In 1990 lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits were threatened and forced to leave their homes and never allowed to go back. Even before that, life was never easy for the Minorities in the Valley. Hindu festivals were muted affairs, celebrated so as not to offend the ‘sensibilities’ of the majority Community! Diwali was never the bright, bustling and noisy celebrations stretching into days that it is in the rest of North India. Diwali was always a quiet day spent with the immediate family with a few crackers and candles thrown in for ‘Shagun’. The candles, few and far between, flickered timidly for a few hours before being retired at a decent hour. And in some neighbourhoods in the interiors of the city, Hindu households hesitated to light even these candles on Diwali night, lest their houses be marked out for stone-pelters. Even those feeble attempts at illumination on Diwali were resented, as was the presence of those who lit them.
Fast-forward to Diwali 2017, in a video circulated on Social Media, an elderly Kashmiri Pandit couple living in Kulgam, complains of being attacked on Diwali night.
This couple, who are among the few Kashmiri Pandits who continue to brave it out by staying on in the Valley, committed the ‘mistake’ of illuminating their house on Diwali. Lo and behold, they were greeted by a volley of stones aimed at their house by their Muslim neighbours.
Avtar Krishan and his wife stayed on in their village in Kulgam in 1990, their compulsion was probably his job as District Agriculture Officer and the home they had built with their meagre savings. Even after retirement, they continued to live in their own home like the 800 Kashmiri Pandit families who have somehow managed to stay on in Kashmir due to various compulsions.
Sitting on Dharna, these senior citizens had to resort to blocking the road with a log of wood to attract attention to their plight. Avtar Krishan is proud that he has managed to live with dignity till now and cannot understand why he should be threatened and told to leave. The elderly lady, wiping away her tears, complains that the Muslim neighbours broke their boundary wall and told them to pack up and go to Jammu. They don’t care that she hates the thought of leaving her home.
In the video, Avtar Krishan states that their calls to the Control Room elicited a tardy response. The police however, claims that they provided ‘immediate help’. While the Kashmiri Pandit couple has accused the three brothers, who are their neighbours, of resenting their presence, the police and local government officials offer a different version. They have dismissed it as a ‘land dispute’, stating that the bone of contention is a plot of Government land which belongs to neither party.
Local newspapers have conveniently latched on to the ‘official version’ despite the fact that in other matters, what the government states is never accepted! Has the media been as ‘accommodating’ towards the Government version in the braid-cutting incidents, for instance? As Kashmiri Pandit Activist Sushil Pandit puts it, “Nineties saw the ethnic cleansing, now they mop up the leftover Kashmiri Pandits. The alibi then was Jagmohan, now land-disputes.”
Amazing that an elderly man belonging to a Community that has been all but wiped out from the Valley, should pose a threat to land-grabbing Muslim neighbours! Which person in his right mind would believe that this man, who clung to his village and home desperately, would have the temerity and wherewithal to grab a piece of Government land? Is such a thing possible in Muslim-populated Kashmir? What is easier to believe is that the neighbours are trying their best to drive away this stubbornly proud man so that they can take over his land and house.
In May this year, a Kashmiri Pandit policeman called Sameer Bhat, an encounter specialist, disappeared. The Police kept giving different versions even after it was discovered that he had been murdered by a Muslim colleague. Nobody knows till this day, what actually happened. Sadly, in Jammu and Kashmir Kashmiri Pandits have always been treated as ‘Children of a Lesser God’.
The Kashmiri Pandits left in the Valley are held up as ‘evidence’ of the ‘secularism’ that doesn’t exist in the Valley. Their shadowy presence is used to bolster the myth called ‘Kashmiriyat’ which crops up in every political speech and counter argument to negate the truth.