Separate Settlements: A Divisive Politics
By Ghulam Mohammad Khan
16 June, 2016
Diaspora, deracination, or displacement are chronicled civilisational processes and must not be confused as entirely new burgeoning political or cultural subjects. Sometimes galvanized by national economic catastrophes, sometimes by droughts and famines, sometimes by political instabilities and ‘culture wars’, sometimes by natural calamities, and sometimes by natural human hunger to trade or explore, these processes indeed form a historical subject. In the context of contemporary ‘postmodern’ global society, displacement and deracination as social and cultural disruptions are less motivated by natural or moral predicaments, or by the human want to trade, explore and settle in different parts of the world, and more by the political, territorial, technological, and economic issues. In case of Kashmir, the deracination of Kashmiri Pandit community in the beginning of 1990’s was comprehensively incubated by the fragile political culture of the state than any internal rupture within the age-old community kindredship between Muslims and Pandits. With the present political brouhaha going on the return of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) in mind, I believe that instead of further deracinating the already deracinated community by setting up separate settlements, government should put in all possible efforts to revive the lost social and cultural connections, or the earlier community kindredship between the two estranged communities.
One can hardly deny the fact that the collectivistic cultural tradition of Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits, so their return to their ancestral home must wholeheartedly be welcomed by the Muslim majority of the valley. With the emergence of armed insurgency in early nineties, 62,000 registered Kashmiri Pandit families were displaced; 40,000 families lived for decades under sub-human conditions at Jammu, 20,000 families lived and continue to live in tough sultry conditions of Delhi, and 2,000 families are scattered in different parts of the country and the world. There is no logic or any political orgies that can question the return of these deracinated families.
It is more than two and a half decades since the mass exodus took place, but in spite of several attempts to rehabilitate the Pandit community from successive state and central governments, the rehabilitation could not be actuated on ground. The more the issue got politicized the more the gulf between the two victim communities got widened. The apparently considerate statements like “we have to create a conducive atmosphere where the Pandits feel prompted and inspired to go back to their place of birth” by union minister Jitendra Singh and “[We need] to infuse confidence in them (Kashmiri Pandits), first they will be brought to transit camps, transit communities, where our Muslim migrants will also live with them” are actually politically too ironical, or some may understand both as politically absurd. The statements are ironical because both sate and central governments know it very well that the divisive idea of separate settlements is not going to create any ‘conducive atmosphere’ where Pandits could breathe freely, and absurd because various governments have been ineffectually repeating the same redundant claptrap over a period of twenty six years. In April 2008, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a package of Rs 1,618-crore for offering jobs to Kashmiri Pandits, in addition to other assistance. To create transit accommodation, the government immediately spent 218.46-crores. Today when one visits these accommodations, they look nothing more than ‘decorated slums.” Eight long years have passed since the establishment of these transit camps but they have miserably failed to revive even a fraction of that old glorious Muslim-Pandit harmony.
Separate Settlements and ‘Conducive Atmosphere’
Given the present political maelstrom over the return of Pandits, the above two widely used terms these days seem to be entirely antithetical; one is totally impossible in the presence of the other. If you want to establish separate settlements, you cannot expect ‘Conducive atmosphere’; in fact separate settlements will only escalate the already fragile living conditions in Kashmir, and if you want ‘Conducive atmosphere’, the idea of setting up separate camps could be only a severe deterrent. In the midst of this political melee the only sufferers are the two communities. The government should encourage both the communities to revive their unruffled past rather than isolating one and making it the ‘cultural other’ in the long run. In the first ever Kashmiri English novel by a Kashmiri Pandit ‘The Garden of Solitude’ Siddhartha Gigoo, talks about the Muslim-Pandit concord prior to the Pandit exodus. He writes that his grandmother and a neighboring Muslim woman would talk to each other “through the windows of the fourth floor of their houses while winnowing rice.” The government’s target should be to once again infuse life into such exemplary composite relationship than conspicuously fanning the fire of division. Why should government dodge the aspirations of the majority of the people from both communities, who out rightly oppose the jingoistic propaganda of separate settlements and crazily persuade the people with ambiguous excuses? Mehbooba Mufti’s assertion that “once their (Kashmiri Pandits) confidence grows then they can live wherever they want” is as fatuous as it could be. In separate settlements, as has been witnessed in the case of 2008 settlements, the Pandits will hardly be able to grow that confidence because, psychologically speaking, a fear of living in separate Hindu colonies will perpetually perturb them. In that case the new, entirely ‘decultered’ Pandit generation would prefer to stay back in Jammu. In case the colonies are finally set up, the already trust deficit between the two communities would only slump further. Mehbooba must know that KPs confidence will never grow once the settlements are established because, the separatists and insurgents, who have already denounced this ghettoisation ploy, may deteriorate the already hapless political situation in Kashmir. To say the same thing in other words, as long as the mist of Kashmir conflict continues to occlude the daily life, even the majority community hangs by the thread, leave alone the already disoriented Pandit community.
Better than heeding the shady dictates of the PDP-BJP coalition government, the Pandit community (most of which now form a new, young ‘decultered’ generation) should trust and create a dialogue with the people of Kashmir if they really want to revive the extinct ‘composite culture’; otherwise their rehabilitation through so-called inclusive transit camps is a myth. Kashmir is their homeland and no force must stop them from returning to their home. They shouldn’t wait, as Farooq Abdullah recently said, for the Muslims of Kashmir as there is “no one in Kashmir [who] will go to Kashmiri Pandits with a begging bowl.” If Pandits need any security, they need to secure themselves from the political handling of the Kashmir conflict by corrupt politicians, and not at all from the already suffering people of Kashmir. Kashmir conflict will not find any solution with the return of Pandits; in fact the Political parties will use Pandit enclaves as trump cards in future to further worsen the political situation.
The issue of KPs return to their homeland is less about politics, and fundamentally more about the people. Unfortunately, the reverse is going on; the politicians are doing it in their own unscrupulous way, whereas the public opinion is conspicuously sidelined. The people from both communities must realize that lot had flowed down the river of politics all these years and a littlea substantial had happened on the ground except the worsening political crisis. To conclude, I would like to quote the following line from Siddhartha Gigoo’s polyphonic novel ‘The Garden of Solitude’ (this first Kashmiri English novel is a beautiful account of the Pandit-Muslim unity before the mass exodus and the wretched sub-human life of Pandits in dingy migrant camps after the exodus, and also about a perennially pinching yearning to go back to home) ; “We (Pandits and Muslims of Kashmir) have been betrayed by the government, by the uniformed men, and by the agencies which claim to be our well-wishers.”
Ghulam Mohammad Khan is PhD Scholar at Central University of Haryana
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