Are KP’s likely to return to homeland

Every Exile dreams of return. Not merely going back, but being welcomed back. Being begged to come back, in fact, in public righting of a great wrong. The place you return to will be the same – the landscape, the people, everything that constitutes the feeling of home – and yet transformed, and your return will itself be a sign of that transformation, a signal of hope for a new start, better future. This is the vision that sustains you through the years of exile……. Lesley Hazelton…. The First Muslim

This article is not about the people who stayed back in the valley and braved the persecution which made other Kashmiri Pandits to flee, but this article is  dedicated  to them .These are the people who are the real heroes ( and heroines) .They have, by staying back , laid the foundation of continuing our struggles to survive in our motherland .This is borne by the historical fact, of the six major exoduses  preceding  the one in 1989-90.It was people who stayed back which were responsible for continuing our representation in the valley of Kashmir.

The issue of “Return of Kashmiri Pandits” has received a fresh impetus with BJP coming to power at Centre. No formal announcements have been made although many versions are in circulation in the media. Devil, as they say, lies in detail.

Our return should not be based on gloating & waling. Gloating because you now have a responsive Centre at least for next five years. Wailing on account of the injustices brought on us leading to the exodus. Nation is moving forward & forgetting 2002, 1984 & all else. The broad narrative of our return should be based on realism.

Kashmiri Pandit Associations have also voiced their happiness over the development. One must discount this as initial euphoria. We do not have a unified representation of our voice. In fact, this trait of ours could be one of the causes of misfortune visiting our community from times immemorial. The same individuality that prevents Pandits from unifying as   a community also gives them remarkable energy to overcome one barrier after another. Kashmiri Pandits are generally publicly demanding and privately indifferent.

One wonders about the actual numbers, dispersion and economic conditions of our community. No clear data is available. No sincere attempt, apparently has been made to ascertain it, either by State   or by Kashmiri Pandit community itself.  Kashmiri Pandits have traditionally been migrating on various counts- forced ones during Muslim rule in Kashmir and the last one, of course, the 1989-90 episode. The community has also been migrating voluntarily for better career prospects. The dispersion in India and abroad makes this a difficult exercise. So, the exercise for rehabilitation will be based on   data which may not be all too reliable.

The realities on the ground suggest that it may not be a reality in near future. Considering safety as the only factor is over simplifying the problem. In the following paragraphs, we can see how in these 25 years of displacement as well as conditions prior to 1989, we as a Kashmiri Pandit community have transformed. What has been the impact of all this on our psyche to reconsider going back to our roots?

One section of Kashmiri Pandits, labeled loosely as first floor Kashmiri Pandits, who have migrated long back have never shown any urgent desire to come back to roots and resettle in their homeland. These are Nehru’s, Katju’s types. One must admit that they still preserve the basic traditions wherever they reside. Many of them have re-established connection with roots by way of marrying people from the community in Kashmir or from communities like theirs outside Kashmir. There is also a contrarian view running for this assumption of diaspora preserving the traditions. As asserted by Dr. Vijay Sazawal, it runs like this - “However, I should though point out that it is NOT the “first floor Kashmiri Pandits” (or even later generations) that have preserved Pandit’s traditions amongst the diaspora, it is a fact that diaspora culture was continually being replenished by fresh expatriates driven out of the valley from time to time with steady migrations – some small and some large. So even as Pandit diaspora was being corrupted by the new environmental influences (particularly Punjabi culture), elements of the core Pandit culture managed to survive within expatriates. These vestiges of Pandit identity among the expatriates will slowly erode and fade away since less than 3,000 Pandits are left in the valley now, and thus no further large-scale migrations are possible any more from the valley (or for at least the next 150 to 200 years). If you want to know what our progeny will look 4 to 5 generations down the road, go to the localities in Awadh, Sitaram Galli, etc. where many people living there still has Kaul, Dhar and Raina as their surnames but not much else (these migrants never left the original ghettos). All their temples, built during the Mughal times (and in fact subsidized by the Mughal Royal families), still exist but none under the Kashmiri Pandit culture that we know.”  Pandit is like a flower that germinates in one place and is destined to bloom in another.

Another section of Kashmiri Pandits have struggled in last twenty-five years and are settled fairly well outside Kashmir and will be cautious to restart their lives back in the valley. They have been investing hesitatingly in the areas in and around the valley and in Jammu. They do go back, more to visit and reconnect than to stay forever. This class will adopt a wait & watch mode & will be the last to go. In the words of Dr. Vijay Sazawal, “There is every reason and indeed a credible belief that the displaced community of 1989-90 will eventually assimilate and excel just like the preceding generation of expatriates.

