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 : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Annual-Reh-youth-festival-held-in-Delhi/articleshow/46793578.cms

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? 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Kashmiri Pandits and the BJP: A cut most unkind - Sushil Pandit

In J&K, with its Mission 44+, the BJP had mounted its most audacious attempt at power yet. Arguably, more ambitious than even the Mission 272+. With 25 seats and 11 lakh-odd votes, no less than the party president, Amit Shah, declared victory. Seemed all right. After all, 25 seats is more than twice their best ever tally, of 11 seats won during the last elections. And, at 11 lakh-odd votes, the BJP also has the highest number of votes among all the parties that contested the elections this time in the state. So, on the face of it, there are no issues left to be joined. But, then, there is a lot beneath the surface. Some of it was presented a day after the election results, on December 23.
On January 1, at a lunch in Delhi, talking informally, the president of the BJP is reported to have alluded to Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) not turning out to vote for the BJP in the J&K elections this time. His allusion had a sense of disappointment, of being let down by an entire community when they were expected to deliver his party a few seats in the Valley. He is not the only one. Some enterprising journalists from the Valley, on the very day of the results, floated this theory that the "real boycotters" in these elections were actually the Kashmiri Pandits who had failed to turn up and vote. They attributed the BJP's dashed hopes in the Valley to these reluctant KPs. Those in a hurry to look for easy scapegoats will find this proposition quite handy. Those who aren't can continue reading.
Just an aside, designating electoral contests as missions seems like a smart way to vest the contests with a sense of urgency. A well defined target is always a prerequisite for the much needed focus. Especially, when you have to coalesce a disparate bunch into a winning team. Till the Mission 272+, and its spectacular success, the BJP did not describe the elections it fought as "missions", even if it fought some of them in that mode. The Vidhan Sabha polls for Haryana and Maharashtra, that followed the Lok Sabha polls too, were thus named. Hence, by the time Assembly polls for Jammu & Kashmir and Jharkhand were due, calling them yet another mission by the BJP had already acquired an element of predictability. There was a bit of palpable exaggeration though about the "mission" in J&K. 44+ seemed a distant proposition initially, even to the most die-hard optimist within the Parivar. As the campaigning progressed, a few looked eager to believe in it, even at the risk of sounding somewhat cocky.
Comparisons with Haryana and Maharashtra are in order. The tasks in these two states didn't look so far fetched when the respective 'missions' were announced there. This was despite an adverse history of earlier contests posing a big question mark on the viability of these "missions". Primarily, because the pre-poll surveys in those states gave the BJP a reasonable chance to make a success of these 'missions'. There was a similar possibility this time about Jharkhand too. But the J&K polls had a different air about them. Different, because of a plethora of reasons.
One, because J&K is more heterogeneous than all the states of India. Its three regions - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh - differ in terrain, climate, language, religion, ethnicity, lifestyle, attitude and narrative so much that they are an antithesis of the very criteria that went into the formation of states in the Union of India. This has, historically, impacted the politics of each of these regions, often playing out in conflict vis-a-vis the Valley that always seeks to dominate. In such a gridlock of interests, getting a majority by crossing the mark of 44, for any party not just the BJP, is just too unlikely.
Two, because of violent secessionism, fomented and fuelled by Islamist jihad, aided and abetted by Pakistan. This disruption, carrying on for the last 25 years, has led to boycotts or low and erratic turnout of voters in the Valley, often impacting normal politics in the Valley, and election results even more so, given that the Valley is the largest contributing region to the J&K Assembly.
Three, because of the emergence of the BJP. The last Lok Sabha polls, just as in the rest of India, threw up the BJP as the single largest party in J&K as well. Not only in terms of votes polled (11.56 lakh) but also ahead of the principal Valley parties, NC and PDP, even if put together. BJP also swept all the three non-Valley seats as it had never done before. BJP's resurgence spearheaded by Narendra Modi, evident during the Lok Sabha polls, showed no signs of abating during the subsequent Assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. The impact of the imminent rise of BJP as a dominant player in J&K had to be factored by all concerned.
