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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Debunking the Myths of Kashmiri Pandits Exodus

Under the direct rule that followed, a clampdown has increasingly quashed dissenting voices. It is a time when the Indian state needs to think rationally and act wisely to unite the whole nation because ethnic, cultural, and communal divisions of India have not only polarized the Indian state but also threatened the South Asian region.

The tale of Kashmiri Pandits’ evacuation is extremely difficult to tell. Different theories exist regarding the Hindu Pandit exodus. One side highlights that thousands of Pundits suffered enough intimidation to abandon their homes during the insurgency that erupted in IIOJK in 1989. The other side explains the accounts of Kashmiri Pundits who stayed behind in Kashmir contradict claims that Kashmiri Pundits suffered ‘a genocide’ and were forced ‘into exile’. Therefore, understanding the exodus experience of Hindu Pandit, caught between Kashmir’s Muslim majority and the ambitions of the Indian state, is an intricate affair. The descriptions of the flight of the Pundits from Kashmir are highly politicized and contentious.

It is a story that is mired in a great deal of controversy, which still awaits a careful sifting of evidence. Various Kashmiri leaders have claimed that the Indian State was behind this conspiracy, Jagmohan Malhotra governor of Jammu and Kashmir at the time, had played a key role in organizing the violence to gain political mileage through religious sentiments. He deployed 700,000 military and paramilitary soldiers in Kashmir to counter the so-called insurgency.

Read more: Hindus unable to celebrate festival in Indian Occupied Kashmir due to violence

Understanding the matter better

In December 1989 Dr. Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the then Union Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was kidnapped by unknown persons demanding the release of five militants, which was subsequently fulfilled. However, the propaganda campaign was launched by the Indian government after the incident of Dr. Rubaiya Sayeed that was used to build a perception that Islamist Jihadists have taken over the IIOJK and soon they will start an ethnic cleansing operation.

Subsequently, the propaganda campaign was started through a coordinated and well-orchestrated sequence of terrorist activities with a Jihadist signature. Whilst some Hindu organizations like Panun Kashmir have accused Kashmiri Muslims of genocide and mass rape, during the times of exodus, various narrators have highlighted the other side of the story and declared their claim as exaggerated. Some scholars have also accused the Indian state and Media of utilizing the experience of Hindus as a tool of propaganda. In February 1993, a notable Indian magazine investigated shrines asked by Bharatiya Janata Party and found that the claims of alleged defilement of Hindu shrines in Kashmir, widely perpetuated by the Indian media and right-wing Hindu politicians, were false.

Furthermore, portraying Kashmiri Muslims as genocidal killers is a part of Indian state policy, as it serves indirectly to justify the use of Draconian laws against Kashmiris and to carry on unchecked impunity against them. The evacuation of the Pundits was preliminary a government plan to then hit all Muslims to stem militancy without the risk of collateral damage to the Hindus. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandit in 1990 was a planned operation supported by the Indian government. Recently, Kashmir Files an Indian film based on myth and fabricated story based on the political agenda of India has been released.

The film’s purpose is to create ethnic division and it became successful in this case. It is driven by the self-serving agenda of the Modi-led BJP. Sanjay Kak a documentary filmmaker and writer based in New Delhi said that the popular Bollywood film, powered by a visceral demonization of the Kashmiri Muslim, attempts to construct the truth about Kashmir out of the carcasses of facts. Rana Ayyub an Indian journalist says that “The Kashmir Files,” which portrays the exodus in the 1990s of Kashmiri Pandits, a minority Hindu community, has triggered anti-Muslim hate chants in theaters across India.

Read more: 12-year-old Kashmiri girl win heart with tremendous act of honesty

Hence, what was witnessed between 1990 and 1991 was a political movement, not a religious one. Religion may have been employed to mobilize public opinion. But there were elements, both in Kashmir and the rest of India, who portrayed it as a religious movement”. Consequently, the Kashmiri Pundits who left the Valley were welcomed with open arms by the right-wing forces elsewhere in India. Some of the majoritarian-oriented state governments reserved seats in professional colleges that made for upward social mobility of Kashmiri Pundits.

The way forward

It is not hidden that since August 2019 India has continuously tried to alter the demography of the Kashmir region by settling Hindu migrants in IIOJK and delivering around 3.4 million domiciles to non-Kashmiris particularly Hindus to dilute the Muslim majority status. Kashmiris are suffering due to the discriminatory policies of the BJP-led Modi government whose agenda is to promote Hindutva ideology. According to an estimate nearly 8 million people live in the Kashmir Valley, 97 percent of them Muslim, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and armed police deployed to quell an uprising against New Delhi’s rule.

Contemporary, Hindutva ideology has given a stir to communal riots in India and has polarized the Indian society on ethnic, sectarian, and religious lines. Traditionally, the Hindu exodus took place at the same time when the BJP was upping the ante across northern India, and even after three decades, the plight of Kashmiri Pandits has become a potent Hindutva issue.  Modi’s government has been invested in projecting the majority-Muslim region as a stable, integrated part of India after it dissolved the region’s elected government and revoked Kashmir’s semiautonomous status in 2019 to bring it under the direct rule of New Delhi.

Read more: ‘The Kashmir Files’ director Vivek Agnihotri claims to sue Oxford Union

Stripping the region of its special status had long been a goal of India’s Hindu nationalists. Under the direct rule that followed, a clampdown has increasingly quashed dissenting voices. It is a time when the Indian state needs to think rationally and act wisely to unite the whole nation because ethnic, cultural, and communal divisions of India have not only polarized the Indian state but also threatened the South Asian region.



The author is an Islamabad-based analyst and holds MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies and can be reached at sarahamidkhan21@gmail.com. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.