An entire generation has now been born or spent most of their lives away from the Valley. This disconnect between the younger generation and the ‘promised land’ too might make a return more difficult.

One only hopes that the exercise at least includes those who are left in Kashmir (number varying between 3000- 5000). It should also include those who are willing to settle back in their roots and have not been able to adjust to environs outside their homeland. These are the most important sets of Kashmiri Pandits that need attention. In fact, the ones who stayed back under difficult circumstances should also be made part of the resettlement process. This group will form the core of a continued Kashmiri Pandit presence in the home land.

Displacement is traumatic at any time and for any person but most of all for simple people whose lives, livelihoods & memories are inseparably linked to the forests, fields, streams in and along which they and their ancestors have lived as long as they can remember. How can you buy the sky, warmth and smells of the land where you belonged in the land you adopted to reside voluntarily or under duress. This perhaps is the most powerful driver to seek a return.

We Kashmiri Pandits were used to living out our lives in little compartments in our ‘native place.’ Our displacement has forced upon us an increasing amount of social and regional mobility and cross-cultural integration. Home is anywhere and everywhere and the concept of ‘native place’ for us has become a conundrum.

In the pre displacement era, even if we lived and worked outside our native place, we would invariably have a desire to retire to our native place.

Language makes a community, for communication builds and binds people together. Words convey not merely sounds but collective images and ideas etched in our memory. It is a prime marker of identity and being that arouses deep emotion. We are slowly losing touch with it due to the fact that not many of us are inclined to stick to it. Take a look at other communities e.g., Gujarati, Bengali, Tamilian, Telugu anywhere in the world, they make sure that all their off springs speak and understand their mother tongue. How can we get the feel of returning back, if we stay back in ghettos and perhaps not be able to mingle with Muslims with whom we have a strong bond of language, if nothing else.

The cherished value system of a joint family, most of us have been raised into, has been shattered mainly on account of this displacement. Our families are scattered all over the globe. Returning will not be a decision of a “joint family” but a decision by individual members of the family.

One of the major impacts of the recent displacement has brought upon us is cross cultural marriages. With this the community or some part of the new generation, now has another reason to rethink about resettlement in the native place.

Militancy is still a major factor. This may not go away anytime soon especially with US withdrawal from Afghanistan. We must remember that the initial spate of Kalashnikov culture was rooted in the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan leaving Mujahadeens ready to be deputed elsewhere.

Apart from these extraneous conditions the basic Kashmir issue as perceived by Kashmiri Muslims and even Kashmiri Pandits is yet to be resolved. Although this may not become a pre-condition for return but cannot be ignored for a successful re- assimilation of Pandits in the mainstream populace of the valley. With BJP coming to power, with Article 370 review looming large in the minds of the majority, it is only proper that an integrated view be taken instead of segmenting the issue.

As per Ananda Abesekaye, a Sri Lankan scholar, who has written about such issues in South East Asia, this problem could fall in the category of “Aporias”- situations that have no clear resolution in near future. He also mentions, what he terms as “permanent provocation”, being a factor in many ethnic and religious conflicts. Historical facts like majority of our Muslim brothers are converts and of Brahminical decent, Hindu Maharaja’s rule including Kashmiri Pandits role as advisors, was not particularly famous for treating Muslims fairly. The status of Muslims in the early years of Maharaja Hari Singh and British Raj can be summed up in the memorandum submitted to Viceroy Lord Reading. It demanded ownership rights for the peasantry, more government jobs, better education, abolition of forced labor and restoration of all mosques seized by the state government. The impact of uprising against Maharaja led by Sheikh Abdullah on issues outlined above continued beyond 1947. So, there was always a scope for this “permanent provocation” between Majority Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits somehow getting entangled in this feeling of injustice even after the Dogra rule ended. Local politicians made no efforts to put these issues in the background. Post-independence, the politics in Kashmir remains volatile till date. In fact, these historical prejudices coupled with genuine concerns for the majority Muslim population were used to propagate a different agenda of exclusivity of Kashmir situation. Kashmiri Pandits were relegated to a real minority status without a formal assignment. ‘Kashmiriyat’ – the bright spot of a cultural harmony of the past did blunt it to a small extent. Essence of Kashmiriyat is that Religion is a matter of faith and not identity. There used to be a near peaceful everyday life of co-existence & tolerance among religious and ethnic communities in Kashmir. This, on many occasions has seen how any direct appeal to prejudices and fear has completely disrupted that everyday tolerance, leading to upheavals (1931 riots, Parmeshwari episode etc. and finally devastating consequences such as the 25-year-old Kashmiri Pandit exodus). Lack of political will has been the main reason of not being able to manage these ethnic and religious conflicts in the past. They say ethnic and religious conflicts cannot be solved; they have to be managed in the least.

