Piercing Kashmir's Doublethink About the Return of the Pandits

Though we hear terms like 'caging', 'ghettoisation', 'walling off' etc. to describe the proposed composite townships, they fall short of adding up to any sort of meaningful argument against the plan to bring the KPs back to their homeland.

Still in exile after all these years: Kashmiri Pandits offer prayers at the replica of the Kheer Bhawani temple in Jammu on the occasion of the annual Kheer Bhawani Mela on Sunday. Credit: PTI

Still in exile after all these years: Kashmiri Pandits offer prayers at the replica of the Kheer Bhawani temple in Jammu on the occasion of the annual Kheer Bhawani Mela on Sunday. Credit: PTI

Srinagar: The Pandit question is stupefying. It can make political activists in the Kashmir valley do two mutually irreconcilable things at the same time. They can say how their hearts bleed at the misery of this displaced minority, even as they present their own set of ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’ for the resettlement of Pandits in what is their own homeland.

Some 60 years ago George Orwell coined a term for this sort of absurdity: Doublethink. “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies,” Orwell wrote is his dystopian masterpiece, 1984, “…to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

Perhaps that’s why – despite years of issuing statement after statement about having no hard feelings for them, about welcoming them with “open arms” and even extending security –  a feeling of mistrust and suspicion has persevered in the minds of the Pandits. Somehow, they managed to see through the farce.

Perhaps there have been occasions when the Pandits felt they had been too obstinate or suspicious. Not any more surely.

Last week, a renowned militant leader decreed that if Pandits sought to live as they wish and not as we decide for them, they shall be attacked. You heard it right. Attacked!

In a 6 minute-long video, the young militant commander Burhan Wani vowed direct “action” against those who settle Kashmiri Pandits inside “Israeli-type colonies” – a reference to the composite townships where the government seeks to rehabilitate migrants displaced when insurgency reared its head over two decades ago.

Video grab of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani

Video grab of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani

The 24-year-old Wani has infused the sagging insurgency with a new lease of life. His online persona has generated  renewed vigour for seeking azadi – especially among Kashmir’s alienated lot. It isn’t clear if he has made any substantial recruitment into his fold, but he seems to have succeeded in whipping up unprecedented sympathy for the insurgency – often manifested in members of the public jostling to take part in the funeral rites of slain militants.

In his latest video, Wani appears to have taken a leaf from someone else’s book. His voice quivers and fumbles for coherence as he puts across his thirst for murder in search of political ends. His words also capture a breathtaking irony: Even if the townships might not have been intended as ghettos, his threat is likely to ensure that is what they become.

“He distinctly trains his guns on those who identify themselves as Indian,” Sanjay Tickoo of the Kashmiri Pandit Sanghrash Samiti (KPSS), one of the few remaining Pandits who did not leave the valley, told me, in reaction to the video. “I say I am an Indian. I openly say it. A policeman who wears the uniform ‘upholding the Indian law’ may or may not be Indian by heart. He is just doing his job. But I surely am. So against whom is this threat aimed? I don’t think in this scenario asking a minuscule minority to come back is going to cut much ice.”

Tickoo seemed visibly upset that no civil society member had issued a statement against Wani’s video. “It would take only one meaningful statement on the part of the separatists to get Pandits coming back in hordes,” he says.

He didn’t specify what the contents of such a statement must be but as soon as I tried getting my mind around his words, I couldn’t help feeling he was alluding to the list of riders that secessionist leaders invariably attach while beseeching the Pandits to come back. Perhaps Tikoo wanted them to stop doing that.

The great game

It is curious to see the arguments that the opponents of composite townships employ to galvanise support for their cause. The townships – which will be open to migrants across the spectrum, be they Muslims, Pandits or otherwise – are routinely cast as the Indian state’s great stratagem to plant extensions in the valley that will gradually gain strength and undermine Kashmir’s Muslim identity.

Though we hear terms like ‘caging’, ‘ghettoisation’, ‘walling off’ etc. to describe the townships, they fall short of adding up to any sort of meaningful argument. Rahul Pandita, author of a memoir of Pandit displacement, recently wrote:

“Most of the houses the Pandits possessed have either been sold in distress or they have been illegally occupied or destroyed completely. So even if they were to agree to return to their erstwhile streets, where will they live?

“The Pandits need a chance to return. And it is only they who can decide how they want to return. The proposed colony they may return to will not be a ghetto for them. It will be a foothold. It will not be the ultimate solution; the colony will not be their New Jerusalem either. But from there, someday, they may return to homes with window frames of their choice.”

More importantly, there is practically no other way of incentivising the return of Pandits to the Valley except by wooing them to the transit camps first. Once there,  they will ultimately decide how to go about their permanent settlement.

There is another distasteful argument that is shaping the present discourse on migrant resettlement in the valley: The proposed townships are often likened with the illegal Israeli occupation of the West bank.

This infusion of the Israel-Palestine dynamic, done on purpose, is ludicrous. It effectively casts the victims (the Pandits) as perpetrators though they are as displaced as the Palestinians, besides denying the fact that the Valley is as much the homeland of Kashmiri Pandits as it is of Kashmiri Muslims. Even if separatists want to consider Kashmir ‘occupied territory’, how can the Pandits be compared to Israelis who are settling on Palestinian land to which they have no claim?

The vanity of opposition

The hollowness of the opponents of composite colonies and “ghettos” becomes clear when we consider some other facts: There already exists a separate Tibetan colony in the Hawal area of Srinagar. The locality is populated by displaced Tibetan Muslims and is frequented by local Kashmiris who turn up to taste a delicacy or two at the eateries they have opened. There is a school as well, meant exclusively for the children of these settlers.

Besides, there has also been an allotment of over 7,000 kanals of land to displaced Dal dwellers at the city outskirts near Rakh-i-arth. The separate colony is meant for the settlement of the uprooted residents who lived illegally around Dal lake and who where evicted following high court orders prohibiting their stay within 200 meters of the lake.

All these ‘townships’ do not create a political flutter. Nor do they incense the “conscientious” lot who appear to have thrown their weight behind the opposition to townships meant for migrants. Precisely what sends its opponents into fits of frenzy is quite unclear. To come back to Orwell, “In our society, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion ; the more intelligent, the less sane.”

Shakir Mir is a journalist who lives in Sringar