Kashmir is on the boil. It has been that way for decades now. After Burhan Wani’s death on July 8, and the consequent actions and reactions to it in the Valley, it feels as if someone has turned up the volume.
And now suddenly there is some buzz about a video by Wani’s possible successor, young Hizbul Mujahideen leader Zakir Rashid Bhat. Newspaper reports claim that he has invited the “other” Kashmiris — the Pandits — to the Valley. He has also asked Sikhs seeking revenge for Operation Blue Star to join forces with him. It’s a strange bundling of invitations.
It is worth noting that Bhat, who is all of 22-years-old, is “inviting” the Pandits who were forced out of the Valley 26 years ago.
“The whole Kashmir movement is a jihadi movement for a Sharia-based Islamic republic. With world opinion strongly against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the separatists and terrorists are now trying to find ways to disguise the same as a freedom moment of all Kashmiris and not only Kashmiri Sunni Muslim. Calling the Pandits back to the Valley will make the whole fight look secular,” says Amit Raina, a leading voice in the Pandit community and an activist with Roots in Kashmir, a youth initiative for Kashmiri Pandits. Raina was 14 years old when he left the Valley.
“The Hizbul invite is like a black widow spider’s invitation — be nice, entice and annihilate once trapped. It was the same Hizbul that had assured the Pandits at Wandhama before selling them out to the Lashkar-e-Taiba leading to death of 23 Pandits. So the invitation can be ignored without a second thought,” he adds.
“The context of Bhat’s invitation is in the ignominy of Hindu genocide in the Kashmir valley. This invitation is a desperate attempt to look and sound civilised,” says Sushil Pandit, an activist.
Bhat is reported to have said, “They [Pandits] should look at those Pandits who have been living in the Valley. Did they face any problems here?” Kashmiris in the Valley are living through horrific times. These invitations — which are sometimes given a secular flavour and otherwise a nationalist note — make a mockery of the Pandits, and their suffering.
When Arvind Gigoo left the Valley in 1990, he was teaching in a college in Anantnag. “Return is next to impossible. No Kashmiri Pandit will go back. Bhat has an agenda. Nobody takes us seriously, we are a useless community,” says the retired professor in a bitter tone.
My father, Chaman Lal Sapru, also a retired professor, recounts those days before the exodus. “How can one forget the headline in Alsafa [a weekly magazine]— ‘KPs should leave in 10 days’, or the cries of ‘rallev, challev ya mariv’ (Become part of us, run away or die)!” says the octogenarian. “Farooq Abdullah and his family ran away to London. He did nothing to stop the Pandits.”
Time and the way many Pandits look at this are relative. For those who were forced to leave the Valley the events of 1990 seemed like they happened just yesterday. The intensity of the pain has not diminished.
But for many born outside the Valley, Kashmir is just a familiar word. Lenesh Matoo, a 24-year-old TV actor in Mumbai, has only been to Kashmir thrice. He would like to “visit” home, but doesn’t want to go there to live and earn a living.
So the message to Bhat, or anyone who from time to time comes with special promises for Pandits, is simple: Leave it alone, the time for all this has passed.
For the Pandits, Kashmir is always home. It will be, irrespective of where we are. And to return home, we don’t need to support anyone’s agenda.