One felt very nostalgic recently during the celebrations of the famous Pandit festival of Herath. The festival used to be celebrated on two days. The first day Pandits would perform the Puja, worshipping, Shiva and the next day was known as Salaam when they would go to greet each other and the Muslims would visit their Pandit neighbours and friends to greet them on the occasion. The specialties were the soaked walnuts and the fish cooked with lotus roots (Nadroo). Similarly, Pandits would visit Muslim neighbours and friends for Eid Salaam. This camaraderie had been there for ages. It reflected the religious tolerance for which Kashmir has been famous from the ancient times. Culturally, Kashmir looks incomplete without Pandits and all of us want them to come back and revive the age old cultural ethos.Every sphere of the society wants Kashmiri Pandits back. However, they have to be back with dignity and honour in their original environment. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the en mass exit of Pandits from Kashmir had given a tremendous set back to the centuries old composite culture of religious tolerance in Kashmir. That composite culture can be restored only once the Pandits come back voluntarily welcomed by their neighbours.
The en masse migration of Pandits in 1990 was not the first migration from Kashmir. There have been many migrations of Kashmiris to neighbouring areas at different times during its entire history. These migrations have taken place due to natural calamities like earthquake, plague, famine, and due to persecution during political upheavals to which Kashmiris have been subjected throughout their 5,000 year old history. However, one of the most distinct earlier mass migrations of Kashmiri Pandits was during the reign of Sikander, the father of the most loved Kashmiri King Zain-ul-Abidin popularly known as Budshah.The 1990 migration was the most unfortunate event. A real tragedy for Kashmir’s composite culture. There have been many theories about the real causes of the migration and about its instigators and facilitators. However, the main task now is to see the return of these people rather than investigate and apportion blame.
It is true there were targeted killings of prominent Pandits. A massive scare was created and the Muslim majority could not openly come out to stop the scare and the harassment due to circumstances prevailing at that time. Had they been allowed to do so, mass migration may not have occurred. The worst sufferers were the villagers. They had to leave behind everything. Their ancestral houses, lush green fields and the memories of good old days. Their life in refugee camps in Jammu was miserable. Many died due to heat to which they were not accustomed to at all. Quite a few suffered snake and scorpion bites. The people who migrated to different parts of India may have secured better prospects and may not be willing to return. The ones living in refugee camps in Jammu still live an ignominious life and may be the most willing to come back.
It may be mentioned here that the Muslims in Kashmir suffered the worst fate after the departure of Pandits. Over a hundred thousand were killed. Thousands were injured and even maimed. Thousands were rendered orphan. Women were raped en masse. Properties were destroyed. Scores were buried in mass graves. Thousands disappeared without a trace. In spite of these harsh realities, the Muslims have not turned against the Pandits. This is so in spite of the worst worldwide anti-Muslim propaganda by a section of the Pandits. Everyone wants them to return to revive the centuries old composite culture of Kashmir.
The migration during the time of Sikander was successfully reversed by the most illustrious king of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin, Budshah, (the Great King). He enacted legislation ensuring their security and giving them numerous facilities including jobs to ensure their proper and honourable rehabilitation. They enjoyed the best of facilities and amenities during his reign. Similar action is required now both from the Government and the civil society in general. Merely, passing of a resolution will not suffice. The government before passing the resolution for the return of the migrants should have ascertained the condition of the Pandits who did not migrate. Some of their leaders have alleged that they are in miserable condition as regards government’s attitude to them. They have no complaints against the local people who are reportedly extending them all help and assistance.
The first and foremost requirement for the return would be establishment of real peace. Unless the migrants or the displaced persons feel both physically as well as psychologically safe to return to their native places, they will not move. Constructing housing units in totally guarded pockets resembling concentration camps will not motivate any of these natives to return. This will in fact compound the problem by creating points of friction between different communities. As alleged by some, the proposal may have a hidden agenda! The return has to be absolutely normal to their original places of residence in the state with the active support of their former neighbours. This alone can restore the composite culture of Kashmir which has been in existence for centuries. To create a truly conducive atmosphere for such an eventuality the foremost requirement is to end the present situation of uncertainty and restore real peace in Kashmir. The vicious cycle of two way violence has to be broken. Prevalence of peace is the prime requirement. Thus the “Return of the Pandits” is not as simple as it may seem. It is in itself an important part of the ultimate solution of the Kashmir problem. The day the “Pandits” are able to return in peace with dignity and honour to their ancestral places of residence to an open embrace from their former neighbours ushering in the earlier era of centuries old brotherhood, the first step towards the solution to the decades old Kashmir problem would be deemed to have begun in earnest!