Tonight, let me write!

Tonight, let me write!
Let me write 
With the burning flames 
Of youthful passion
Under the silver balm 
Of the crescent moon
Amidst the soothing fragrance 
Of the spring air —

Tonight, let me write!
Let me write 
Of the dark 
Dreadful sleepless nights,
Of the days bygone 
And the paths forsaken,
Of the one-way journeys 
To strange lands —

Tonight, let me write!
Let me write
Of the hopeful eyes
And the desperate souls,
Of the severed limbs,
And the silenced songs,
Of the rising suns
And the falling stars,
Of the broken bridges 
And the stifled voices,
Of the victims of humanity —

Tonight, let me write
Let me write Kashmir! 

© Sadaf Munshi

Let Me Be Clear


Insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
                                                                                                                            (Albert Einstein)

Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani in an interview that was published in Rising Kashmir blamed the people of Kashmir for “failing their leadership” and applauded the youth for once again taking up guns“for their rights”. The two statements generated a lot of heated debate between the critics on the one hand and the devoted supporters of the octogenarian on the other. Note that, the support group exhibits the same kind of hero worship as was expressed by the hundreds of thousands of supporters of Jenab Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah many years ago, whose fate after his demise is not unknown to many a Kashmiri. Many articles appeared in several dailies of Kashmir in relation to the interview – both by people differing with his views and by the supporting lobby against the criticism. In fact, I also wrote a quick response to the interview in which I attempted to highlight some of the drawbacks of the separatist movement and hurdles in the path of a resolution. Today, I would like to present my responses to some of the objections made by the supporters of Mr. Geelani against the criticism:

One of the predominant positions justifying his allegation of “people failing the leadership” (honestly, that sounds funny, if not very awkward) refers to the “fickle-mindedness” of the people of Kashmir in having participated in the elections and chosen “bijli, pani, sadak” over azadi (whatever that means) in response to calls for the election boycott. That is a brazen lie. It is not the fickle-mindedness of the common people, but the lack of insight on part of the so-called leadership, particularly Mr. Geelani, that was a major setback to having achieved some kind of solution to the conflict. And I have explained that at great length in a number of articles published from time to time.

For decades people of Kashmir diligently and devotedly followed the anti-people hadtal calls and the boycotts, no matter how unsuccessful they were in achieving any political objectives – this, even at the cost of their personal freedoms, hoping for a solution. Recall that it was only after the failure of the separatist leadership to forge a joint alliance in 2008, which led to the population feeling deceived and disowned. And it was then that the people overwhelmingly participated in the upcoming elections later that year. For those who cannot remember, it was a statement by Mr Geelani, in front of tens of thousands of people gathered at Eidgah after the Amarnath land row, in which he decided to first settle his personal agenda of claiming the “one-and-only leader of Kashmir” role at a decisive moment when India was literally at its knees. This blatant disregard for the political differences that have existed from the very outset of the “separatist” movement (or prior to that) is not naïve but utterly foolish on part of a person who claims a leadership role.

Recall that it was also, Mr. Geelani who stood in the way of Parvez Musharraf’s four-point formula in 2007. The formula (which proposed a gradual withdrawal of troops, self-governance, no changes to the region’s borders and a joint supervision mechanism) was not only a doable solution but also well received by a majority of stakeholders. Unfortunately, it was outright rejected by the one and only Mr. Geelani in favor of his rigid and unchangeable demand for self-determination citing UN Resolutions.

Now here is the problem: under the UN resolutions, there are only two options available for the people of Jammu & Kashmir – either India or Pakistan, and no third option. Given the multi-religious, multi-ethnic composition of the region, it is practically impossible to arrive at a bloodless solution should there be a plebiscite; the gory history of the Partition is a testimony to the fact that the two-nation theory was an ultimate failure.

