June 12, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

One irony and one mystery too many

It's an irony that has escaped our mush media and purblind prime minister. The fact is that just a day before India decided to invite Pakistan's chief executive for talks, his commerce minister had flatly rejected our visiting businessmen's demand for granting Most Favoured Nation status. Why, on the very day that our waning PM's pen was waxing eloquent about 'the high road to peace', the general himself had refused to meet a delegation of SAARC Chambers of Commerce and Industry that included an Indian team.

The fact is that the Government of India, having unilaterally accorded MFN status to Pakistan in the mindless manner of Vajpayee's unilateral 'cease-fire' last November, has been asking Islamabad for a reciprocal gesture. The potential trade between the two countries is being projected at $10 billion a year as against the present official trade of $150-200 million.

The fact, again, is that Islamabad's standard response has been that the question of MFN status to India is linked to resolution of all disputes with New Delhi, including the "core issue" of what it erroneously calls Kashmir instead of Jammu & Kashmir.

It is to that small, indigent and fanatical country that cares a tuppence for trade with India and trades in J&K's future at the cost of $10 billion of commerce a year that Vajpayee has now bent his and his nation's knees, fondly hoping to ensconce it in his 'mansion of peace'. That is the irony.

If the reason for this kowtowing is as yet a mystery, there are two other mysteries, and they concern the Kashmiri Pandits, more than half a million of whom have been displaced from the Kashmir valley since 1990, forced to live as refugees in their own country.

The mystery is not why their plight is what it is. That is easily explained: the Muslim majority in the Valley merely indulged in prolonged ethnic cleansing, unrestrained by any government in the state and at the Centre or human rights organisations, national or international, that otherwise meddle to protect even the marauding jihadi.

The mystery is why it has taken so many years for the Government of India to ascertain -- as its emissary K C Pant did the other day -- that the Hindus of J&K want a separate homeland for themselves to the north and east of the Jhelum river with the status of a Union territory and without the fetters of Article 370.

The mystery is why, even as a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits were putting their demand to Pant, the Vajpayee emissary, a United States congressman, Frank Pallone, was putting almost that same demand in his personal letter to Vajpayee himself, pleading that he take up the plight of Kashmiri Pandits during his forthcoming talks with Pervez Musharraf.

The question here is whether the Kashmiri Pandits found a lawmaker in distant New Jersey accessible and receptive, but not their own PM. That is the mystery, if not the tragedy, of how Vajpayee has handled the J&K quicksand all along.

Our 'secular' media has probably expended more print and digital time in the last 12 months in publicising the views of the hypocritical Hurriyat leaders than they have in the last 11 years to highlighting the trauma suffered by the Kashmiri Pandits. Whatever the fellow countrymen know about them has been largely hearsay.

Below, therefore, are but portions strung together from an account rendered by a Kashmiri Pandit, Nancy Kaul by name, at a public seminar held in Chennai in January this year.

  • "My community lost its freedom when the rest of India awoke to its freedom in 1947. Each and every Muslim chief minister of J&K has discriminated against the Hindus of the state and all of them are equally guilty and culpable for allowing and encouraging this state of things.
  • "Today, many have pinned a halo around Farooq Abdullah's head because today Islamic terrorism is being masterminded by the Pakistan army of Islam and Abdullah may say he has nothing to do with this. But what about 1986? It was he who took salutes of the JKLF formations. It was this organisation of Kashmiri Muslims that got arms and weaponry like AK-47 and AK-56 to kill the Hindu minority. And nearly 1,000 Kashmiri Pandits were threatened and terrorised into abandoning their homes in Anantnag. Ask Jagmohan, he will vouch for it. He was the governor then.
  • "A young nurse in her twenties, Sarla Bhatt, was gruesomely raped and then her eyes were gouged out... her chest was burnt by cigarette butts to make the JKLF insignia. Tikka Lal Taploo, Justice Bhat and many more prominent Hindus were butchered in broad daylight and barbarous death dances were performed around them. Hair was torn [out] and in many cases blood was drunk apart from cutting various body parts of the victim.
  • "19th January 1990... Loudspeakers atop masjids around all areas in Kashmir blared threats to the Hindus -- 'Agar Kashmir me rehna hai, allah-hu-akbar kehna hai.' It was not just telephonic and written death threats. It was a public and open call to kill one and all of the Hindus.
  • "The Kashmiri Pandits were killed in thousands and the others were forced to leave the valley under threats of militancy and terrorism of Islamic jihad. Today, many Hindu homes wear a deserted and neglected look, overrun with vegetation, and substantial numbers have been occupied by the Muslims. Houses and property belonging to the Hindus have been looted. And we, the Kashmiri Pandits, the original inhabitants of the Valley, have been left to live in subhuman conditions all over the country.
  • "Our community suffers from serious health problems and physical and mental trauma, sickness due to increased psychological stress and strain apart from poverty. Our mortality rate has increased and the birth rate has fallen steeply.
  • "Is the government ignoring our tragedy because we are Hindus and have not taken to arms like the Muslims of our state?
  • "Twelve years have passed since we lost our homeland and are living in refugee camps. How many times has Farooq Abdullah visited the Pandits in the camps? Has he comforted them, given them assurances to make it possible for them to come back to their homes? Has he promised to give them back their jobs, their property?
  • "The community has faced genocide and ethnic persecution and therefore the call for a homeland has become natural. Only and only a homeland can guarantee us the identity that we are seeking."
Despite this tale of pain and pathos, the Indian nation as a whole has hardly been aroused to empathise with it and agitate for remedial action -- another mystery. Much more confounding is why the RSS, the VHP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar -- the self-styled champions of Hindus -- have not allied with their Kashmiri brethren to stir the whole nation into a mass movement for saving the Hindus of J&K and J&K itself.

The billion-dollar question is whether, with Pallone's letter -- if not with Pant's report -- Prime Minister Vajpayee will do anything at all to save the Kashmiri Pandits from extinction. In any case, the way to lift that community from its present exile to its pristine glory is not through goody-goody talks with General Musharraf, but through acting tough with Dr Farooq Abdullah. But just how a confused 78-year-old man with two artificial knees can at all do that is the final mystery of this week.

Arvind Lavakare

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