Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kashmiri Pandit exodus: A blot on Indian secularism

*Shivani Bazaz (originally published on
19th January, 1990 is commemorated as the day when Indian secularism was butchered in the valley of Kashmir. A day which still haunts a community for the tragedy it brought on that fateful night. Some call it the Kashmiri Pandit exodus day; others simply mark it as the beginning of a 26 year exile which shows no signs of ending any time soon. 19th January is more than just an anniversary though. It is also a day on which without fail the world wakes up to the plight of the pandits. A storm of people showing solidarity, politicians making promises and some people welcoming pandits back with open arms but as soon as the day passes with tragic inevitability, the pandits remain where they have been since 26 years now- in the middle of nowhere.
Many writers, Journalists, political pundits and people who stand for the cause of Kashmiri pandits continue writing and speaking about the issue but let’s accept the fact that no one seems to care. Seeing things transparently and putting the truth brutally, Kashmiri Pandits were displaced out of their homes during the armed insurgency in 1990, men were killed, women were raped and no one helped them, neither the state nor their ‘brothers’.
Living as “refugees in their own country” for nearly three decades the displaced pandits still can’t return to the Valley. Unfruitful debates on the TV channels, political promises, rhetoric and ignorance is ruining the cause of Kashmiri Pandits since more than two decades now.
On the record it seems the conditions are ripe for pandits’ grand homecoming. From politicians to the Muslim majority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have welcomed the idea with open arms, and yet, it seems as distant as it has always been.
The two major problems in the return of the Kashmiri Pandits is New Delhi’s apathy and Islamist fundamentalism, says Yale World Fellow, Journalist and Author Rahul Pandita. He further adds: “The successive governments at the centre have not cared about how the Pandit community has lost its land, its habitat.”
Pandita sees the rising tide of Islamism in the Kashmir Valley as another threat and said that a majority of Kashmiri Muslims only open their arms for the Pandits when they go to their homeland as tourists. If there were a genuine concern indeed, there would have been at least an acknowledgement by now about what the majority did to the minority in Kashmir Valley in 1989-90.
Separatist ideology is another challenge when it comes to bringing harmony and normalcy to the valley. Siddaratha Giggo, author of ‘The Garden of Solitude’ and ‘A Long Dream of Home’ said, “Separatists oppose the idea of establishing a settlement for Pandits in Kashmir. Others say that Pandits are welcome to return. But how? If Pandits are to return to Kashmir and rebuild their houses, the people of Kashmir must create the conditions. Can Kashmiris rise above their divides, and pledge to create a Kashmir where everyone can thrive and co-exist?”
Among other reasons, trust deficit between the two communities plays the role of deepening the divide and making conditions hostile. Pawan Durani, a representative of Panun Kashmir, highlights how inaction has been the core of hindrance in the way of Kashmiri Pandit rehabilitation. Pawan says, “Has even a single person till date been convicted for killing of hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits? No. In absence of justice, how can we have the confidence to return? With open display of ISIS & Al Qaeda flags and thousands attending funeral of terrorists, how can we risk another generation of ours?”
These questions are hard hitting and sadly remain un-answered till date. While Kashmiri Pandits continue being the victims of not being a vote bank, governments in centre and state brush aside the silent screams of the community. Every year, the community remembers this day as a nightmare and hopes to go back to their homes some day. If these silent screams does not cower the nation, nothing will. The condition of Kashmiri Pandits in our nation today, proves that non-violence no longer remains the strongest tool.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Roots in Kashmir Round Table 2

Roots in Kashmir, held its 2nd Round Table Conference on 20th June, at Delhi and as most of the leading KP organisations participated including JKVM and AIKS, who did not participate last year. Panun Kashmir, which was represented by Dr. Agnishekar and Dr. Ajay Chrungoo last year, chose to stay away from this year’s conference.

The agenda was to discuss the critical prerequisites for a viable and sustainable rehabilitation of Kashmiri Hindus in the valley. The conclusions of the 1st RT were a key reference point and all were reviewed. There was a broad agreement among all the participants on those conclusions except for minor change of words. An additional point added to the four specific points made last year, was pertaining to the unjust conditions imposed on the KPs hired by the government as part of the PM's Employment Package. It was also decided to make RT a regular forum, and create an RT Committee to achieve better coordination among the RT participants.