Although I completely agree that the people of Jammu & Kashmir have a right to choose their destiny, I have some reservations. I feel that a proposal for plebiscite is inherently defective in our context. It is good only for a region with considerable homogeneity in terms of its population make-up. Keeping the demographic realities and the uneven political aspirations of the different groups within the region into consideration, a proposal for self-determination is bound to lead to new disgruntled populations, and hence, a continuous political destabilization in the region. In this sense, therefore, Geelani’s rigid position on self-determination should not be treated as a “commitment to the cause” but as an inability to see through the imminent fallout of the proposal. That Mr. Geelani is unwilling to budge an inch from his political position is, in reality, not his strength, but a stark weakness. His grudges with the moderate factions of the separatist leadership, therefore, are ill founded.

Furthermore, it is not only unfortunate but also outrageously irresponsible on part of the senior leader to say that it was “good” that the Kashmiri youth were again taking up arms. As a responsible human being and a mother, I completely disagree and strongly condemn such irresponsible statements that could lead to the loss of more innocent lives. It is not good on any counts to use violent means in pursuit of human rights and justice unless in certain extremely unique and exceptional circumstances such as a civil war, etc., where violence is thrust upon people and is the only way to defend innocent lives. Every single human life is precious and we have no reason to lose more lives to mindless violence.

Finally, my criticism of Mr. Geelani does not amount to opposing a political solution or undermining the efforts of those who are perhaps honestly working towards peace, but to only highlight the drawbacks of a particular position so that a consensus towards achievable political goals can be built and eventually worked upon. There is no solution to Kashmir conflict except on the negotiating table but that cannot be done unless we involve representatives from all the different factions of the stakeholders capable of forging a strong alliance. In this exercise, the role of the Indian and Pakistani establishments in addressing one of the very important aspects of the conflict – the people-to-people contact – is paramount to peace making efforts in the region. Making borders irrelevant is not only a positive step in this direction but the need of the hour.

© Sadaf Munshi
Dec. 17. 2015.

(Published in the daily Rising Kashmir: http://www.risingkashmir.com/article/let-me-be-clear/ )

Where Did We Fail?

This article was inspired by a number of letters which have recently appeared in several Kashmir-based dailies in response to some totally bizarre statements made by Syed Ali Shah Geelani in an interview published in the daily Rising Kashmir in which he blames the people of Kashmir for the failure of the separatist movement while completely absolving the separatist leadership. Shockingly, even after the loss of so many innocent lives in this ding-dong struggle, he does not have any qualms in yet again advocating violence as the means to attain freedom. An utter naivety is revealed in the claim that no unification between various separatist factions was required to achieve any political goals. However, it is heartening to see young minds come forward and question such handicapped ideas. As much as the population of Kashmir is aware of the facts on ground, the leadership ought to be accountable for their own failures. Such criticism and questioning is a sign of the churning necessary for the intellectual growth and progress of a society. I would like to add a few lines so as to give a broader context to the failure of the separatist movement.

There are several reasons why the separatist movement has failed (and if anyone believes to the contrary, I suggest talking to a common man on the street, or an illiterate housewife to get a better idea of the situation). The first and foremost blunders which acted as a great setback in pursuing the cause of “independence” was the use of religion as a mobilizing force for attaining political goals. This was expressed in the form of targeting, isolating and victimizing minorities, including women who were subject to intense public humiliation for not complying with the extremist demands, especially in the 90’s. In fact, women’s role in the “movement” was only relegated to that of portraying them merely as victims of Indian oppression, thus, denying them a platform or visibility in the public arena as equals of men, while at the same time curtailing their individual freedom. Using religion as a political tool, the separatists utterly failed to take the non-Muslim populations of Jammu & Kashmir on board. The outcome of this in the long run was that the very idea of “freedom” became a casualty of radicalization and communalism. That a sizable population of Kashmiris is still living in exile and no serious attempts towards reconciliation and resettlement have been made so far is a testimony to the fact that there is nothing “secular” in the “movement” and that the non-Muslim populations of the state have no stake in it. This is an irreparable damage to the Kashmiri ethos of composite culture and a permanent hurdle in attaining a political solution.

