18 January 2010
The 150-odd gathering in the India International Centre Auditorium was oblivious of the irony of the situation. While Yaseen Malik, self-proclaimed father of religious terrorism in Kashmir, was threatening the nation with a return to arms, a couple of highly agitated Kashmiri Pandits outside were inhumanly dragged into police custody. Their fault? They were trying to be mirrors to reflect the failure of Indian civil society towards their internal displacement in the land.
In my heart of hearts, I was glad Rajinder Sachar provided us an opportunity to give vent to our pent-up frustrations. Listening to Sachars apologetic introduction on Indian treachery in annexing Kashmir (yes, its true, he said that), I found reasons for continuing my struggle for a separate homeland in Kashmir.
Yaseen Malik was not destined to have it easy that day. This group of young displaced Kashmiri Hindu boys and girls were determined to make the event memorable for him. He looked ruffled. As somebody pointed out, no man would like to be damned as a ra---t in the presence of his wife. Later, his repeated attempts to explain his position clearly betrayed his discomfort and invited more protests.
I resisted a strong temptation to be adventurous. Perhaps the spectacle of young boys and girls, many of whom might not have set foot in the lost homeland even once, taking over the baton of our struggle had a calming effect on my nerves. I sat down patiently to listen to the trash being blared out from the dais. An elderly lady sitting to my right with a snobbish expression on her wrinkled but botoxed face declared the protestors oxymorons. I was amused and felt sorry for her; later I discovered she was part of the organizing team.
Yaseen was boring. His articulation is more self-aggrandizement, distortion of facts and constructed ideology. He laid claim to five thousand years of Kashmir history and dumped Kashmiri Pandits as only a small class of society. A small section of the audience with preconceived notions nodded in approval. He proceeded to insult displaced Kashmiri Pandits by accusing the protestors of being paid whipping boys of Indian intelligence agencies. This evoked another strong reaction from the protestors. This prompted me to look towards the young boys and girls shouting at the top of their voices. Sudden realization dawned...
The parents of most of the youngsters expressing anger at the VIP treatment being accorded to the person responsible for rendering them refugees in their own country are personally known to me. Yaseen Malik dubbed them members of an affluent section of Kashmiri Pandits. This might be an exaggeration. That these youngsters belong to families that have done well during the last twenty years cant be denied. But was it so always?
Many of these young persons were either not born or were mere toddlers when the Malik-led JKLF unleashed a campaign of terror against their families. The process of selective killings of Pandits reached its climax with a mass frenzy created through an eruption via thousands of mosques dotting the Kashmir landscape during the night of 19 January 1990. And while the boorish section of the audience were enjoying their cushy lives in India and abroad, the parents of these young persons were abandoning their homes and ancestral homeland in the stealth of dark winter nights. I still shudder at the memory of those initial years when most of us struggled to provide some semblance of human existence to our children and parents. I wish Yaseen Malik had seen us living six to eight persons in 8ft by 8ft rooms without basic amenities.
Today Kashmiri leaders and their cohorts in India lament the tragedy of the families who fell to the bullets of militants or security forces. I wish they were there with us when most of our parents and grandparents died a thousand deaths before succumbing to heat-strokes, mosquito bites, stress-related diseases, unnatural accidents and unfulfilled longing for their lost homes.
At times I pity Yaseen Maliks intellect and laugh at his idiotic articulation. For him, Kashmiri Pandits living in Delhi need not be taken seriously as they drive their own cars and live in air-conditioned homes. The oxymoron in him forgets Kashmiri Pandits, unlike his own community, have traditionally valued only two things - their own roof over their heads and their childrens education. Malik, though aware of this fact, doesnt allow his politics to admit it. I have a strong conviction that Malik and his ilk cant reconcile with the survival and prosperity of displaced Pandits. It would have mightily pleased them to see Pandits begging on the roads of the Indian plains.
The self-declared intellectuals sitting in the auditorium and frowning at the protestors would have done well to understand the sociology of the Kashmiri Pandit community. They would have understood how even under extremely hostile circumstances, the Pandits not only survived, but most even prospered. I wish they knew we are because we believe.
We may not eat one meal, but we will not deprive our children the best education. Our success is due to this inherent quality. The Maliks and Sachars of this world have no right to deny us the claim on our homeland because we came to protest in our own cars. Unlike those whose millions have accrued from liberal contributions through Indian peace interlocutors, Pakistani masters, and other dubious sources, Kashmiri Pandits have shed their own blood and sweat for their little accumulations. While Yaseen shows his discomfort at the prosperity of Pandits, his sympathetic audience should have known that displaced Kashmiri Pandits collectively pay enough Income Tax to feed all the poor families in the Valley.
Yaseen Malik finished his speech with threats of returning to militancy and no achievable solutions to offer. He was clearly shaken by the protestors accusing him of the alleged rape and murder of a Kashmiri Pandit girl. Meanwhile, a young person in a black jacket came up to me and asked:
- "Sir, dont you think it is unfair to brand him as ra---t?"
- "Why?" I counter question.
- "Because you cant prove it," he replied, almost innocently.
I decided he deserved no further attention.
The next speaker went through his speech unhindered and it was time for summing up. Under fierce pressure of the protesting youths, Rajinder Sachar allowed a few interventions. Further shocks awaited us. To an observation from a Kashmiri Hindu, Sachar brazenly declared that the nation should be grateful to those who centuries ago forced the Kashmiri Pandits out of Kashmir. He extended a sadistic logic behind his assertion, "we would have otherwise been deprived of persons like Nehru." There was more commotion and still more before the session ended.
We came out of the auditorium and decided we could not partake lunch with the people who paid no cognizance to our geo-political aspirations. We also did not want to give company to the biggest terrorist in the country. We began dispersing. Some of us had a task at hand. We needed to seek the release of friends detained earlier for objecting to the presence of a staunch enemy of the nation in the national capital. For me the day was not finished. A person calling himself Engineer Rashid, a sitting Kashmir MLA, walked up to me aggressively and started a discussion.
I may not agree with the figures, but I cant deny the immense human tragedy that has befallen Kashmir. But I was in no mood to prolong the discussion. Though the country may have failed to utilize Kashmiri Pandits in understanding the psyche of Kashmiri Muslims, given an opportunity no one can score in a dispassionate argument with them.
"Why are you lamenting the death of 80,000 Muslims?" I asked Engineer Rashid.
"These people died for a cause as they wanted to be part of Pakistan. And why should thousands of Pandits have died? They had no cause to die for."
Probably Rashid understood where this discussion could lead; he walked away sheepishly.
As I was walking towards my car, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by the young man in the black jacket.
Impressed by his persistence, I decided to give him some hard-earned wisdom. On enquiry, he revealed his connections with some civil liberties group (but naturally).
- "Have you ever heard of Bitta Karate?"
- "No sir."
- "Havent the apologists told you about him?" He looked awkward at his ignorance.
- "Please ask your promoters about him and if they dont tell you then call me to know your answers."
He stared at me bewildered as I walked away.
[Bitta Karate is a Kashmiri terrorist who confessed - to a journalist on video - to killing around 40 Kashmiri Pandits. He was arrested for his crimes and released without conviction for want of witnesses]
The writer is a displaced Kashmiri Pandit living in Delhi and a senior Panun Kashmir activist