Month: April 2015

Perils of Destructive Politics

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi 

“Kashmiri people follow Geelani, believe in JKLF ideology and pin hopes on Mirwaiz”

The statement quoted above was an observation made by a scholar from the United Kingdom during a Kashmir visit in 2010 when over 116 young lives were lost for nothing. In the past few days, the situation in Kashmir is taking a similar turn but lets hope nothing close to 2010 is on cards. I have learned that Kashmir politics is a kedgeree too many players, too many cooks. At the latest developments, I was reminded of a phone call I made to my father about two years ago asking about the “situation” in the aftermath of the sectarian tension in 2012. Father had turned to me like this: “kehin nay, yim karaan shuyr kharyil” (‘Nothing, it’s just these kids playing mischief’). It was a relief to see that he hadn’t lost his sense of humor even in that tense environment. My father further added: “ath habyin wanaan Kaakun haaput; ba hay traavahan magar yi traavyam na kehn” (Lit. ‘This is called “Kaka’s bear”, my dear; I would let go of it but it won’t let go of me’).

We have seen time and again that a common Kashmiri’s right to live, move and breathe is at the mercy of the moods of politicians, administrators, separatists and some invisible “agents”. Only a few months ago, Kashmir went through one of the most devastating floods in its history. Schools and educational institutions were closed down for a prolonged period of time. The entire infrastructure was badly damaged. There is a lot to catch up, a lot of reconstruction work to be done. Despite an interval of seven long months, majority of the flood-affected people are yet to receive relief. Many people spent a long harsh winter in makeshift shelters and were only looking forward to a ray of hope with the arrival of spring. The intervening elections and the unprecedented delay in the government formation had only added to their woes. As if all this were not enough, there comes politics on the scene and the common man continues to suffer.

Over a week ago, a huge controversy was started over the government’s announcement of a “plan of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits”; this came even before any actual action plan or conversation on this topic was made with the concerned people. Within a matter of hours, separatist leaders came forward with severe criticism and their supporters went berserk agitating on the streets of Srinagar on the following day. The leader of the JKLF even announced a 30-hour long symbolic “hunger strike” against the proposal of “separate townships for KPs”, which the government did not even endorse. “We will not tolerate any division of Kashmir based on communal lines”, the leader had belched. As if it wasn’t clear enough that the division of the state on communal lines already existed. Perhaps it would have been more judicious and ethical to explain what stopped the separatist leadership from reaching out to the Pandit community during more than two decades. As far as the state administration is concerned, it could not take any brownie points on their announcement of the “plan” either. We have just seen how the only KP member of the PDP was shown the door when his campaigning role was over; the resignation of Dr. Sameer Kaul right after the government formation is an indication of how seriously the government is taking the issue of the “reintegration” of Kashmiri Pandits. The untimely announcement of the “luxurious bus services for tourists” before any developmental plans for the people of Kashmir or relief for the flood victims was yet another foot-in-mouth blurb that the new government could have avoided.

Now, here is the icing on the cake. After spending his annual winter vacation in the cozy warm plains of the capital of the “enemy” India while the flood-affected people of Kashmir were reeling in cold weather, Mr. Seyyid Ali Shah Geelani makes a salubrious comeback on the Kashmir’s political scene. Alongside a recently released hardliner separatist on his side (who by the way would have been a non-entity but thanks to the Indian media for lionizing him), a couple thousand people gave the octogenarian a warm welcome. Flags of the neighboring country, whose role in the Kashmir conflict is well known, were hoisted in the demonstrations and “jeeve jeeve Pakistan” slogans were reverberating in the air, while the “moderate” faction was dumbfounded and sidelined by the media glamour the hardliners attracted. At this scene, I was reminded of the tens of thousands of aspiring youth waiting with their job applications for a mere fifty positions in the police/armed services.

Calling for regular shutdowns and “idhar chalo”, “udhar chalo” is an approach, which has taken a high toll on Kashmir’s economy, development and intellectual growth. It has yielded nothing but destruction and loss of precious human lives. Inciting anger, throwing rocks at people on the other side and raising mash’als in the air in nocturnal demonstrations is only an easy recipe for more violence, deaths and destruction. Those people who indulge in instigating youth to violence are equally responsible for the loss of precious lives that take place in violent demonstrations, as are those who fire bullets at them. Both the public and the police need to observe restraint and behave themselves.