The second major drawback to the “movement” was the fact that hadtals (shutdowns), street protests and stone-pelting became the primary mode of protestation and resistance after the failure of the armed struggle, and this to the extent of exhaustion and fatigue. The same futile exercise, which hardly ever produced any concrete results, was repeated for decades at the cost of the everyday needs of people, impinging on their very basic right to make a living or pursue their individual dreams (Note that such basic needs as water, electricity, healthcare and roads were dismissed as unimportant by the same people who had no qualms in enjoying these facilities themselves over prolonged periods of time in more comfortable housing, receiving better healthcare in other parts of India). That even education was to be sacrificed for the “cause” (when the kith and kin of the privileged lot were getting educated outside Kashmir), besides the banning of artistic and creative activities at the outset of the armed struggle — the very basis of intellectual growth of a society, is beyond one’s imagination, a matter of utter stupidity and lack of vision.

The third factor that contributed to the failure of the separatist movement was the complete absence of a strategy, absence of a concrete agenda. That many of the separatist leaders, just like the mainstream politicians, were more interested in serving their personal agendas, were in pursuit of power rather than the betterment of the society, was indicated by the many different divisions and factions in the separatist lobby which found it impossible to come together and forge a unified, justifiable agenda under the umbrella of one single leadership. On the contrary, more and more stringent divisions and splinter groups made the relevance of the existing leadership unimportant, creating a chaotic situation where people were confused as to which particular faction to follow when. That one of these 26 or more odd member organizations of the Hurriyat Conference, JKLF, has dozens of “leaders” in many different countries, each claiming to be its “founding member” who do not see eye-to-eye against each other, is just one example. Another example is the quashing of opportunities like summer 2008 which had the potential of being a turning point in Kashmir’s recent history.

Despite these revelations in the more recent years, it was in the early 90’s that these drawbacks of the “movement” were apparent and I, a mere young adult female then, like many others, understood that it was an exercise of hollow promises aimed towards political power with little prospects of translating into actual freedom, of creating a path towards the attainment of human rights and justice. It was then that I realized that the “movement” was built on the foundations of sacrificing individual freedoms, intellectual growth and rational thought where freedom of expression became a casualty. And I realized that the freedom struggle was not taking us anywhere because the very means that were employed to attain it were flawed to the core, unjustifiable on various fronts.

The real enemy of Kashmir today (as elsewhere in South Asia) in my view is corruption — corruption in politics and in every other walk of life. Both the separatist movement and the governing bodies of Jammu & Kashmir have helped embolden corruption by creating a culture of laziness and unaccountability. Unless and until we fight corruption in all its forms, we cannot attain real freedom, no matter what the political boundaries or nationalities; it just won’t happen. But corruption cannot be dealt with unless we allow intellectual progress. Though intellectual progress could be obstructed by corruption — a vicious cycle indeed, there is no alternative to it for only intellectual progress can help us grow as a powerful society and provide a pathway to real freedom.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(Note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2015 in the daily Rising Kashmir and can be accessed at: http://www.risingkashmir.com/article/where-did-we-fail/)

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.
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.
Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 9, 2015): http://www.risingkashmir.com/the-return-of-the-kashmiri-pandit/

Revisiting the Question of the Kashmiri Pandits: The Battle of the Narratives

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi

Every year the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate the month of January 1990 for the beginning of an era of two structurally different but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the “exodus” of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror and the beginning of the brutal atrocities of the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a time period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief.

There has been an abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and a continued resentment; this often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives developed independently over the course of time on each side leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be filled over twenty-three years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this enterprise is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the other’s pain against their own.

The Problem

Numerous conflicts motivated, influenced, promoted or characterized by communal or ethnic tension are a testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conflict and KP/KM debate fail to recognize the importance of the degree of influence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reflected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, under-emphasize, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side without assessing the repercussions of such behavior. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity.