Four, and perhaps the most crucial, was about the BJP beginning to, seriously and conspicuously, fancy its chances in the Valley without which the Mission 44+ would have, in any case, been an impossibility. To make this fourth factor a potent one, the BJP needed an elaborate logic to sell it internally within the Parivar. This is where a lot of time, effort and ingenuity were invested. In the process, some untested and unverified hypotheses were thrown up as facts, and/or exaggerated as factors.
One of them is part of a familiar argument, repeatedly tossed at separatists, to question their claims of being a movement representing a cross-section of Muslims. The crux of it was that the Kashmiri Muslims were not a monolith and that there were various cleavages, such as Shia versus Sunni, Saiyed versus Sheikh, Gujjars/Bakarwals versus urbane/elite. Nothing wrong with it. To use it as an argument in a TV studio, to score debating points, is perhaps kosher. But to make a leap of faith and turn it into an electoral "opportunity" perhaps wasn't. Those who have been seriously tracking Muslim politics and observing their voting behaviour would know better. And when you're operating in a zone of serious attrition like Kashmir, it gets even trickier. But such a dubious stratagem was at the core of drawing large segments of Muslim voters into the BJP. Forget Shia pockets like Zadibal and Budgam, even the overwhelmingly Shia Kargil turned its back on the BJP. As it turned out, the party seemed an eager and willing victim of its own propaganda.
But, this was just one. Another one was relying on the separatists' call for boycott. It is a fact that the separatists oppose elections in the state, dubbing them as an "irrelevant" exercise till such time as their "political" grievances are addressed. Over the past two decades, a large section in the Valley, often out of fear but many out of conviction too, pay heed to the separatists' call and stay home on polling day. Thus, the separatists try to showcase to the world their relevance and clout in the Valley. But those who understand Kashmir also know that the secessionists keep a hawk's eye on the politics and the political processes of the state. They wield control over elected political offices through such proxies who do their bidding as the so-called mainstream politicians. Separatists are not so naive as to let go of their leverage in the political power structure, and that too to the BJP, just to pull off a successful boycott. And that is what happened when almost twice as many voted in the Valley compared to the Lok Sabha. But the BJP being the BJP, was smug right through about the boycott being a big opportunity. And, this is still not all.
The third dimension of the "strategy" was to peddle ambiguity about its stand on Article 370. Now, here is a party that since its inception, has used this issue as the very core of its being. The founder president of the Jana Sangh, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, was killed in detention, when jailed in Kashmir protesting against this provision, in 1953. Ever since, every manifesto of the BJP commits itself to repealing Article 370, including the last one for the April-May polls to the Lok Sabha. You know what, the smart ones in the BJP recommended not to have a manifesto this time. They wanted to kill two birds with one stone. By not doing the manifesto, they spared themselves the ignominy of omitting Article 370. And by doing a "Vision Document" instead that had nothing on Article 370, they thought they could convince the Muslims of the Valley about their 'reasonableness' on the issue. And guess what, they actually killed both the birds. The two they had in both their hands, for the one in the bush. Nice and proper!
Almost one lakh votes were lost in Jammu and Ladakh compared to the Lok Sabha polls. That accounts for almost 10 per cent of the votes polled by the BJP in these two regions in the Lok Sabha polls. In Ladakh, which BJP represents in the Lok Sabha, on the promise of delivering the UT status, BJP not only lost all, it was not even in the reckoning in three out of the four seats there. In the Jammu region, the BJP came third in Udhampur, the second largest town of the region, and lost two seats to, of all the parties, the NC. It had won all these three segments in the Lok Sabha polls. Besides the 25 seats won by the BJP, it came second only in 7. Of these 5 were in Jammu region and one each in the Valley and Ladakh. In this Mission 44+, the BJP was actually in serious contest (top two positions), only in 32 seats. And, for all the bending over backwards for the Muslim vote in the Valley, it earned a grand total of a little over 50,000 votes and lost its deposit in 33 out of the 34 seats it contested there. For every single vote gained in the Valley, the BJP lost two in Jammu/Ladakh. While the votes gained in the Valley were not good enough to save the deposits, the votes lost in Jammu/Ladakh cost the BJP several winnable seats.
