainly on their sharp individual survival skills, acquired genetically over centuries of living in their homeland, Kashmir. Be it academics, performing arts (acting, music, singing, painting), literature, engineering, medicine, defence, agriculture, science and technology, law and order, or civil administration, KPs – acting individually but based mainly on their hard work and intelligence – have been traditionally leaving their mark and risen to the top wherever they are. As such, many non-Kashmiri Indians feel jealous of them and their intelligence, tenacity, uprightness and doggedness. Their individual progress has, over time, made other ethnic groups become wary of them and see them as professional threats. In politics, however, their representation has remarkably been extremely low, which could be one of the reasons why, as a community, they are not generally perceived as politically important or a threat.

As numbers alone are significant in India, for a displaced Kashmiri Pandit, the claims of India being a ‘secular democratic republic’ practically mean nothing. Losing one’s home, as the KPs did, is practically a blot on Indian secularism and democracy, as she has not been able to uphold the rights of an indigenous – peaceful and educated – community, howsoever, minuscule that community may have been in terms of its numbers. Numbers alone talk in India; no wonder the country is seemingly moving towards a total chock-a-bloc in a few years from now, as her 1.36 billion people keeps breeding without any governmental control or political direction or any national vision.

Going forward

The manner in which the KPs left the valley – individually, in January 1990 and thereafter – they should be well advised to show prudence and not expect any government to assist them in their dream return journey and rehabilitation in Kashmir. They must come out of any illusion that any government will ever help them, as explained herein. Well, it is true that their 1990 exodus was a direct result of the total failure and impotence of the then Central and State governments, as well as of the law & order in the valley at that time. But, practically now, they have no other recourse but to act individually – once again, as they have characteristically always been doing so – and re-establish their contacts and bases in Kashmir. That requires a sincere commitment and effort by them, accompanied with an honest endeavour to earn the trust and sincerity of their Kashmiri Muslim brethren. If at all any government gets involved, it will be riddled with utter confusion as to how to help them because, due to lack of one leadership, KPs may not have one community demand, they may have numerous individual demands.

It can also be reasonably expected that some genuine KP demands may collide with the interests of the majority Kashmiri Muslim community. In anticipation of such a possibility, it would be foolish to expect that the Government of India will ever pay any serious attention to any of their core demands. As per history, the Government of India will always take the path of appeasement to win over the majority Muslim community, and that will generally be at the cost of the KPs. In India, numbers matter; the Indian democracy and electoral system run on the majority vote.

A stark realisation

Hindsight, a Kashmiri, whether a Pandit or a Muslim – would rue why Pakistan tribal backed by Pakistan Army invaded Kashmir in 1947? But for that invasion, Kashmir would have been an independent country. India’s first Prime Minister, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru – himself an erstwhile Kashmiri – was reluctant to send Indian army to Kashmir to push back the rebels and refused to provide any assistance till the last Dogra king of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, did not accede to India.

If all KPs would have left Kashmir in 1947, India would have no moral jurisdiction to include Kashmir in her territory post 1947, given the basis and philosophy behind the Partition. Therefore, if KPs had to pay such a heavy price for being Kashmiris, would they have not been better off leaving Kashmir, if at all, in 1947 rather than in 1990? Just a thought …

It would not be unreasonable to think that, knowingly or unknowingly, the presence of KPs in Kashmir has given India the moral authenticity of calling Kashmir a part of her union. But KPs have paid a heavy price for it and, ironically, India has never truly acknowledged that role or practically cared for rehabilitation in their own homeland. On her part, India simply replaced the KP refugees with her army – in terms of sheer numbers – to fight the militancy in Kashmir. And the truth is that KPs lost their home, seemingly forever! In that regard, can we say that, in the pre-1990 era, each KP represented an unarmed and peaceful solider?

One can’t be sure how the history will judge Maharaja Hari Singh for (a) his initial reluctance to join either India or Pakistan; and (b) his subsequent accession to India after Kabailees (Pakistani tribal), backed by Pakistani army, invaded Kashmir in October 1947. On the one hand, many Kashmiris, mostly the Muslims, may logically rue Pakistan’s intrusion, but for which Kashmir would have been an independent country post 1947. On the other hand, many Kashmiris, especially the Pandits, may logically thank Pakistan for raiding Kashmir, without which India would not have entered Kashmir.

To conclude, history may prove in a few years that all Kashmiris – Pandits and Muslims – will realise that they lost Kashmir when the Kabailees raided Kashmir. Both communities may rue that day forever! Can it be said that 22 October 1947 was a Black Day for Kashmir, and for all Kashmiris?