The members of the KP and the KM community or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit “exodus”. One voice consistently maintains that the KP’s left as part of the governor Jagmohan’s “conspiracy to clear ground” for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate “militancy” (and, involving “massacring” of the Muslims) and the other suggests that the KPs were “driven” or “hounded” out by the majority community as part of a well-organized, systematic, sort of scripted agenda “to get rid of them”, with an aim of “ethnic cleansing”. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the state’s “nefarious designs” against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and two, is the claim by some people that the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for the atrocities incurred on them at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (Some extremist Pandit groups even use the term “holocaust” to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community kept accusing them for leaving their homeland “for greener pastures”. Both of the two positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate and contribute to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities.

There is no doubt that the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (or ‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the last two decades or so post 1990. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief had already been existing, and simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990.

Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir, a significant number of Kashmiri Pandits were targeted — killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to “set an example” for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the “movement”. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reflected political or ideological differences, also existed within the Kashmiri Muslim community itself, viz., on the sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shi’a Muslim community, with the warning of “joining the movement or facing the consequences”; it is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shi’a Muslim minority to join hands with the “movement”. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a “threat” to the “freedom” struggle. These included politicians, government officials as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially National Conference. Given these facts, it is naïve to suggest that majority of the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection.

While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances as refugees in their own country, back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come — the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side but neither seemed to take that first step — a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain. 

Major Challenge in the Process of Reconciliation

In the process of truth telling, peace making and reconciliation, there is no room for “but what about…” or the pehle aap (‘first you’) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to fulfill its promises to “rehabilitate Pandits in their homes”, most attempts of return were foiled by unidentified elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses, their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled up by vested interests.

It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the government of India and the security forces of the atrocities incurred on them over all these years. The reason for that being that although the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the “movement for freedom”, but they also did not participate in it.

There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels and this must happen simultaneously — one is the KP-KM reconciliation and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue –whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com

Originally published in Economic and Political Weekly (Aug 31, 2013): http://www.epw.in/discussion/revisiting-question-kashmiri-pandits.html

To our leaders and politicians: a lesson to learn

As an academician and a mother of a four-year old, I discovered that children learn things better if you provide them with illustrations. The same principle applies to adults as well. But in being able to learn things, adults have an advantage, and that is their experience. However, there are some “adults” who simply refuse to learn anything no matter what. That seems to be the case with our leaders and politicians who have proved absolutely incapable of learning this simple lesson – that of “strength in unity”. Therefore, I would like to read them this story today which I had learnt several years ago when I was a child:

Once upon a time, a flock of doves was trapped in a net by a hunter. The doves desperately fluttered their wings for a while in order to escape but to no avail. Fortunately, the doves had a wise leader who told them that there was strength in unity and advised them to fly up together holding on to the net. The doves followed the advice and were able to carry the net along with them. While the doves were flying in the sky carrying the net, the hunter looked in astonishment.    

A very simple story with a wonderful lesson to learn! I wonder how long it will take for our leaders to learn this lesson.

Granted that in an era of (so-called) “democracy”, every opinion has a right and potential to express itself. We (Kashmiris) have heard a number of voices over the past six decades, and, more so, over the past twenty years. The numbers are so overwhelmingly large that perhaps our auditory system is desensitized by now, which is probably why we do not care as much anymore. Or, perhaps, since there are too many things to worry about, we have chosen to be deaf, dumb, and blind.

After a handful of two decades of continued political unrest and the persisting deadlock on the issue of Kashmir, instead of extending its credentials with sincerity and responsibility, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), like our political parties, has all but tangled itself in its war of ideologies and opinions. I remember, in 2003, many people were taken aback when APHC had officially split into the so-called “M” and “A” (and now “G”) denominations. The conflict had been simmering within the conglomerate for quite a while and even reached a stage where the members of the two factions crossed all limits of political etiquette and indulged in personal abuse and mud-slinging, let alone emerging with a unified agenda. Time and again, we have hoped for a long awaited compromise between the two, just as we have prayed for a negotiated settlement on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. It is the year 2009 now and we have seen several ups and downs with regard to the issue of Kashmir; yet owing to the factional politics of our leadership, we have failed to achieve any consensus on a political agenda.