And, now where did the KPs' vote go? Consider the following:
1. It is 25 years since the KPs, over four lakh, were chased out of Kashmir. They have little knowledge or interest in the constituencies they have been away from for so long.
2. Ever since their exodus, the electoral rolls were revised several times and KPs' names were routinely deleted, mutilated, jumbled with wrong addresses, with errors about gender, age, surnames and relationships. Many do not know, or care, if they are even enrolled because in none of the constituencies did they ever matter numerically to alter the outcome. Also, they have other pressing issues to attend to when uprooted and living in exile.
3. Only in one constituency, Habba Kadal, have they lived in a large enough number to make some impact. Yet, the Jana Sangh/BJP has never won this seat in the past. The voter list there had 16,000 KPs. Besides the reasons mentioned in points no. 1 and 2, the KPs in exile are spread all over India and indeed abroad as well. But to vote, they are required to come to a place in Delhi or Jammu. Otherwise, they are expected to go through a cumbersome and time consuming documentation process to seek a postal ballot. Once that is delivered to them by post and on time, if it really is, then they have to mark it send it back by registered post.
4. But the biggest factor of them all was that the state bureaucracy, manning the state's Election Commission, was most reluctant to let the exiled Hindus vote in any substantial number. KPs' applications were either rejected or kept pending and delayed and thus made redundant. While all this was underway, Valley politicians were whipping up a scare to engineer a backlash, exaggerating that the KPs were being mobilised by the BJP to upstage the Muslim dominance of the Valley.
5. Finally, most KP voters, no matter where, how outnumbered, impoverished or disempowered, have been encouraged and persuaded by the BJP itself all these decades to register as voters in places of their exile, locally. And the BJP knows that the KPs have been not only overwhelmingly voting for them but also campaigning actively. The clean sweep by the BJP in Jammu city, incidentally, reflects that.
So when the party president himself alludes to the entire KP community letting down the BJP, it comes across as a cut most unkind.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Roots in Kashmir 

Kashmiri Pandits need justice, not Rs 40 lakh flats.

As I sat to write this piece, I received a WhatsApp message on my phone. It said Kashmiri Pandits would be given Rs 40,00,000 flats in Srinagar. The news item published in The Economic Times talked about how Kashmiri Pandits will be provided “quality flats”, which it said would be a far cry from the shabby two room accommodation provided to them in Jammu. The story also mentioned that 1,000 such flats would be made on a 20 acre plot of land in Srinagar city. The newspaper report sums up what exactly is wrong with the government’s thinking on the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. That anyone in the government believes that Kashmiri Pandits would be lured by “quality flats” has either no knowledge of what led to the Pandit exodus from the Valley or is simply blind to the facts. No wonder most governments have been barking up the wrong tree.
On the onset of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in the year 1989-90 a small but significant ethnic minority called Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes. Though estimates vary on the number of those who were forced to leave Kashmir Valley in the winter of 1989-90, it is broadly believed, on the basis of various figures available with the government, that a total of 61,000 plus families were forced to seek refuge in the plains of India. The exodus which was preceded by a spate of killings, torture, massacres, rape apart from burning of Pandit houses, desecration and destruction of places of religious worship was described by the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) as “akin to genocide”.
There is a huge gap between what the problem is and how various governments have perceived the problem to be. The issue of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits is not the same as that of the rehabilitation of let us say a populace who may have been displaced by a natural calamity. Rehabilitation forms just one component of the return policy. The government first of all needs to address the issue of sense of security (not security, Kashmiri Pandits understand that government can’t place a policeman outside every home) which is a prerequisite to any resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits back in Kashmir. For this it is imperative that the government first accepts that Kashmiri Pandits were ethnically cleansed out of their home. More than 500 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by terrorists, though the official figure as per J&K Police is only 209. Whatever be the number of people killed there have been no convictions in the killings of Kashmiri Pandits. A self confessed killer of Kashmiri Pandits by the name Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Bitta Karate was freed for lack of evidence. That there has been no closure in any of the Pandit killings is the first stumbling block to return.