The Kashmir problem still persists. Is it because of lack of efforts from parties involved? I believe that parties concerned have always been serious for a resolution. What has been missing is level of sincerity of purpose of all parties.  Many chances have been missed in the past for this reason. Now with militancy resulting from bad management internally and global impact of Islamic expansionism, Kashmir has become a battlefield of sorts.

 In the past, I was at a loss to understand as to why common-sense solutions have not been given priority for the economic development of J&K, if economics was the solution. Why Power potential of 5000 MW in 1972 and currently over 16000 MW has not been given a priority? Why IT industry, like the one established in Bangalore could not be thought of? Why Tourism and cottage industry could not be thought on Global scale. All the money that has been spent so far has mainly gone towards filling pockets or in works that can never give you revenue. Perhaps the powers in Delhi and Kashmir had no sincere intention of developing Kashmir. In all this Art. 370 was never a hurdle.  To delve deeper into the fundamental reasons for this malaise, I have been enlightened by Dr. Vijay Sazawal’s writings on the subject. He  has done in- depth research on this . In his opinion,” the problem of poor economic development in Jammu and Kashmir is neither due to a lack of ideas, nor due to a lack of money, but mainly due to lack of principled political and administrative institutions in the state. This problem will be further aggravated if existing "checks and balances" imposed cursorily by India are done away with under the cloak of greater autonomy to the state.”

The solution in the beginning, of sending funds from Centre was akin to giving money to a wayward son instead of treating his problems sincerely with open head and heart. Dr. Sazawal supports this notion but with much clearer insight. He asserts that,” India’s major shortcoming is its inability to exercise "tough love" in Kashmir. India's policy towards Kashmir in simple terms amount to buying affection through money (lots of money), and looking the other way when local politicians and bureaucrats in the state manipulate power and authority to perpetuate their own selfish interests.” He further contends as follows.” Let me repeat - the issue is not a lack of funds given to the state. Nor is there a dearth of ideas on how this money could be spent. The real issue is how effectively the money is being used. And when you look at how the state has carefully constructed a political wall around itself (call it  autonomy or the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution), you realize that the wall is not to preserve regional identity but to manage and run (collectively) an insider operation where politicians of all denominations and local bureaucracy (together roughly about 5% of the total population) are living off the hide of remaining 95% people. Of these, nearly 20% represent the "middle class" consisting mostly of small businesses and professionals (and their families) and another 75% who are mostly living in villages and farms. While the people in the middle have learned how to "grease the system" and be politically pliant and financially healthy under all sorts of challenging conditions, it is the rural poor - the ones who need most help - that are told that India is not providing enough development money and is "treating Kashmir as a step child". To check how this "feudal operation" works, one has to only review the J&K Constitution and see how it treats human rights, due process, property ownership, transparency in governance and accountability.”

The lack of political will to tackle this problem, sincerely and head-on, has also contributed to these uncertain conditions. This is  making it difficult now  for Kashmiri Pandits to think about resettling in Kashmir. A thriving economy is very important for the return. It will make Kashmiri Pandits participate in the economic activities of their mother land. It will also obviate the possibility of local population getting antagonized on account of Pandits encroaching on their rights as a majority.

There has hardly been an effort, made to curb the sale of formerly KP owned  lands and buildings as unclaimed property. People who decided to sell were forced by the prevailing conditions & theirs was a distress sale. Laws were enacted, on paper though, to settle these issues.