It seems that the Hurriyat leaders may end up continuing their ding-dong agitation for the rest of their lives without a fruitful outcome; let us hope it is not true, but that is what can be inferred and anticipated given our past and recent experience. Amidst this conflict of ideas and the ever-widening rift between the G’s and the M’s, the extremists and the moderates, the hawks and the doves, complemented by the individual ego clashes between the various self-proclaimed leaders, the fate of a common Kashmiri is lingering in a dark tunnel of hopelessness and helplessness.

In response to the latest “talks” (“quiet talks”) offer, while People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference expressed a desire to cooperate on (re-)framing the proposal for a solution – for a change (although it is yet too soon to comment on their sincerity and commitment on this), the APHC factions are yet to disengage themselves of the personal and ideological problems. At this critical juncture, when the people of Kashmir are desperately longing for a new ray of hope, this ideological fighting is again proving a stumbling block in the way of peace and progress.

While it (APHC) continues to oscillate between the rigidities of the past and the realities of the present, it won’t be quite over the board to say that perhaps time is near when the irresponsible attitude of the senior leadership will invite great public wrath as we have seen during the last assembly elections when people came out in overwhelming numbers despite the strong “boycott” calls.

There is an old English adage which says: wise men change, fools never do. We cannot deny the fact that the equation has changed at the state, national and international level. The world is not the same as it was sixty or twenty or ten years ago. Out there in the developed world borders are becoming irrelevant and people are coming closer and closer everyday; at the same time a large part of the world (read “Muslim world”) is leading backwards to the dark ages, partly because of the vicious world politics but largely because of their own weaknesses and internal problems. Here in Kashmir too, the “Pakistan” bubble has burst for quite a while (call of “tripartite” talks at this point, therefore, makes no sense to me), and people are looking forward to a new world of progress and prosperity. Despite being aware of these changing ground realities, our separatist leaders are stuck to a hardline attitude, fighting an ill-defined fight equipped with the weaponry of stone-pelting and sloganeering which has become such a routine now that it does not seem something unusual any more. In fact, there is a widespread view that a special “workforce” is receiving proper wages for creating disorder and mayhem and would like to carry on with it as long as they receive perks. Unfortunately, the people who have to sustain the brunt of all this destruction are poor daily-wagers, laborers, small business owners, and school-going children and youth. The priciest of the prices that we are paying for this “struggle” is the future of our next generation. And whether we admit it or not, the fact of the matter is that this fight is gradually robbing our society of its civility, sensibility and morality.

It is not that a struggle for independence, nationhood or any political cause can never be won, but until and unless people stand unified behind a well-defined cause, an agitation such as the one we are conducting is a totally futile exercise. Perhaps a general public debate is long awaited, which brings to table both the mainstream political parties of the state as well as the separatist leadership who must unveil their political agendas and proposals for the resolution of Kashmir issue keeping in view the long-term interest of the people of the state. There has to be a monumental change not just in the political rhetoric, but also on the political platform – a major overhaul of the parties and partisanships that will need to shed their malignant components and their unrelenting ideologies in the wake of a unified cause. As part of a political entity, Jammu & Kashmir, which is defined by divisions at regional, ethnolinguistic, religious, as well as ideological levels, this “sacrifice” (if that is what it can be called) has to be made if our “leaders” are true to their commitment in serving, as opposed to leading, or MISLEADING, their people. There is no way we can come up with a feasible solution to the problem of Kashmir except by cooperating and compromising by way of finding a common and consolidated ground on which all factions can and MUST agree. It is high time that this be done!


