Ravi Munshi

For over two decades, Kashmiri Pandits have been languishing in camps in Jammu. Homeless and living under abject conditions, the community remains in utter despair. Fortunately, Panun Kashmir has kept the ray of hope shining. It has also remained persistent with its peaceful struggle for the achievement of the cherished goal of a separate homeland.

To its credit, Panun Kashmir hasn’t let the memory of our own holocaust elapse. But, as the uprooted community nears quarter of a century of deprivation stemming from the challenges of displacement, humiliation, rejection, and non-recognition of their suffering and plight by one and all, one is forced to ponder if something better could have been done, and if a different approach could have brought a more positive outcome.

The Panun Kashmir movement has been active for over twenty years. Yet, in the intervening period, the Indian Government has never taken our demand for a separate homeland seriously. To add to our woes, they have even excluded us from all important deliberations on the future of Kashmir. All our attempts to garner legitimate support and empathy have failed.

The government is deaf, for it can’t hear the cries of our suffering; it is dumb, for it can’t voice outrage against the sub-human treatment being meted out to its own; and it must also be blind, for it can’t see the present and clear danger of disenfranchising a peaceful minority that has been silently living through the horrors of ethnic cleansing, all for their paltry party politics.

Deliberate marginalization of Kashmiri Pandits - the original inhabitants of the state - in favor of the Muslim vote will always remain a thorn, constantly pricking at the conscience of those in power today and in the future. But, that alone will not solve our immediate tribulations. Dwindling numbers, inability to assert political clout for our own survival, and steady decline in Kashmiri language skills are all signs of a community preparing itself to go into oblivion. If present conditions persist, the day isn’t far when our fragile community will irreversibly vanish forever, unless we take charge of our own destiny and not wait for others to dispense help.

Time is ripe for us to realign our strategies, while taking into consideration the enormity of the demand for a separate homeland, and the favorable conditions that exist for the first time since our displacement started in the early 90’s. We must ask ourselves, if we don’t capitalize on the current environment to get our foot in the door now, then when? It won’t be easy but once in, we stand a far better chance at getting our more ambitious demands fulfilled than by waiting outside the door.

From the two options below, the one we collectively choose will likely determine if and how our besieged community survives.

Option One: Maintain the Status Quo.
We must all accept that we don’t have strength in numbers that is essential to force authorities, be it at the state level or at the Center, to pay close attention to our legitimate demands. So, when we choose to maintain status quo, in essence we refuse to re-examine our non-negotiable demand for a separate homeland. Maintaining status quo will only keep us on the path of perpetual struggle for a separate homeland. If we could outlive perpetuity, this option would have merits. But, that's not to be.

With the passage of time and still no place to call home, dispersion as our natural response for individual survival is gaining ground over living in abject conditions. Our demand for a separate homeland has become increasingly irrelevant as we march towards the day when there is no community left to return.

Option Two: Engage At All Levels.
Given the tumultuous state of affairs the valley has lived through the past two decades, we may not really have missed on the opportunity to find an amicable solution for our return. Why? Because, from the day the first murder was committed that initiated the ethnic cleansing in Kashmir, conditions haven’t been as conducive for meaningful negotiations as they are now.

Timing is everything. The realities on the ground have shown positive changes. Pakistan and its arm of terror, ISI, stand exposed. They have lost credibility. Pakistan is no longer considered a partner in the US’s war on terror. Insurgency has ebbed. Separatist leaders that used to stoke Pakistani fervor now do so with caution. They seem to spend more time following the very crowds they once used to lead. A new era of courtship to entice Pandits to return has dawned, and tranquility, as not seen since the early 90’s is returning steadily, albeit slowly.

If we wait for perfect conditions to prevail before we decide to make our move, it might be too late. We don’t know if the antagonist politicians’ new-found fondness for Pandits is genuine, or as some prefer to call it, a ruse for another round of assault. But, what we do know with absolute certainty is that unless we gather the courage to take them at their word, we will never know.

In all of this, as expected, the Indian Government has maintained a dreary silence, as if waiting for us to broker our own return before they step in to bless the accord. Governments are averse to taking firm positions, especially when the issues are contentious. So, if we are able to negotiate our own return, we would have helped our government avoid the misery of having to take sides between the conscience numbing legitimate rights of a benign minority and the all-powerful bank, filled to its brim with Muslim votes.

Panun Kashmir - A Valuable Asset:
The brand of Panun Kashmir is a valuable asset for the entire community of Kashmiri Pandits to be proud of. No other Kashmiri organization matches its grass roots support, and popularity among the migrant population.

As the old adage goes, change is the only constant. In the larger interests of the displaced community, Panun Kashmir should reflect on its fundamental stand, and not be afraid to modify it in consonance with changing times, changed realities, and aspirations of a beleaguered community.

By casting aside its old non-negotiable stand for a separate homeland, and throwing its weight behind those that are striving to negotiate a return, Panun Kashmir can and must play the important role of a positive enabler. Only then can Kashmiri Pandits see themselves returning to their homeland safely with their honor and dignity intact.

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