Government of India has many times in the past announced packages for “return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits”. The most ambitious of such packages was the one announced by Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008. The package envisaged a lump sum of Rs 7,50,000 for each family for reconstruction of house apart from providing transit accommodation during the time the house is reconstructed. Under the PM’s package 6,000 jobs for Kashmiri Pandits were also announced. The government was expecting a huge response to the package. However not even one Kashmiri Pandit family has gone back to Kashmir. Even the response to the jobs was lukewarm. Only 1,600 posts have been filled so far.
It shouldn’t have been difficult for anyone to figure out as to why even the poorest of the Kashmiri Pandits have not taken up the economic package. The reasons are simple. Kashmiri Pandits did not leave the Valley because they wanted a better life in the rest of the country. They did not leave because they did not have economic opportunities in Kashmir. Economic packages would be meaningless unless the basic question of justice and security of the small ethnic minority is addressed. First of all the nomenclature of the problem needs to be changed from “Resettlement and Rehabilitation” to “Justice, Resettlement and Rehabilitation”.
Kashmiri Pandits are wary of any proposals to settle them in their original places in Kashmir. They say this would mean living with the same neighbours who burnt their homes, encroached on their land and were overtly or covertly responsible for their exodus. Besides where do they go back to is a common refrain because most do not own the houses that once belonged to them. They were either gutted by the rioters belonging to the majority community or sold as distress sales or have been encroached upon. More than 450 shrines and temples of Kashmiri Pandits have been either partially or completed destroyed and sans a few most have been desecrated. Even cremation grounds have not been spared.
Today there are five transit camps in Kashmir for Kashmiri Pandits who took up jobs under the PM’s scheme. Except for the Sheikhpora camp in Badgam and the one inside the Kheer Bhavani temple complex the rest are prefabricated settlements. They are fenced by barbed wires and the Kashmiri Pandits living there are always vulnerable. The facilities in these transit camps are terrible to say the least. The last time India defeated Pakistan in a one-day match, the camp in Hall near Shopian received a volley of stones. Now what is the use of making another such camp even if the flats are going to be “high quality”? Only those in dire need of jobs will live in these camps because they have no other options of livelihood available to them. But such settlements would be coerced if not forced settlements.
Kashmiri Pandits have time and again told various governments that resettlement has to be en masse and not piece-meal. The various proposals submitted by Kashmiri Pandits organisations have talked of one enclave of Panun Kashmir or one satellite city for the Pandits. There is almost complete unanimity among Kashmiri Pandits on this issue. There could be a difference of opinion on whether this should be centrally administered area or a notified area or a cantonment board or a smart city. Kashmiri Pandits believe that only a separate enclave will give them a required sense of security. Till the time the government acquires land for this, they could re-open cases against killers of Kashmiri Pandits. The conviction of Bitta Karate alone would convince more people about the seriousness of the government’s rehabilitation policy than any “quality flats for Rs 40,00,000 each” would.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Roots in Kashmir

Yes the BJP made a mark in J&K but was it worth the compromise?

People of Jammu and Kashmir have given a fractured mandate. The emergence of BJP as a formidable force should ideally have been the biggest takeaway of this election because the PDP hasn’t done as well as it was supposed to. But the fractured mandate has thrown up more questions than this election was supposed to answer. Omar Abdullah ran a very spirited campaign although odds were heavily pitted against him, not just on account of poor governance but also because of his failure to provide succour to people during floods. The virtually non-existent Congress campaign wasn’t such a damp squib after all.
