Who could have thought that the respected Kashmiri Brahmins, who according to history once defeated Adi Shankaracharya with Trika Shaivism, would teach us a lesson by protesting in Jammu?
The Lieutenant Governor of the deteriorated Union Territory represents the apparently pro-Hindu Narendra Modi-Amit Shah pair, not the people of Jammu and Kashmir. When told in a ‘take it or leave it’ tone that there are no free lunches for them and they must return to the Valley to earn their salaries, they must have suffered a profound loss of faith. While Hindutva’s right-wing objective in that neglected area of the country remains vital, the notion that life should take precedence over livelihood has substance (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, to be exact).
If the Pandits feel betrayed by a kindred majoritarian regime, it won’t be tolerated by the regime, which has two goals: (a) to be able to announce to the world that Islamic terrorism has been defeated in the territory, allowing for the return of Pandits where previous governments failed; and (b) to make that supposed transformation a leading wedge of the Hindutva center’s political agenda. These goals have little possibility of being fulfilled if recalcitrant Pandits, the indigenous people, continue to prioritise their personal safety over the right’s political goals.
Is it not instructive that the situation of the Kashmiri Pandits, which they wouldn’t have had to experience if democratic governments remained in power in the former state, has been caused by “firm,” undistracted rule?
An authoritarian government has caused more hardship for Pandits than major Muslim leaders of Kashmir’s political life. This government has been in power for nearly four years while abandoning the notion of representation, the most important aspect of the Indian constitution. Pandits’ incapacity to understand the historical and psychological plight of Kashmir’s Muslims may have exacerbated the situation. Uninformed, ahistorical generalisations about the “nature” of people, communities, and cultures show our biases, not realities.
In 1990, a Union government sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party and a hard-nosed Governor despatched to the state to mend uppity insurgents left the Pandits to their existential fate, commencing their more permanent suffering. Manmohan Singh’s secular government made some attempts to rehabilitate Pandits as part of a bigger package of retrievals, so at least someone was thinking about them.
And now the instructive irony: those who went to the valley under that package had to quit when no electoral riff raff is there to spoil Modi and Shah’s grand dominance, riding on an unprecedented military presence, who seem more concerned with subjugating or coopting political forces in the state than answering the needs of Pandits and other beleaguered Kashmiris (Muslims, Dogras, Sikhs, Gujjars, Bakerwals).
Pandits who participated in the 1990 protests may now appreciate the dangers regular Kashmiri Muslims faced if they had supported the Pandits then.
A earlier version of this essay suggested that all Kashmiris, including Pandits, would be better off if they prioritised their shared ethnicity, language, and cultural history.
Given the current dispensation’s claims of communal oneness with them, they could do well in their darkest disillusionment to regain their oneness with the general Kashmiri Muslim populace.
If they can connect, they’ll feel better and have a better chance of returning home. This would require reevaluating their scepticism of mainstream political systems that have supported composite culture more than Kashmir’s current rulers. Pandits once dominated academia and government.
Two generations of Muslim Kashmiris have demonstrated their worth in once-Pandit professions, but that doesn’t mean they should get them back.
Is it not desirable to develop a sequel to The Kashmir Files that exposes the hardships Pandits face in modern India under Hindutva rule, embracing the Pandits’ full expression of disgust with those who have used them as “cannon fodder,” to quote Sushant Bhan?