The key participants in the 2nd RT were as follows: Col. Tej K Tickoo - Vice President, AIKS, Shri Sanjay Ganjoo – President, JKVM, Shri Vijay Raina - President, Kashmiri Samiti Delhi, Shri King C Bharati – National Spokesperson, APMCC, Shri Ashutosh Taploo - Convenor, Tikalal Taploo Foundation, Shri Kundan Kashmiri - President, KPC, Shri SK Bhat - President, JKVSS, Shri Sunil Shakdhar  - Chairman, SK Foundation; Dr. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani, Capt. SK Tickoo, Shri Ashoke Pandit, Dr. Romesh Raina, Ashish Zutshi, Member Roots in Kashmir and Sh. Pawan Durrani.

The five points that the 2nd RT concluded on are as follows:
1. Accession of Kashmir is non-negotiable - It was resolved that accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India is final and irrevocable

2. Acceptance of the problem as religious cleansing and genocide - It was resolved that the issue of return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Hindus to Kashmir valley cannot be addressed without recognizing the fact that they were subjected to religious cleansing  and genocide which eventually lead to their displacement. Addressing the issue of return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Hindus in any other concocted context only compounds the problem and is tantamount to denial of genocide.

3. Forming a Tribunal of Justice - It was resolved that the government of India should recognize the problem of uprootment of Kashmiri Hindus as genocide and invoke the covenants of prevention of genocide. It was further resolved the government of India should create a tribunal on the pattern of Nuremberg trials to bring the perpetrators of genocide of Kashmiri Hindus to justice.

4. One Territory – One Single self governed/autonomous territory, exclusively for Kashmiri Pandits without article 370. A sustainable and permanent return of Kashmiri Pandits will be possible only in such a dispensation. And also removal of article 370 from the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir.

5. Rejecting PM Package Conditions – Rejecting humiliating and oppressive employment conditions imposed on the KP-employees of the Government of J&K, hired under the PMs Employment Package. The conditions should be immediately revoked.

It was also agreed to make RT a regular forum and create a coordination committee to for better coordination and to work on the immediate, short term and long term objectives of the community.                                                 

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Annual ‘Reh’ youth festival held in Delhi

, TNN | Apr 3, 2015, 12.46PM IST
NEW DELHI: It's been more than a quarter of a century since Kashmiri Pandits' exodus from the valley. Pandits' long pending demands for a separate homeland seem quite out of sight, but their efforts to preserve their culture are quite visible, especially in forms of rituals and annual festivals. 'Reh', the annual youth festival is in its fifth year now and this year's lineup of performers include not only professional singers but two children who come from migrant camps in Jammu. 

It is for the Vishal (14) and Vishali (16), siblings born in Jammu's migrant camps, where a large Kashmiri Pandit population, displaced after violence in early 1990s had shifted and continues to live till today. The siblings' family originally lived in Pulwama. Organisers say that through the festival, organized by Kashmiri Pandit youth, they're trying to provide the siblings with a platform which their otherwise poor financial condition isn't likely to get them. 

"The young boy has performed in a television channel before, his sister hasn't. Both are amateur singers with a lot of talent and we're invited them here to help them showcase it. Crowd pullers like King Paul Singh, noted Bollywood singer, will also be part of the festival. Our aim through the festival is to preserve our culture and our language along with the youth," said Amit Raina, coordinator, Roots in Kashmir (RIK). 

The annual 'Reh' youth festival has been held in KECSS grounds, Pamposh enclave for the last four years. It is held around the Pandit New Year - Navreh - to get the new Pandits together and celebrate their culture. Navreh, is loosely translated in Kashmiri as the New Fire or Light, so Reh alone is a celebration of light. 

"We started this idea of getting the young Kashmiri Pandits together and involved in our cultural celebrations. For the start we got Kashmiri folk songs for the audience we didn't quite work as we intended. Then we added some rock into it and brought out this fusion of new age rock with old style Kashmiri folk and most of our audience got hooked to it. It's been a pleasure being part of this celebration from then on," said Ashish Zutshi, of Roots in Kashmir (RIK) that has been organising this festival. 