Kashmiri Pandits in my opinion should not agree to stay in ghettos. This will be a monumental folly and a very short-sighted solution. If we cannot make conditions better than before we were forced to migrate, we should not venture to take the call to resettle. No amount of doles should trap us into any agreement. What is homeland without the people around us joining us in our resettlement. In Kashmiri the question is – “asi chha laban chon manz bihun , kina paez paeth wapas gachhun gara panun.”[Do we have to resettle in four walls of our home or actually resettle with all inhabitants of Kashmir].  Dr. Vijay Sazawal has a different take on this issue, he states that,” I have studied global patterns among both returning migrants and relocation of displaced people and generally such people prefer the security of a ghetto before dispersing off as the comfort of security and financial stability become a psychological driver for the dispersion.”

I am not yet convinced with the demand for” Panun Kashmir”. Why was the need for one never raised in the past? Why were the choices   only “Raliv, Chaliv ya Galiv “been exercised historically? If we are contemplating a fresh choice of modified “Raliv “without losing your identity, do we need a separate homeland within the homeland? To accept this choice, a strong pre-requisite is that we need to be one as a community and not as assembly of strong individuals. We should also then ,not support abrogation of Art. 370. A debate with all stakeholders is okay to reassess its efficacy and also to revisit this issue, if it is causing any impediments to progress of Jammu and Kashmir.

Dr. Vijay Sazawal has some constructive viewpoints to offer. “The issue today in the valley is one of Kashmiri identity. It is, by and large, a Muslim identity, and the way things are going it is unlikely to change without specific community-to-community Confidence Building Measures to bring back Kashmiris of non-Muslim faith. If valley-based Kashmiris want a return to pluralism and religious tolerance that was once the hallmark of Kashmiri identity (Kashmiriyat), then a lot needs to be done to create conducive conditions for the return of Pandits. The majority of community Confidence Building Measures, should not merely address security aspects of the problem, but address real issues dealing with sharing of political and economic power in the valley so that Kashmiri Pandits feel that they are also true stakeholders in the future of Jammu and Kashmir. So even after the gun culture ceases, unless and until Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits do not hold a composite political dialogue, I do not believe there will be any large-scale return of minorities back into the valley. “

He further asserts, “On the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir you see diverse groups of people co-habiting in neighborhoods and regions with a generally confused outlook to their future. These people belong to various ethnicities, speak different languages and belong to different religious faiths. There is no clarity among people in any region, religion, or language towards any single political point of view. On the other hand, if there is one commonality independent of religion, region or language - it is that there are political oligarchies and powerful administrative class (senior state bureaucrats and leading local businesses) that are financially doing very well, while a majority of the people, especially rural farming communities, that are faring very poorly.”

In this conflict, one element which for obvious reasons has not surfaced so far is that vast majority of Jammu and Kashmir, (leave aside Pandits) has been consistently neglected and are thus suffering. He asserts,” Let me now address the last, and the most important, part of this triad - the people of J&K. Barring those who have benefited from the present scheme of things, most Kashmiris are suffering. Most politicians, pro or anti India, share common interests which primarily deal with accumulating power, money and glory at the expense of the majority who mostly worry about their day-to-day life and bureaucratic hardships. When I recently visited the valley and toured the country side, I was appalled to see the condition of these poor people, while being amazed at the wealth of the ruling class in Srinagar that own huge homes and have a beeline of surrogates from senior police officials to prominent businessmen at their doors. Again, the scene is identical at homes of anti-Indian politicians in Srinagar. “

Unfortunately, there is this bitter truth, that I believe the intelligent but poor Kashmiri has not been able to articulate. The truth can best be understood in the words of Dr. Vijay Sazawal, “Here is what I tell my friends in Kashmir. For too long you have been duped by politicians and demagogues who have capitalized on your emotion while they have enriched their lives and those of their extended families. Transparency International (TA) has called Jammu and Kashmir the second most corrupt state in India, and every ordinary Kashmiri is sick and tired of daily news these days related to growing sex scandals involving hundreds of young women and local politicians, bureaucrats and police officers. India is willing to offer money and help, but it will not intervene in the implosive character of the Kashmir culture that is today breeding corruption, moral decadence and the deep chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Look around you, the ecological damage is immense and perhaps irreversible - pristine forests are disappearing, river Jhelum have turned into a drain, the Dal Lake is dying, and conversion of paddy growing fields into private home construction lots is proceeding at a fierce pace without proper civic planning or municipal infrastructure. Then there are aboriginal people of the valley - Kashmiri Pandits - who are languishing in various refugee camps that seem to be out of site and out of mind.”

