It is heartening to note that Pandits, the Hindu natives of Kashmir, have resumed observing and celebrating their traditional occasions in the Valley, albeit amid tight security. Today, they undertook the annual pilgrimage to the 14,500 feet-high Harmukh-Gangbal lake shrine in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. As and when a festive occasion for the Pandits has arrived, Sirf News has been on the forefront of publishing reports of its peaceful and successful observation: We reported the observance of Jyeshtha Ashtami; their demand for the Sharada Peeth Corridor; even incidents of mishaps like the one during Kheer Bhawani was not missed — to tell the wronged and beleaguered community we care. Much needs to be done by way of providing the community an environment conducive for their return to their home and hearth. They have hardly received any support from the state, forcing them to live like refugees in their own country. It is a sad reflection on the state of Indian polity that, while they do not find mention even in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech after the virtual abrogation of Article 370, the opposition would have the world believe that not normalcy in the lives of these indigenous people, butchered and tortured by Islamists, but convenience of terrorists and the stone-pelting mobs deprived temporarily of internet connections would be normal. Blowing up staged events like visits by Rahul Gandhi, a delegation of the TMC, Sitaram Yechury et al to the Valley, where their movements were restricted by the security forces, is a proposition that excites the media.
Subjected to invasions by Turkic and Arab regimes since the 8th century, Kashmir was not spared until the 14th when Islamic rule was finally established by Zuliju even in the Valley, replacing a weak Lohara dynasty, that the first band of invaders had not marauded as it was later by Sultan Sikandar Butshikan. It does not speak highly of the resilience of the overall Hindu community that no effort was made to restore the religious demography of the region even under the Afghan rule after the Mughals collapsed, leaving the minuscule population of the Pandits, traditionally Shaiva, at the mercy of a hostile neighbourhood and an apathetic Delhi-based ruler. This, even as Pandits adorned not merely the courts of the Dogras but also of several Rajput kings. The worst was yet to come. Reduced to paltry numbers comprising 5% of the total population of the Valley by 1981 — 20% of the community had left their native region in the period 1846-1947 — they had reduced to being sitting ducks since the Pakistani invasion post-Independence. In 1989, Islamists, who clung onto a grievance as flimsy as a foul election (which was quite the norm across India in the ballot paper era), vented their ire, murdering, raping or forcing Pandits to flee their land. It must be told that the Muslim population in the Valley was otherwise the most privileged in entire India who grabbed the maximum economic opportunities even within the state. The nightmare continued for at least three years at a stretch.
The unstable VP Singh and Chandrashekhar regimes followed by the minority government of PV Narasimha Rao at the Centre couldn’t care less. The simultaneous rise of the BJP, which branded the distorted version of secularism (which translated to Hindu-bashing) practised by other political parties in the country as “pseudo”, gave them some hope. The ‘saffron’ party, in turn, waited for all these years for a majority in the Assembly of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Rajya Sabha, as much as the Lok Sabha, to make sure they would face no hurdle in the revocation of the discriminatory and controversial Article 370. It was the excuse given for their promised Ram temple in Ayodhya as well, but that is not the subject matter of this editorial.
The situation now is more good than bad. Regardless of the merits of the method adopted to get rid of Article 370 and, in effect, Article 35A, the return of the Pandits to the Valley no longer looks beyond a distant possibility. Even if not all of them choose to return, the choice must exist. As must exist this option of Indians across the country who exercise their right to movement in the rest of the country except in ecologically protected regions. The assurance of numbers is necessary to avoid a repeat of the scenario of the medieval period, which eventually drove the Pandits to their present misery. In the meantime, somebody in the Union government must communicate, without mincing words, to the world that the action of 5 August was warranted primarily by the plight of the Pandits. Beating about the bush while conveying this message betrays a guilty conscience that shouldn’t be. The whole humanity ought to be sensitised to the absent human rights of the Hindu inhabitants of Kashmir.