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Scrap Article 370 to reverse worst act of intolerance in recent Indian history: Exile of Kashmiri Pandits

Scrap Article 370 to reverse worst act of intolerance in recent Indian history: Exile of Kashmiri Pandits

I speak to audiences, wherever i go, about the plight of my brethren – the Kashmiri Pandits – who have been horrific victims of intolerance. Over 300,000 Pandits had to flee the land of their forefathers, arguably the finest countryside on this planet, overnight on January 19, 1990.

It was the culmination of a long list of attacks against Kashmiri Hindus by militants from Pakistan aided by the citizenry; a tale of murders, kidnappings and rape which had been going on unchecked by the state government since 1988. Not surprisingly, virtually none of the perpetrators of such violence have been arrested.

On the days preceding January 19, the ominous word had gone out everywhere that Pandits should either embrace Islam and stay on, or leave the homeland of their ancestors. Of course Pandits were also told that they could leave behind their womenfolk — the Panditas — for reasons which you might correctly surmise.

Overnight the Pandits decided to flee for their safety and honour of their women. It was not a ‘migration’ as the media and ‘secularists’ continue to term it; it was India’s first and only instance of ethnic cleansing.

And this ethnic cleansing has been wilfully kept under wraps by a cabal of politicians, bureaucrats and sections of a celebrity-chasing media. I recently went to the Jagti camp, the largest settlement of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, which houses about 7,000 refugees from the Valley. They have left behind pastures, apple orchards, clear streams, the mountain air and their homes for matchbox one room plus kitchens in crumbling PWD-built tenements on the outskirts of Jammu.

Almost all the men were graduates – the Pandits were highly educated folk – but few currently find employment. I went to deliver a message of hope. But what message could i deliver to a people who are refugees in their own country? A people whose struggle successive administrations have tamped down during the past quarter century.

These were the worst victims of intolerance in our country since Independence — whose existence has eluded public consciousness — and yet the debate of the so-called growing ‘intolerance’ around us swirls in the cocktail circuits of our metros, completely ignoring the plight of the Pandits!

I am besieged by hordes of people, the old, the middle-aged and the young. All of them have hope in their eyes and a request on their mouths. Many of them thrust chits of paper in my hand. These are requests for a job, for a word to be put in the right places, a recommendation and, sadly — money for cancer treatment. I meet many people who have been struck by the deadly C and ponder over the link between cancer and stress.

I know it is my duty to keep their story alive by telling and retelling it wherever i go. Just as the victims of the Holocaust have kept their stories alive globally, to remarkable effect.

‘Don’t give us hope, give us solutions,’ shouts a youngster. I have a solution, i tell them. We must scrap Article 370 of the Constitution. We must amend the Constitution because the article was made as a temporary and transitional provision. It accorded a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under which citizens of other states of India cannot purchase property and settle down.

Faced with terrorism fostered across the border for decades, and with an anti-national militancy movement to boot, the special circumstances Kashmir currently finds itself in call for special measures.

What has led to the cauldron being allowed to simmer is that no elements from the rest of India have been allowed to play a neutralising role. Ironically, all the while rogue elements from across the border continue to play havoc and lead public discourse.

The influx of a large number of people from across the country will reshape political equations and restore sanity and peace to a land troubled by militancy and wracked by violence for decades. It will also spur investment as corporates will chase talent flooding into the Valley.

Finally, the restoration of peace will pave the way for the return and rehabilitation of original inhabitants of the Valley, the Pandits.

Anupam Kher

Times of India

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