The festival has been drawing increasing number of people. The first festival held in 2011, had an attendance of 350 people, about 600 people participated in the last year's Reh. Organisers say that more than 900 people are expected to attend this year's Reh, which will be held on April 4.

Source :

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

They Left the Valley 25 Years Ago. But for Kashmiri Pandits, Wounds are Still Fresh

25 years after he fled Kashmir along with thousands of other Kashmiri Pandits, Vimal Sumbly has trouble answering his young son's questions.   

"He says despite being a Kashmiri, he has never seen snow. What do I tell him?" said Sumbly. "The sad thing is you have to explain even to your own countrymen what happened. People still don't understand."

On 19 January, 1990, in the face of rising militancy, many families like Sumbly's left their homes overnight to escape death. The night is etched permanently in Amrita Handu's memory.

"In the middle of the night, the whole of Kashmir was on the roads. You felt you were going to die. I can never forget those slogans outside our homes," she said, voice choking as the memories flooded in.For these people living in virtual exile in their own country, the wounds are still fresh. That night, not only did they lose their homes, they also lost their identity.

More than the loss of home, it is the loss of identity that troubles many who fought against all odds to stay on their feet."We belong neither to Delhi, nor to Kashmir," said Rahul Mahnori. "Politically we don't have the force."

Five years ago, an urge to go back home made Sanjay Safaya leave his lucrative job with a multinational firm in Delhi. Today, sitting in his damp, two-room tenement in Budgam's Sheikhpora, he regrets the decision."We thought we would get a substantial package, but nothing substantial has come up," he said.

Safaya, 35, was among the 1,200 Kashmiri Pandits who returned to the Valley in 2010 as part of a much-publicised government attempt. They were resettled in five colonies and were given government jobs. But not much else. Essentials like ration cards and Aadhar cards have been a struggle. And this election, they couldn't even vote.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Mind Of Winter - Twenty-five years into exile, a Pandit selects memory props to remind him like shrapnel pain of the day his family looked its last upon Kashmir Valley

