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A Red Lunar Lust: The Exodus of Identity

“It is the very error of the moon; she comes nearer earth than she was won’t, And makes men mad” ~ William Shakespeare

Image Credits: Democratic accent

'Thirty-one years can be enough to transform wounds into political war cries. While a myriad of ideological mosaics represent the Kashmiri Pandit Exodus of the 1990s, let us dive deeper into the various aspects of intellectualism, propaganda, and righteousness defining this unfortunate event.'

When Sheikh Abdullah died in the year 1982, the leadership of the National Conference got passed on to his son, Dr Farooq Abdullah, who emerged victorious in the 1983 elections. However, there were underlying tensions between the National Conference and the Indian National Congress. Over the next two years, the Centre broke up the National Conference and installed a dissident, Ghulam Mohammed, as CM. Naturally, it sparked huge disaffection and instability amongst the already dubious masses of Jammu and Kashmir. Maneuvering the unrest another political player, alias the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), increased its mobilisation in the valley. Adding fuel to the fire was the hanging of the militant leader Maqbool Bhat in the year 1984, which compounded the sinister environment brewing up in the state. The Rajiv Gandhi government’s opening up of Babri Masjid locks in the year 1986 and pulling off of the Ramayana Telecasting stunt to wash away the taint of the Shah Bano case, created ripples that were felt in the valley too. Now was just the exact moment for the flag to be impaled on its soil.

The boiling valley saw a rise in militancy and hit lists of Pandits were put into circulation. A sudden blow came in after a local newspaper published an anonymous message, allegedly from the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, asking the Pandits to leave. Things took a drastic turn on 19th January, 1990: As per the discourse dictated by the Kashmiri pandits, there were threatening slogans over loudspeakers from mosques, and on the streets. Numerous speeches were made against Hinduism, extolling Pakistan and the supremacy of Islam. On January 20, the first stream of Pandits began leaving the Valley with belongings packed hastily into whatever transport they could find. A second, larger wave left in March and April, after more Pandits were killed.

Telescopic Categories

This created a discourse in the public dichotomising the incident into binaries of good and evil, the sacred and the profane, and the Muslims and the Pandits. It also gave rise to some hinged and pungent questions: Is the mainstream media telling us the truth? Do the political voices succeed in pitching out the wounds and trauma of the people? The mainstream media opted to show the bloodshed in fragments, through veiled clots. Thousands of Kashmiris and Indian security personnel have lost their lives in the violence that has engulfed the region since.

In the first phase, the victims were pushed under and controlled by certain categories. These categories slowly incinerated into news dust. Naturally, information that was not newsworthy was either censored or dumped on the other side of the moon. For example, the out-migration of the minority Pandits from the Valley was measured as newsworthy and the internal dislocation of the same group in Doda, Poonch and Rajouri, no less significant in terms of number or intensity, was not. This is because, while the out migration from the Valley connected fibres of identity politics and homeland discourse in the national political arena, thereby paving a path for selective politics, Whereas the internal dislocation is not considered newsworthy, primarily because it doesn’t stir up the national discourse on the ideal community or doesn’t give the limelight to the plight of suffering.

Image Credits: Hindustan Times

Mehreen, a Kashmiri Muslim student at the Delhi University spoke to the HCG. Giving her outlook, she said, “I think it'd be a lie to say that Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully in Kashmir before the exodus and then suddenly everything changed. After the brutal Dogra regime, KPs always had a position of power in Kashmir... most of the land and positions in government institutions were taken by them. The class divide between KPs and Kashmiri Muslims was huge. Thousands of innocent Kashmiri Muslims were jailed and killed, hundreds of houses lost. The exodus and its impact on Kashmiri pandits was similarly drastic. However, after the exodus, KPs were given certain reparations and before the exodus, many of them sold the vast real estate they owned in Kashmir. It would be a lie to say that any of them were left stranded or to fend for themselves. After the situation calmed down, some of them came back. My neighbor who is a KP and their friends did too. Kashmiri Muslims however, have continued to suffer from the Dogra regime to the Indian state.”

Well arguably here comes the problem of the categorisation of identities. They lose the form of human entities in the eyes of the audience. Their identity being equated to their sufferings, further being subjected to the constant violation of human rights and justice that are due to them. Well, the problem with this is that now their tolerance hardly prompts any kind of sympathy from us.

“I think it's extremely regrettable how nobody talks about the sufferings that Muslims in this region suffered in the 90s, crackdowns and blasts and unlawful detentions started in the 90s and haven't stopped still. The exodus is used to justify treating generations of Kashmiri Muslims like criminals, leaving no scope for them to discuss the problems they face. While KPs have reached a somewhat semblance of normalcy in their lives with state support, an average Kashmiri Muslim still lives in the violent atmosphere that was there in the 90s. A Kashmiri Pandit is allowed to come back here and rightly so, and lead a normal life, but Kashmiri Muslims everywhere have to be answerable about what groups in the 90s did, without taking into consideration what they went through in the 90s and have been going through ever since,” added Mehreen while talking to HCG.

Mobilization or Shadowing?

But, do the Kashmiri Pandits merely require our sympathies? Or is it the fact that their lived trauma of being homeless is not allowed to disturb our memory and remind us of the dichotomy of secularism? Does the protector and safe-guarding left not want us to remember the people who left their homes?

The media continues to play the role of the piper, soothing the duty of remembrance as well as sending a flare up to the moon. As the self-appointed moral compass of the masses, the words of the press make up our world. In this world, the victims exist merely in the cocoon of the media. Accordingly, the politics of the nation tried to serve the justice menu. It also needs to be noted that the problem of migrants was overshadowed by the politics of convenience. The race for the moon between the two fronts increased, with more frequent visits to the camps of the migrants rather than the inroads of the valley.

There are multiple allegations on the left that it never acknowledges the exodus and gives out a pacifying tone to the actions of the Kashmiri Muslim community. Heckling respective identities to a very professional extent is rather a trend in the air. The left either believes that the Kashmiri Pandit exodus wasn’t a serious issue or refuses to formulate them as ideal victims on grounds that the Pandits were the elite majority. Another analogy to be offered here gives flakes that the left was buoyant to take up the issue of the exodus because it was successfully mobilized by the right at the very inception.

Harshita Wanchoo, a Kashmiri Pandit student from DU, spoke to HCG on this issue. She held, “Nothing goes to the sudden state of normal, especially when the Pandits in the valley were killed, their children burned, and women raped. It is so ironic on some political fronts to not acknowledge this brutal incident, where our people had to leave everything behind and venture into the unknown. It would be absurd to say that communal disharmony wasn’t there before. My parents felt these waves at a very root level. The evidence out there shows that we are not lying, and are rather being victimised by the political forces of the valley. There have been many interpretations of this, but it feels like the Kashmiri Muslims wanted to get rid of us. The basic line is that they wanted the homeland for themselves... this was backed by the radicals.”