About the author: Dr Sadaf Munshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas in the United States. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(This article appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Daily Kashmir Observer. URL:
http://kashmirobserver.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3621%3Ato-our-leaders-and-politicians-a-lesson-to-learn&catid=8%3Aopinion&Itemid=9 )

The APHC Nautanki

While going through the contents of Kashmir Observer some time ago my eye was caught by the following quote which made me chuckle:

Quote of the day

“It (split) has maliciously harmed the unity the people of Kashmir have achieved in the form of APHC.”
                                                                                                                                    -Prof Abdul Ghani

Quote of the day! Was the split a surprise for the people of Kashmir? Now that we have started talking about uniformity of perspectives, let us have a look backwards. The widening rift in the structure of Hurriyat leadership sprung from their conflicting political ideologies and their differing world views. The crisis that started with the much-talked-of “proxy candidate controversy” emerged as a “personality clash” between Syed Ali Geelani and late Abdul Ghani Lone. Every now and then somebody would come up with a “big” question about the “issue”: “Kashmir issue- an unfinished agenda of partition!” “Is there a meeting ground?” “Is there a solution?” “How to unlock Kashmir deadlock?” Hmmmm!

After a dozen years and two the All Parties (all parties?) Hurriyat Conference has so far proven itself incompetent in extending its credentials and exhibit sincerity and responsibility towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Lately, Pakistan’s political and religious groups had “regretted” the split as “dangerous for the cause of Kashmir’s struggle”. I also had a question (another question in the fore?) which was: did the rift within the APHC actually create a “serious dent in the morale” of Kashmiri people, or that the dent has been already there for quite a few years now? Meanwhile the recently elected Hurriyat Chairman Maulana Abbas Ansari was accused for his “dovish” attitude towards “solving of Kashmir issue”. Now we are looking for wonders in days for a problem that we couldn’t solve in more than half of a century. Poor Maulana Saheb! On Sept 11, 2003 the government reviewed his security in the wake of militant threats. Meanwhile “New Delhi backed” politicians were held responsible for the split by Pakistan.

The ongoing fighting reached a stage where the members of the two factions of the APHC indulged in abusing each other crossing all limits of political etiquette and offering no possible resolution. Here somebody proposed that the APHC needed to prove its sincerity by keeping the “movement alive” and thus stopping the public from coming out to get “round the leaders” so their sacrifices won’t be wasted “just because of unreliable and myopic leadership”. (I will not comment on the recent remarks of some militant leader stating that the “militant struggle” is the “only solution” to the Kashmir question). Our “firebrand politician” of a Geelani, a strong proponent of Pakistan and belonging to the platform of the Jamaat-i-Islami, bases his political ideology on religious foundations calling the Kashmir resistance a “religious struggle”. On the other hand, late Abdul Ghani Lone claimed to be a liberal nationalist struggling for the independence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The two diagonally opposing viewpoints have been trying hard to “re-define” the Kashmir struggle in the changing political scenarios, challenged by new ground realities. Former APHC chairman Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat believes that “taking maximal positions will take the Kashmir issue nowhere” and that “one has to reach at compromised positions” by which he probably meant a “negotiated settlement” through a “dialogue” between India and Pakistan (and possibly people of Kashmir?). He apparently did not elaborate on his “program” though. In other words, should we face and accept what is so obvious on the ground? As Prof. Ghani had pointed out, people know that Kashmiris want “freedom”, but different people seem to have different interpretations of the term “freedom” in the present changing political scenario of Kashmir: that is to say, freedom from what, of what sort and nature?

The people of Kashmir have witnessed an endless game of numerous muscle-flexing procedures of India and Pakistan interspersed with occasions of “peace process” gestures for “improving bilateral ties” and probably initiating some kind of talks on “the issue”. As part of the spectators of their recent spur of romance, the people of Kashmir question the sincerity of both India and Pakistan wondering whether the two countries are playing the game of diverting the attention of the international community from the Kashmir issue by engaging in gimmicks of “friendly” invitations back and forth or that they are actually sincere in their efforts.

We have been talking about “talks” for long. Meanwhile, the breakaway members of the split APHC have been busy deciding whether to accept or reject the talks offer put forth by the government of India. Hard times!

© Sadaf Munshi, Dec. 5, 2003, the daily Kashmir Observer (Srinagar).