Memory sharper The author is the boy with the toy gun
Twenty-five years into exile, a Pandit selects memory props to remind him like shrapnel pain of the day his family looked its last upon Kashmir Valley
I often think of a man I saw dead 30 years ago in Srinagar on the road outside the Silk Factory. The man had died after being hit by a truck; he lay face down, and the pieces of meat he was carrying in a newspaper sheet lay strewn all over him. The bus from which I saw him stopped for a moment and I remember trying to read the crumpled and stained newspaper. I wanted to read the printed matter so that it could serve as a prop to remember the dead man.
I always needed a prop to remember things by. Six years after I saw that dead man, I was in a taxi, huddled with my parents, who like every Kashmiri Pandit at that time were desperate to see the light on the other end of the Jawahar tunnel. While crossing south Kashmir, we came across a man pushing a wheelbarrow on the road; he looked at us in disgust, pumped his fist in the air, and shouted: “Maryu, Batav, maryu! (Die, you Pandits, die!).” The man’s  wheelbarrow and his raised fist are among the many props reminding me of my exile.
Anniversaries are also like props. January 19 this year, for example, will mark 25 years of our exodus from the Kashmir Valley. I don’t know whether this date means something to my father. I don’t think he will even remember it. His day will be the same: he will wake up, worry about what we will cook for lunch, ask me with remarkable sangfroid if I have plans to get married, recite mantras in front of a picture of our ancestral goddess. Later, he will ring up the grocer to order something, beginning with: “Hello, Mintuji, mein Uncle bol raha hun!” and then place his order. Earlier, I’d find it funny, since I thought Mintu must be dealing with 50 uncles like Father. But then I paid attention and realised Mintu never asks: “Which uncle?” The system worked perfectly for Father, the groceries always got delivered on time. That is how he operated back home in Kashmir; that is how it works for him in Gurgaon.
But I know Father misses home. We never talk about it. Not even when he is watching DD Kashmir, when he is humming along with Tibet Bakal singing a Krishan Joo Razdan Leela, an ode to Shiva. Father has never returned to Kashmir since April 4, 1990. I don’t think he wants to. The Kashmir he left 25 years ago has changed. And he remembers every moment of the time that change occurred. So January 19, in his mind, is no different from all those days of fear and trauma in 1989-90. As Robert Frank writes in La memoire des Francais, “That which is sadly memorable is not co-memorable.”
Somehow, in my head—and perhaps that is the way it is with every son and daughter—Father has always been ‘old’. But how old was he when we left home? He was 44. Forty-four! At that age, like thousands of other Kashmiri Pandit parents, he had to provide for the family in so uncertain times. At that age, he lost everything he had so lovingly built along with my mother: a home, its red-cemented corridor, its lawn, its kitchen garden, its windows with stained glass, its wardrobes, its false ceiling, its book-shelves. Everything my parents earned for years was diligently put into our home. And, suddenly, one day, your neighbours, your colleagues, your friends, your grocer and your milkman decide that you cannot live in a home that you built with your sweat and blood. They also decide that it is time for you to leave not only your home, but also the land where your ancestors lived for thousands of years. So they burst out on the streets on the night of January 19, 1990, and shout on loudspeakers from the mosques all over the Valley that they want Kashmir to become Pakistan, where only Pandit women (and no men) will be allowed.
Oh, that night! How can I forget it! How can any Kashmiri Pandit forget it! But I am still searching for more and more props to remember that night. I want it to be like shrapnel pain. Here is one prop I acquired recently: on that night Doordarshan was playing a V. Shantaram film, Teen Batti, Chaar Raasta. Also, that night, along with frenzied cries for our annihilation, they played a song used in Afghanistan to inspire the anti-Soviet militia: Khoon-e-shahidan rang laaya, fatah ka parcham lehraya, jaago jaago subah hui (The blood of the martyrs has come true, the flag of victory has been unfurled, wake up, wake up, he dawn has appeared). It is now available on YouTube and, sometimes, when a few friends get silly drunk, we play it on and laugh as we imitate the singer’s nasal drone. This is what I believe Michael Taussig called the “normality of the abnormal” inNervous System, when he referred to the notion of “despair and macabre humour”.
But I cannot play the song when Father is around. I cannot play it to a man who spent that entire night standing at his window, offering the solace of his presence to an old woman who was alone in the neighbouring house, as mobs outside were calling for the death of Pandits. I cannot play it to a woman, then a child, whose mouth was stuffed with Parle-G biscuits by her mother to prevent her from crying and attracting the attention of the mob outside her home. I cannot play it to the widow of Naveen Sapru, who at the age of 37 was waylaid by a mob outside a mosque and then shot. “Bus, be moodus wanye (Okay, I have died now),” he told his murderers, after which he was shot again and silenced forever. Naveen was on his way to collect his coat from a tailor. But he was killed before that. Two years ago, while in the US, I bought a coat from Macy’s and it reminded me of him.
Did anyone collect his coat later?
Twenty-five years is a long time. For a refugee, it indicates a sense of permanent exile. In exile, most of us are doing well for ourselves. But beneath our tiepins, our PowerPoint presentations, our single malts, our Harvard ‘five-foot shelf’ classics, we suffer from an acute sense of homelessness. In exile, our achievements are like pieces of meat over that man’s dead body. In exile, we are like Orwell’s Unhappy Bella, waiting for unknown fishermen to sing the sad song of our betrayal.
We wait for the spring. But on January 19, twenty-five years later, the exile is winter. A mind of winter, as Wallace Stevens would have preferred to call it.