BJP’s Mission 44+ took off in Jammu but failed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel. They managed to get only less than two per cent of the vote in the Valley. This was despite the fact that they made all kinds of ideological compromises, some completely unnecessary. Their meetings with obscurantist Islamist figureheads like the Grand Mufti or Engineer Rashid (the MLA from Langate) was something they could have done without. They toned down their stated position on Article 370 to tailor their campaign to what they thought were the “aspirations” of Kashmiris (read Kashmiri Muslims). Credit was taken for punishing the army personnel “responsible” for killings of innocent Kashmiris, by no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. There was a passing reference to the settlement of Kashmiri Pandits and no word on the Temples Bill. Forget Vande Matram, the PM found it unnecessary even to say Jai Hind in his maiden rally in Srinagar. Its strident nationalist discourse in Jammu was, however, on course and observers were heard saying the BJP is a different party in Kashmir than the one in Jammu. Be that as it may, its ascendancy in J&K’s political scene is a watershed event.
The PDP did well in its traditional bastions of South Kashmir and also managed to edge out National Conference from Srinagar city apart from making some inroads into the hilly areas of Rajouri and Poonch. Needless to say its campaign was more targeted against the NC but acerbic against the “Hindu invasion” by BJP. Complacency however did it in. Somehow it believed that Omar’s poor governance meant people would queue up to vote for PDP, which definitely wasn’t the case. The losses in Pampore and Tral were unexpected and indicated how things had gone wrong.
The NC was the underdog in this election. They knew they were up against a wall especially after the flood. They tried convincing the Election Commission to postpone the election in order to buy some time and gain some goodwill. In the ten days that I spent in the State during the second and third phase of polling I saw the NC campaign at work. They were fighting this election as if it was their last. Their rallies were well attended, even the filing of nominations by their candidates were events by themselves. Despite massive erosion of goodwill, they still managed to win 17 seats (including two independents backed by it), a number they themselves would have been surprised with.
The only solace for the non-existent Congress campaign was their candidates, who won more on their individual goodwill rather than the name of the party.
By the evening of December 23, the ideological barriers had crumbled. All “options are on the table” was the oft heard comment from spokespersons of all political parties. The courting was happening publicly, doors were kept open and none seemed to be untouchable except the Congress whom no one wanted to touch even with a barge pole. Sensing the mood of its erstwhile allies, the Congress spokespersons fell back upon how secularism needed to be protected in the sensitive state of J&K or how otherwise armies of rabid Hindutvavadis would convert the entire Valley via its Ghar Vapasi programme. They were joined by the die-hard political pundits who one after another told the PDP spokespersons how aligning with a communal BJP would amount to disrespecting the mandate of the Kashmiris. All those who vociferously supported PDP all through now were criticising it because it was seen as cozying up not just to its enemy but the enemy of the liberals.
There was a powerful rumour on the eve of counting day, that Mehbooba Mufti had supposedly met BJP leaders. The talk of an understanding between the PDP and the BJP had even surfaced during the General Elections as well. An alliance between the BJP and the PDP is always going to be difficult not because of ideological issues but regional issues. BJP has shown its ideological flexibility during the campaign itself. As for PDP, it understands the importance of being with a party which is in power in the Centre. By allying with the BJP, PDP would ensure that Omar is out of power for six years. This combination would perhaps be the only one representing the largest section of the population of J&K.
The NC is very keen to join hands with whoever takes its support and gives it crumbs of power. One would stretch the argument too far if one says Omar and NC wouldn’t survive without power for six years but one cannot deny that the NC is possibly at its lowest ebb today. Its fiercest supporters, the Gandhis, are themselves touching a new political low with every election and Omar knows his best chance lies with the BJP. How keen is the BJP for his support and what terms they set and whether those terms are acceptable to Omar remains to be seen. As I write this, Omar Abdullah is meeting “communal” BJP leaders in Delhi. In Srinagar he would do everything possible to keep communal forces at bay even if that means tying up with his arch rival the PDP. The PDP is keeping the offer of NC support on a slow burner.
The Azadi and the boycottwalas feel left out in the cold and are dubbing any alliance with the BJP as unholy. No doubt there are no good options for any political party in J&K right now, not even the BJP. There will be a lot of explaining to do if “soft separatism” ties a knot with "nationalism”. For now expect no progress on “contentious” issues like Article 370, self rule, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, delimitation and AFSPA. We will have six years to figure out whether all this is in the national interest or in the interest of the people of the State of J&K.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author  and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Roots in Kashmir