Wednesday, November 21, 2007
POLITICS OF APOLOGY-by KAMAL HAK
Recently our lost homeland has been a buzz with news of different nature. The national media has been replete with the stories about Kashmiri Pandits reopening their temples and other places of worship after nearly eighteen years. These news stories also empathetically highlight the cooperation extended by the local Muslims in organizing the prayers and hawans at the previously abandoned temples. This is also fact that now more and more displaced Kashmiri Pandits find themselves mustering enough courage for taking a brief sojourn to their roots. Also, despite what the local media in Kashmir may project, Kashmiri Muslims at their individual levels are renewing their contacts with the displaced community. On their return from a brief visit to the valley many displaced Kashmiri Pandits speak about the discernable change of heart in the local Muslims. Some even suggest the preparedness of the local Muslims for apologizing to the displaced Pandits for the injustice committed against them.
A few months back some sort of brouhaha was created when the erstwhile spokesperson of All Party Hurriat Conference, Saleem Geelani, offered apologies to displaced Kashmiri Pandits on behalf of Kashmiri Muslims during a seminar organized by Roots in Kashmir in Jammu. Many agencies, with vested interests, and including some Kashmiri Pandits lose no time in branding these incidents as the indications of changing times in Kashmir. It may also be true that the times have indeed changed in Kashmir. But, does it necessarily mean the conditions have become so much conducive for the return of displaced Pandits that these demand a complete about turn of the very fundamentals that have driven and sustained the community’s struggle in exile.
One question that needs to be debated and understood is if these individual expressions of remorse carry any meaning? Alternatively, one also needs to ask a question if any institutionalized apology by the Kashmiri Muslims would tantamount to atonement of their sins. Displaced Kashmiri Pandits will have to be carefully guarded in responding to these hollow apologies, which will increase in numbers in the times to come. They need ask themselves a question which Marina Warner a renowned novelist and critic raised some time back, “Is apology today’s new political enthusiasm?”
This is also a fact that there is nothing new in the recent apologies made by certain Kashmiri Muslims. Various influential Kashmiri Muslim individuals and leaders have in past publicly apologized to the displaced Pandits in public. Only difference being that earlier the recipients didn’t see any significant in these otiose pronouncements. The process of offering apologies to displaced Pandits, perhaps, started in the year 1999, when during course of a huge international conference at The Hague, the Hurriat delegation offered to publicly apologize for the crimes committed against the Pandit. Panun Kashmir delegation attending the conference didn’t attach any significance to that and thought the gesture was only dictated by political expediency.
Some years later, the late Ashok Kak assembled a galaxy of Kashmiri Separatist leaders including Shabbir Shah and Omar Farooq in a first ever post 1990, across the table interaction with displaced Pandits. The proceedings of that meeting went on the expected lines with the Pandits vociferously expressing their anger and the Muslims trying to strike reconciliatory notes. The general sentiments of the Kashmiri Muslim leadership at that time also were overwhelmingly apologetic.
Nothing significant emerged from the said meeting as, perhaps, the reconciliatory tones were more a produce of head than the genuine outpouring of the heart. The deceit, cunningness and the rabid fundamentalist mindset behind their extirpation also might have heavily weighed in the minds of the Pandit participants, who dismissed the developments as part of a politics.Some time later, in the year 2005, an interaction was held, in Motel Ashok Jammu, between groups of Kashmiri Muslim leaders with displaced Kashmiri Pandit representatives which included Dr. K.L. Chowdhury, a senior Panun Kashmir leader. It was during this meeting that a former militant and then mainstream politician Babbar Badr expressed his guilt, neglect and repentance for the sorry state of displaced community. It was around same time when during a seminar on Kashmir held in Jammu University, Babbar Badr, on his own and Kashmiri Muslims’ behalf sought hand folded forgiveness from Panun Kashmir Convener, Dr. Agnishekhar.
