Dear Govt, Stop ‘Using’ Us Kashmiri Pandits to Promote CAA-NRC

  • For me, the endurance of India’s democratic and constitutional order is more important than BJP and its cronies’ attempts to ‘resettle’ Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley.
  • Why would an entire generation of Pandits, with no perceptible connection to Kashmir, go back to a land ravaged by years of conflict and no job prospects?
  • The national exercise of CAA and NRC will render swathes of people, primarily the most vulnerable — poor, illiterate, Muslims, tribals and Dalits — homeless in their own country.
  • We know what being rendered homeless in your own land feels like.
  • CAA-NRC fortify the myriad political identities, based on religion and caste affiliations, that emerged during the colonial era to then serve colonial interests, and today serve the State.

Panun Kashmir, an organisation that claims to represent the interests of Kashmiri Pandits, recently came out in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and asserted that the “entire nation stands wholeheartedly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. This is yet another display of blatant pandering to the majoritarian and chauvinistic forces in this country, under the guise of promoting the interests of the Kashmir Pandit community — and it makes me want to wave my arms wildly and scream, ‘Not in my Name!’

Before I’m labeled ‘anti-Hindu’ or ‘anti-national’, let me reiterate that I condemn the Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus and ethnic cleansing. The 1980s was a chaotic period in Kashmir, when longstanding grievances of the citizenry against corruption and poor governance led to protests that coincided with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Since then, there has been an almost constant political exploitation of the precarious state in which the Kashmiri Pandit community finds itself post-exodus, by the Hindu right, in order to fortify their current Hindutva narrative in which ‘Hindu victimhood’ plays an integral role.

And this makes my blood boil.

Also Read: To Kashmiri Pandits, Does a Ravaged Valley Still Feel Like Home? 

Challenging Status Quo

I can almost buy into the allure of it. Many communities around the world were divided and physically driven apart along religious or ethnic lines, and these differences further crystallise over time and the ‘other’ becomes a monolith, collectively responsible for your community’s suffering. It is true of Israel-Palestine, it is true of former Yugoslavia, and it is true of Kashmir. Like many other second-generation Pandits that grew up outside Kashmir, I too grew up on the mainstream narrative that Kashmiri Muslims ‘rabid Islamists’ who attacked and drove away Kashmiri Pandits primarily due to the latter’s Hindu identity and support of the Indian State. Kashmir’s insurgency had many motivations, ranging from Islamic fundamentalism to genuine political and economic grievances. This narrative completely ignores the latter.

And so, the mere acknowledgment of any suffering of the ‘other’ somehow takes away from yours.

Challenging long-established notions that stem from horrific but also distorted narratives becomes a laborious process that requires extensive introspection and external exploration. I was only able to reach that stage after years of deliberate studying of history, and conversations with people on the ground. These life experiences crystallised into what has today become one of my primary identities — a staunchly progressive and secular Indian woman who is unwavering in her commitment to those ideals.

Also Read: Like Kashmir, Sec 144 Is Being Illegally Used to Stifle Dissent

Dear BJP, Why ‘Resettle’ Kashmiri Pandits Now?

For me, the endurance of India’s democratic and constitutional order is more important than BJP and its cronies’ duplicitous attempts to ‘resettle’ Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley. Pandits knew, more than anyone else, that the revocation of Article 370 would not translate into the physical relocation of their people back in the Valley en masse. Too much time has passed. Today we are a largely well-resourced and educated community with good jobs in India’s largest metro cities and around the world.

Why would an entire generation of Pandits, with no perceptible connection to Kashmir, go back to a land ravaged by years of conflict and no job prospects?

And for those who might even consider it, do you really think you will be going back to the home you left behind or heard stories of? Envision the on-the-ground physical manifestation of the rhetoric emanating from the likes of Panun Kashmir — Hindus and Muslims living in separate enclaves, encased by walls and military apparatus. Trying to pretend the ‘other’ doesn’t exist, or wishing them away — all 200 million of them — is not a sustainable model for a democracy. Just ask Israel.

Also Read: Don’t Use My Pain to Make it ‘Kashmiri Pandits vs Muslims’: Bhatt

CAA-NRC Reiterate Colonial Values

CAA and NRC are in the same vein. Panun Kashmir said in its statement that the “passing of CAA by Parliament is a resolve to ensure complete politico-cultural decolonisation of India.” Except that CAA and NRC are literally the opposite of that. They fortify the myriad political identities, based on religion and caste affiliations, that emerged during the colonial era to then serve colonial interests, and today serve the State. A society plagued by suspicion, that has to constantly rely on the government for ‘protection’, is the ultimate dream of any regime with authoritarian aspirations.

For decades, the BJP and its ideological parent, the RSS, has been laying the groundwork to create an environment of mistrust, where the majority Hindu population lives in perpetual fear of foreign ‘infiltrators’, which has today culminated in the passage of these bills.

Ruling Party’s Agenda to Promote the Notion of India’s Destroyed ‘Pure’ Past

I’m all for getting rid of the ad hoc basis on which India grants citizenship and create a formal immigration policy, but not one that violates the fundamental idea of India which sets her apart from her neighbours. The government’s ‘ominous duo’ is a purposely bigoted formulation that gives legitimacy to prioritising citizenship based on religion, and provides undocumented residents of all religions, except Muslims, an out. So Panun Kashmir is totally wrong. These bills (like CAB) are nothing but another colonial practice of dispossession of minorities and the already dispossessed.

The BJP and its allies’ vision of an India post-CAA and NRC is as authoritarian and untenable as its vision of a separate ‘Hindu Kashmir’ and ‘Muslim Kashmir’.

The ruling party constantly invokes a fabled ‘pure past’ that was ‘destroyed’ by either invaders, intellectuals, or liberals — they subvert the truth with propaganda and conspiracy theories, and they exploit historical antipathy to turn groups against each other.

We, Kashmiri Pandits, Know What It’s Like to be ‘Homeless’. We Don’t Support CAA

We, as a community, have worn both our Kashmiri and Indian identities proudly on our sleeves. So, when one is being desecrated in the name of the other, shouldn’t we be the first to protest?

The national exercise of CAA and NRC will render swathes of people, primarily the most vulnerable — poor, illiterate, Muslims, tribals and Dalits — homeless in their own country.

We know more than anyone, what that feels like. We are the best spokespersons for the value of co-existence. But before we assume that mantle, we first need to free ourselves from the shackles of our own volatile, albeit slanted, history and the allure of majority rule.

(Arti Dhar is an international development/social impact professional based out of San Francisco and Mumbai. She holds an MPA in International Development from Cornell University, and an MBA (Social Enterprise & Finance) from Middlebury Institute. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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