On the theme of preserving Kashmiri identity, Dr. Vijay Sazawal says, “Then there is the concern about protecting Kashmiri identity. Pakistan is alleged to have eroded Kashmiri identity on their side of Jammu and Kashmir by resettling many retired or retiring security personnel from other parts of Pakistan. On the Indian side, Kashmiri identity is under threat not because of people who have moved in the area, but because of people who have moved out of the area. While most Muslims in the State live in the valley of Kashmir, there were also a significant number of minorities, especially Pandits (Hindus), Sikhs and Christians who until recently co-habitated in the valley. The term Kashmiriyat implied a certain composite identity that drew on major religions of South Asia to define a culture that was unique in harmony with heavenly surroundings of the Kashmir valley. But following the rise of insurgency and terrorism in 1989 and subsequent massacres, most minorities have fled the valley. “

Some well-wishers of this project have voiced added issues in this to be taken into account. My friend Prof. Inder Kilam suggests to wait & watch on account of other factors on the ground……

Elections in Jammu & Kashmir are due before this year end. It would be prudent to watch the direction the electioneering takes and whether some favorable political re-alignments take place before the elections, resulting in a better alternate format of government.

The response & reactions from majority community in Kashmir towards welcoming Kashmiri Pandits back in Kashmir is very vital and yet we do not find an enthusiastic wholehearted welcome message pouring in. The stance that hard liners take on this issue is particularly important to watch. With BJP in power at the Centre, an element of suspicion also prevails in the minds of majority which needs to be sensitively dispelled.

Prof Kilam further opines,” I have full faith in the ability & dynamism of Mr. Narendra Modi who is now at the helm. Yet, I would like to wait for political developments for the next six months & in the meantime the community could make serious internal deliberations and reach a better and wiser decision. While as a person I would anytime love to go back to Kashmir and live my remaining years anywhere there, but I would want to have an 'INDIAN' atmosphere there in full. If I cannot celebrate the Indian Republic Day and Indian Independence Day in Kashmir with full enthusiasm, I would perhaps sacrifice my right of going back to Kashmir. Yet I am positive enough that things will change for the good for all of us. “

I also want to sound a word of caution to my fellow Kashmiri Pandits.

We keep wondering why Muslim population in Kashmir, threw to winds, the age-old relationship with Pandits in the period leading to our exodus in 1989-90. Obligation to the solidarity with their co – religionists perhaps outweighed their obligation of natural duty to protect their Kashmiri fellow citizens. They had a misplaced notion that with guns and backing of Muslim fundamentalists within and from across the border, they will achieve “Aazadi” and perhaps even usher in “Nizam-e-Mustafa”. Kashmiri Pandits being a physical symbol of secularity, were willfully made targets. It was their greatest mistake which on the individual level they are ready to acknowledge. Kashmiriyat and the importance of Kashmiri Pandits in their lives was sacrificed for religious reasons and for misplaced political notions.

We should not repeat the same mistake. One observes, that with BJP in power at the Centre, some of our community members have begun to nurse the notion that a Hindutva party is all that we need to resettle in Kashmir happily ever after. Let not our solidarity with Indian union outweigh the obligation to carry the majority of our Kashmiri co-habitants in the valley along. Centre can at best facilitate, it is we who have to resettle. Let us unite and take the majority population in confidence for a sustainable resettlement on our own community strength.

Let us therefore review our position. Do we want to live together with our Muslim brothers and sisters or in Ghettos under security cover by the state? We can try and seek a voice in the affairs of state by getting voting rights as a separate electorate. For this to happen, it may not be necessary to stay physically in one place. In a democracy voting rights are crucial for all citizens and more so for Kashmiri Pandits.

We are yet to follow Lal ded’s vakh…aeksey raziheh lamahan saray, kahan ma ravi gav. [If we had learnt to pull, with all-in-one direction, we would not all be looking for our lost cows]

The pain of not being able to resettle back in homeland has been captured in the song

Yeli Yaad Pewaan Sona-hare Watan……


Vadodara, 2014

Credit for this write up shared with

  • Tanvi Misra erstwhile NDTV mi, ref. her Dope sheet on return of KP’s as an intern. She is currently a freelance journalist with BBC’s online magazine.
  • Anand Abheyesekara-Sri Lankan Scholar- currently in Virginia University USA,
  • Dr. Vijay Sazawal, based in USA, writes extensively on Kashmir Problem… (visit
  • Prof. I.K. Kilam (Ex DGM PNB), Dean-Students Welfare, Manav Rachna International University, Faridabad - 121003