Apology as an instrument of reconciliation has become an important tool internationally. There seems to be an unprecedented rush to offer apologies in the belief of creating benchmarks for acknowledging the wrongs took place. Whether, such apologies can become harbingers of progress towards restoring the mutual trust between the warring societies is, however, debatable. In the aftermath of Virginia (USA) legislators voting unanimously, early this year, to express profound regrets over Old Dominion’s role in promoting slavery, Senator Henry L. Marsh 111 expressed that he foresaw “no true progress in this country until we get a reconciliation and honest dialogue about race and slavery.” The same applies to politics of Kashmiri Muslim apologies as well, as no bridges can ever be built without an honest and dispassionate admission of conspiracy that forced an exodus of three hundred and fifty thousand ethnic aborigines from Kashmir.
There are also inherent dangers associated with the act of apologies as these can be effectively used to block the chances of a conflict free future. John Torpey in “The Entrepreneurs of Memory” strongly asks if the world wide concern with public apology represents a turning of society’s face towards the past and on that closes the possibility of imagining a better future. He further asks, “Isn’t there a danger that struggling to redress history will become a substitute for working a better future?” Marina Warner even goes to the length of suggesting, “Too many crimes have been committed in the name of future for us to rise to the call of apology.”
In response to the powerful presentation made by the Dr. Agnishekhar at the Prime Minister’s 1st Round Table Conference on Kashmir, Mufti Mohd. Sayed made a telling statement of the times by saying, “I am ashamed at what was done to Pandits. It is a national shame and ‘Hum iske liye sharminda hai.’ Mufti Sayed may have tried to score points then but one can’t be but be amused at his worthless statement. Those who get impressed by these apologies must understand the politics behind the same and should not forget that there was no succor for displaced Pandits in Mufti’s healing touch policy. Having been a union home minister and also a chief minister, Mufti can’t have been ignorant about no justice being possible without reparation. Nahla Valji commenting upon the proceedings of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa rightly argues that, “reconciliation is ultimately linked to reparation and implies that without the later one can find neither justice nor closure.” In case of Kashmiri Pandits reparation can only be the recognition of their claim over a separate homeland in Kashmir.
Speaking at a seminar held last year during Summit of the Powerless, Omar Adullah strongly advocated setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Kashmir on the similar lines as was done in post apartheid South Africa. True, the South African endeavor apparently seemed to have succeeded in its mission; however, recent reports have exposed some glaring omissions, which raise serious questions on the sincerity of purpose behind the whole process. Considering the inherent prejudice that Kashmiri Muslims have historically nurtured against the Pandits, will any commission be able to truthfully serve its terms of reference? Moreover, will the prevailing political and social dispensation in Kashmir ever allow setting up of honest and just terms of reference for any commission, which seeks dispense justice to the displaced community?
As mentioned earlier, Kashmiri Muslims will continue apologizing to the Pandits. The central question here is what that apology will actually indicate or achieve? Last year, during a two day seminar, Kashmir Imbroglio: Perspective, held in India Peace Center, Nagpur, Hurriat delegation led by their then spokesperson Saleem Geelani profusely expressed their regrets and sorry for whatever was inflicted upon the Pandits. Saleem Geelani even went to the extent of seeking forgiveness from the Panun Kashmir delegation comprising of Dr. Agnishekhar and Ramesh Manvati. The idea of an apology will definitely have an emotional appeal to many Pandits. But, what needs to be understood is that politics of symbolism must be isolated from the politics of substance, and then only the justice can be delivered.
The apologies from the very people who are the perpetrators of worst crimes against the humanity will only be symbolic and dictated by sheer political expediency. The apologies carry no weight or conviction as these are backed by a constructed mind set which welcomes the displaced persons as tourists and conspires against their permanent return. A testimony at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated, “We won’t say these perpetrators give us their money but they must give us some thing to show they are sorry.” Kashmiri Muslims can’t return lost seventeen years to the displaced Pandits but they need to give them some thing to show they are sorry. Kashmiri Pandits would be satisfied with a small portion of land on which they can give shape to their dreams and aspirations.
Kamal Hak is a political analyst and a columnist. He as well is a senior leader of Panun Kashmir. Hak resides in Noida and can be contacted at kamalhak[@]gmail.com