In a recent webinar interaction, Farooq Abdullah, chairman of the National Conference and three-time chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, has suggested that a senior and reputed retired judge of the Supreme Court be asked to investigate the facts and circumstances in which Kashmiri Pandits left/or were driven out of the Valley.
That such an authorised and high-level investigation is long overdue may hardly be contested.
At the heart of the contention are two opposed perceptions: that this was the brutal culmination of an alleged conflict of religious identities, and, on the other hand, that the occurrence issued from fraught events in the political history of the state.
The first view, clearly, seeks to project the mass exodus of Pandits as embedded in an ontological animus against them, thereby holding all Kashmiri Muslims complicit; while the second relates the tragic event to a culminating denial of democratic aspirations and politics in the state, placing the happenings thus in a historical rather than an ontological frame of reference. The latter read, therefore, holds that Muslims qua Muslims had little to do with the exodus which was the expression of a new, violent recourse undertaken by segments who, after the fiasco elections of 1987, resolved to go to the bullet, abandoning the ballot.
It may be recalled that in that watershed election, the now head of the Hizbul Mujahideen, then Yusuf Shah, was a candidate with Yasin Malik as his electoral agent.
An objective investigation is needed
As things stand some 30 years after the exodus, with the event never having been investigated, hard lines of apriori determination remain drawn: most Pandits are convinced that all Kashmiri Muslims were involved in driving them out, and, worse still, complicit in the gruesome killings that took place. Ordinary Kashmiri Muslims, represented by mainstream parties, plead that such was not the case. They cite manifold instances of Muslim neighbours and acquaintances of Pandits trying as best they could to persuade the Pandits not to leave. They point to the fact that many Muslims were as much victims of the new militant violence as the Pandits.
There are therefore those who do not think any objective investigation is needed, only punishment to be meted out, and those who believe that a return of the Pandits to the Valley ought to be predicated on a full and fair determination of the causes behind the happenings and of the role of diverse sections of the populace and authorities in the matter.
The question, for example, remains why, if in the aftermath of the Partition and at the time of the Pakistani-led tribal attack on the state in 1947, all Kashmiris stood together to confront the Muslim invaders, why in 1990 did a schism occur.
Needless to say, such conundrums have parallels in European history of a hundred or so years ago. Those that demand a high-level impartial investigation may then be understood to be taking a leaf from the aftermath of those histories in Europe, when investigations were launched to find both the genesis of those events and to fix responsibility with a thoroughness that would not leave questions unanswered.
Everyone in Kashmir knows of names who were demonstrably guilty of the killings without to this day having been charged or tried. But the role that may or may not have been played by the authorities of the time remains shrouded in speculation or prejudice.
An entirely constructive suggestion
Given that 30 years after the exodus, Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits remain connected in visible bonds of affection, and that a sense of loss is often expressed by both communities, Farooq Abdullah’s suggestion seems entirely constructive and called for.
It hardly makes sense for pundits to return to the valley so long as they continue to view all Muslims as antagonists, and for ordinary Muslims to be calumniated as perpetrators of the crimes that were then committed.
Within the ambit of the larger politics of the nation, any authority who truly desires a return of the lost amity between the communities to be restored, a fair and thorough investigation must seem mandatory to sift fact from fiction, prejudice from reality.
Now that a full integration of the state into the Union is being undertaken, such an investigation seems a sine qua non to bring trust and objectivity back.
It may be well for such investigative hearings to be conducted in a format that is open to public view in order that credence is achieved both in the proceedings of the hearings and in what conclusions are arrived at.
Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.