Swim Along the Stream

“History has seen such times when the crime was committed by a moment, but the punishment was suffered by centuries”.                 (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah)

In retrospect, for more than half a century now India and Pakistan have been engaged in attempts to resolving the question as to whether the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India was a legitimate enterprise or a matter of “fraud and force”. Another question in vogue is the question of the creation of the state of Pakistan itself. While many questions remain unanswered, the valley of Kashmir has served a bone of contention between the two countries during the post-independence era of the British Indian empire. India and Pakistan fought four wars, three of which were fought over Kashmir which include the intense battle between the two countries in 1947-48, another war in 1965, and the recent 1999 Kargil war. (The 1971 civil war led to the partition of the 1947 Pakistan leading to the formation of Bangladesh in the east). The problem of Kashmir has ever since remained as a seemingly unending conflict having expended considerable blood, peace and sensibility. While that is a fact, over the past more-than-thirteen years, Kashmir has seen immense and indispensable loss on almost every platform. On the one hand are Pakistan’s continued attempts to internationalize the Kashmir issue and its persistent insistence that there will be no permanent peace in South Asia until the problem of Kashmir is solved. And on the other hand is India’s claim that Pakistan has no right to advocate the case for plebiscite in Kashmir given the fact that the latter (Pakistan) never vacated her “forcible occupation of the one-third of the territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir” which was one of the preconditions for the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir.

While struggling with these unanswered questions, another question that ought to have come to one’s mind and is perhaps not unanswerable is: who are the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir? How far is it legitimate for the so-called self-elected leaders of a specific ethno-religious group which constitutes only a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to be claiming representatives who will determine the fate of the State which is an amalgam of at least three different ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious populations? In addition, is the not-much-spoken-of Kashmiri Pandits’ separatist demand for “Panun Kashmir”. While the issue of Kashmir problem has been constantly associated with the valley, one cannot turn a blind eye to the involvement of the provinces Jammu and Ladakh in the present struggle which, if not directly participating, have been under considerable influence and are a direct party in any conflict resolving program who need to be effectively consulted in this enterprise.

In the year 2003, the question arises whether the history of conflict over Jammu and Kashmir can be re-written. Has re-opening of the debate over the Instrument of Accession in 1990s made an iota of a difference in the present scenario of the facts that neither India nor Pakistan have ever agreed upon any concessions regarding any possible solution of the long lasting dispute? On the one hand is India’s ever adamant stand and resistance to “third party involvement” that has prevented the UN Security Council from any contribution it could (possibly) have made to diffuse or decrease the continuous underlying tension, hostility and suspicion between the two rivals, and on the other, is Pakistan’s resumption of the traditional rhetoric about the Kashmiris’ “right of self determination” without being able to move the argument any further by “defining how it could be achieved” in view of India’s persistent claims about Jammu and Kashmir as an “integral part of India” and Pakistan’s own refusal to consider the “third option of Independence” in which case Pakistan is in a vulnerable situation of losing “Azad Kashmir”, which Pakistan will never be obliged to give up.

The fact that remains on ground is that the State of Jammu and Kashmir has already been broken up into Pakistan and Indian occupied parts; the challenge that the proponents of “Independence for the entire State” are faced with is the reunification of the two parts which appears more like a romantic fantasy than a possible practical situation in near future unless under some “extraordinary” circumstances, in which case both India and Pakistan need to exhibit immense generosity and patience. Another point of debate that has to be raised is that once ethno-religious factors are considered to be a basis for deciding “statehood or new territorial arrangements”, further communal compartmentalization on such grounds is inevitable given the ethno- religious and geographical distribution of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (on the Indian side of L.O.C, let alone P.o.K). The movement for “plebiscite and self-determination” carried on non-stop from generation to generation is not only telling upon the mental and psychological states of the people of Kashmir valley but has also contributed towards friction among the different provinces of J & K leading to their isolation from each other and a lack of understanding, especially creating a distance of Jammu and Ladakh from the valley.

In addition to this, the more important issues of economy, cultural and educational development which ought to be a primary concern given the persistent condition of the State, have been taken for granted. It is extremely difficult to imagine what incentive would be strong enough to bring all the concerned parties to a consensus towards the betterment of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

(c) Sadaf Munshi
(Published in Kashmir Observer, 2003)