The year 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the mass migration of Hindus from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), perhaps the biggest such event since the cataclysmic events of 1947. There are no signs of a return journey.
The story is complicated.
At one level, Kashmir has a “composite” culture that supposedly has few religious cleavages. On another plane, there are regional fissures between Jammu, Kashmir and the Ladakh region. While religion is a word that is never uttered when speaking of such matters, it is something that always lurks in the background. This is an Indian story: The differences, mistrust and rancour are between Indian citizens, to be resolved by them alone. This is something of which all parties, the Hurriyat, the Kashmiri Pandits and the government are aware.
There is, however, a complicating factor. Since 1994 at least, Pakistan has purposely injected hardline, jihadi, elements in the insurgency in the state. These foreign mercenaries are the ones who control the levers of violence in J&K. In contrast to the home-grown militants, these foreign jihadis are alien to Kashmiri ethos and toleration. Their presence and utility to the secessionist leadership in the state has made the return of Pandits impossible. So, in public all secessionists want the Pandits to return, their political choices make this impossible.
This is not surprising. Pakistan, the force behind attempts to detach J&K from India, sees the situation only through the lens of a religious identity: Kashmir for Muslims only. That makes nonsense of any secessionist claims that Hindus are part of a Kashmiri identity.
This situation must be kept in mind while promoting any talks with Pakistan. Of late, it has become fashionable to say the Line of Control should become a line on paper only. Pakistan may be ready to do that. But peace purchased by doing that will come at a price: continued Pakistani interference in Indian territory. It has been commented that formulae for joint control have worked well in places such as South Tyrol (Austria-Italy) and Aaland Islands (Sweden-Finland) and they can between India and Pakistan. They are unlikely to: Countries that have gone to four wars with each other and one of which defines itself in religious terms, cannot do so successfully.
The tragedy of the Pandits should be seen against this background.
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