(Rahul Pandita is the author of Our Moon Has Blood Clots (2013), a memoir of exile from Kashmir.)
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The longest night - Akshay Ambardar

“And this is the pain & glory, I said,
 That after bidding Africa goodbye,
                                we still cannot leave her behind, said I” — Femi Osofisan
The words belong to a Nigerian writer, Femi Osofisan. Femi, am sure is unknown to most people reading this post. I choose his words today to symbolize the state of Kashmir Pandits like his popularity in India – negligent & negligible.  He in my head represents 8 Lakh Femi Osofisan(s) in the largest republic of the world. Femi, even with hindsight couldn’t have used better prose to describe the state of a community which is pushing itself to bear the 25th year of exile and lives in nostalgic pain each day thinking of their homes in Kashmir . 25th year - quarter of a century, sum of two decades and importantly end of one generation in a family.
19th January, 1990 was the night of horror for a community which had learned to survive subjugation, political un-touch-ability & religious intolerance. A night where Kashmiri Hindu women , who by the way were used to forgoing “bindi” on Fridays to avoid getting abused and cussed, were told on mosque mounted loudspeakers, that “they” are desired in Kashmir but without their men. A night they were shouted at, from loudspeakers to be part of Kashmir where religion other than the one would be basis of “right to live”.
It is difficult to relive horror. More difficult to recollect it. Most difficult to keep narrating it to people at large. Recollection is vital armor of  exilees to keep race memory going. Every Kashmiri Pandit who lived to re-tell that night, lives in a perpetual paradox – Paradox of exile.
That even when we know her love has waned
  we can never stop her odors clinging on”
Kahsmiri Pandits could have fled, left en-mass or in lots since the time they were reduced to 11 families in kashmir in 1400 AD, yet majority of them chose to stay in land of their Gods and ancestors, resisting the humiliation of being humiliated for being a) Indian b) Indian flag saluting minority, in Kashmir. Ironic in same Kashmir Nehru and Gandhi both saw hope against 2 state theory of Jinnah. Who let this minority community down is a question that can be asked over and over again with no answers , for secularism demands not to name those who did it for reasons that were not political but religious – Islamfication of Kashmir. “Pakistan se rishta kya, ya Ilaha, Illallah” (Whats kashmir’s relation with Pakistan? Allah is great) “Yaha kya chalega , Nizame-mustafa“( what shall rule in Kashmir, reign of Islam ) – 2 most popular slogans shouted by kashmiris.
19th Jan, 1990 has been etched in my memory for lack of comprehension mixed with certain understanding that death seemed certain. As a 6 year old you do not understand death but you recognize fear ridden frozen faces. A nearby CRPF camp was glitter of hope and instructions were to run straight to it if the prowling mob chanting “Hum kya chahte Azadi” and anti KP slogans break in. My grand parents had realized fanaticism outside the house was too wild to be stopped by main wooden door that was additionally nailed with ply boards. This mind you, was not some remote corner of kashmir, this was heart of main Srinagar city. This personal piece is just one of many such cases that happened. Crowds were assembling in Srinagar , all parts of it. Whispering of crowd was reaching the status of sloganeering. Anti India, pro Pakistan slogans. It was dark and scary. And in all this few houses remained painted in darkness, their occupants huddled together in fear. Calls, desperate calls, to JK Police yielded no results. Unfortunately, then Governor Mr Jaghmohan was in Jammu Raj Bhawan. What was whispering , now ate the night with its loudness. Men , who could, decided to fight, women they prepared for self immolation. And all this in heart of Srinagar city.  KPs waited with anxious patience for the eventuality of the longest night of their lives – death.
The impact of 19th Jan 1990 unfortunately can never be understood by people unfamiliar with 1990 or not having a Kashmiri Pandit in his or her circle. For there were no newspaper stories covering independent India’s biggest and only exodus within country as focus was on liberal left manifested propaganda of India’s brutality. Its just another fact often ignored that pre 1990 Kashmir had neither – AFSPA , encounters, murders or crimes of horrific nature. In the shadow of Auschwitz , a Jew probably shall always cry. 19th Jan , 1990, shall do same to a Kashmiri Pandit , who saw to live and retell.
It was not the end but start of a process that lead to humiliation of being called refugees and migrants in own land, worse in own state. Life across Pir Panjal consumed elders by heat, youngsters to snake bites. While Pandits live on to remember another year of exile, 25 years on Kashmiri Pandit tourists are in much demand in Kashmir by locals who hounded them out. Imagine a yazdi tourist shown Mosul by a Iranian guide 30 years later?