Kashmir’s civil society has a moral obligation to come out of their closets and speak vehemently against any overt or covert abuse of teenage schoolboys for the purpose of political gains; they also have an obligation to reject all extremist forces that are hell-bent in taking this society back to stone age. Finally the callousness of the Police in dealing with volatile situations needs a very serious attention by the government. The police forces need to be trained in how to communicate with public in a humane and respectful way; use of disproportionate force on unarmed people is totally unacceptable and unjustified.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. For feedback, she can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
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Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 23, 2015):http://www.risingkashmir.com/perils-of-destructive-politics/

The Return of the Kashmiri Pandit

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi 
“The Return of the Kashmiri Pandit” – this phrase has come to sound like that famous 1985 horror movie-cum-black comedy The Return of the Living Dead. Given that we Kashmiris are so hypersensitive that a slight tinge of satire may stoke unwanted emotions, I hope being candid does not lead to my being misconstrued. The analogy is admittedly a bit absurd, but the popular response generated by any government offer to rehabilitate the displaced Kashmiri Pandits gives an impression as if the KP community would have a comeback as the horde of hungry zombies out to devour the unsuspecting Muslim population.

Today, many separatist leaders and commonplace Kashmiri Muslims are nervous that the proposed “townships” offer for the Pandits might be very “dangerous” for the majority (Although it seems that the government had to clarify that the offer did not really imply “isolated” colonies but an attempt to “reintegrate” the displaced KP community). Some people even went to claim that the proposal might lead to an “Israel-like situation” in which the majority will eventually be replaced by the minority. Honestly, I do not know what to call this kind of attitude if not extreme paranoia.

First of all, Kashmiri Pandits are not some foreigners trying to grab the “rightfully inherited” land of Kashmiri Muslims. Secondly, we do not see any imminent population explosion in the KP community, which might result into a situation where they could outnumber the Muslim community any soon (But, wait a minute! Doesn’t this remind us of the mindset warning the Hindu India of the “increasing” Muslim population?). Thirdly, out of the 62,000 displaced KP families, how many are actually likely to return? The affluent and lucky ones, who have dispersed and settled in many foreign lands with better employment and educational prospects, would be least interested in a comeback, just like the many Kashmiri Muslims settled elsewhere. Finally, how many of them do we strongly believe will return willingly and stay there for good? More than one state government has made promises to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. We have even seen attractive job packages being offered in the past. Unfortunately there have been few takers so far. In fact, we have heard reports of people leaving soon after they had joined these jobs. Why? Let’s think about it!

In the summer of 2013, I visited the remote area of Shopian in Kashmir with some people as part of a project documenting Kashmir oral history. We were greeted by several ghost houses, ruins of the foundations of razed buildings once inhabited by the Pandits who had fled in terror many years ago in the 90’s. Despite witnessing arsons and attacks on their neighbors, a single Pandit family had decided to stay back. We met them. They prepared lunch for us – chicken, mutton kofte, and yogurt drinks. An elderly woman looked at me with great affection as we listened to the story her husband narrated. I returned her gesture with the same warmth. The woman gave me a tight hug and showed me around. After the lunch we stepped outside and took a closer look of the neighborhood. The house stood amidst an array of giant trees and ruins of the burnt down houses of which only the worn down foundations remained. It was a quiet, isolated place; not a single neighbor was within sight. “It is scary,” I turned to my companions. The elderly man, in his 90’s, said in a reassuring voice:

We have become used to it now. We are not scared any more. The policemen guard our house and property at night. They come around 10:00pm everyday and leave in the morning. We wish we had some neighbors, some relatives around here that we could share our joys and our sorrows with.

We may brag about our “composite culture” and our “shared past”, or take pride in the much-hallowed notion of “Kashmiriyat”, but the reality on ground says a slightly different story. We have turned into an exclusivist society in which people belonging to other religions or ideologies do not quite fit. Except for a few isolated elite colonies (I would call them “sophisticated ghettos”), there are few neighborhoods in the valley, which can boast of being truly “composite” in nature.

Setting aside the endless debates and conspiracy theories on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, let’s be honest in admitting the fact that both the state government and the majority community have so far failed to facilitate the return of our “Pandit brothers”. The miniscule population of Kashmiri Pandits, just like other minorities, cannot be a threat to the majority. Conversely, it is this population that has been continuously vulnerable; the many migrations of KPs are a testimony to this fact.

If the representatives of various schools of thought are really sincere in wanting the displaced community back, it’s high time they put a full stop to knee-jerk responses and insensitive statements that cause further alienation of the KP community. A well thought out plan for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the interested members by the government in consultation with various people, which will not expose the community to any vulnerable situation, is the need of the hour.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. For feedback, she can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
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Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 9, 2015): http://www.risingkashmir.com/the-return-of-the-kashmiri-pandit/