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'Only Kashmiri Pandits can bring peace back'

July 06, 2018 11:32 IST

'The plight of Kashmiri Pandits has been just an election jhumla.'

IMAGE: Kashmiri Pandits at the Kheer Bhawani temple in Kashmir. Photograph: Umar Ganie

On June 18, a group of Kashmiri Pandits, who have been living as refugees in various parts of India, went on a yatra to the Mata Khir Bhawani temple in Tulla Mulla village in Srinagar.

Before the Pandits embarked on the yatra, Satish Mahaldar, co-ordinator of the yatra, had spoken to Rediff.com about their plans to stay back and start their lives once again in Kashmir.

Unfortunately, nothing happened as they had hoped.

Talking to Shobha Warrier about the experience of going back home and what transpired in Kashmir, Mahaldar says: "Whether we are back or away, if they put Kashmiri Pandits in isolation, they will never see peace in Kashmir."

 

What was the yatra experience this time? Was it on expected lines or were there any surprises?

Unfortunately, it did not go on expected lines.

What I would say is, the hypocrisy of the political parties has been exposed.

None of the leaders from any political party made efforts to meet us.

Do you feel all political parties have used the plight of Kashmiri Pandits for their own gains?

The plight of Kashmiri Pandits has been just an election jhumla and nobody has done anything for us.

We all know that India, Pakistan and political parties have to play a major role, but there are vested interests who do not want peace in Kashmir.

I will give you an example. Tourism is a major area that can bring peace within the state and bring all communities together. But there are people who see to it that tourism suffers in the state.

The best way to destroy the state of Kashmir is destroy tourism.

Who are the vested interests? Pakistan, or some people within Kashmir?

Both Pakistan and some people within Kashmir do not want peace in the state.

There are political and religious people who are already engaged in political activities, and they see to it that tension prevails in the state.

What do these people gain by not having peace in Kashmir?

Maybe they are paid for it. Maybe they are working for somebody.

But as far as the local people of Kashmir are concerned, they want peace.

Kashmiri Pandits also want to work with the local people to bring peace in the state.

Without Kashmiri Pandits returning to Kashmir, peace will never be attained.

Kashmiri Pandits have a 5,500-year-old history in the state. And there have been conspiracies time and again to shunt us out and change the demography of the state.

In the current scenario also, efforts are being taken to change the demography within the Jammu region.

Some are spreading rumours that Kashmiri Pandits do not belong to the Jammu region and they cannot be rehabilitated there while 12,000 Rohingyas were issued land which is a violation of Article 370.

They cannot give land for Kashmiri Pandits while they can do it for Rohingyas!

Former Union minister Saifuddin Soz has written that independence was the first choice of Kashmiris. How do you look at such observations by politicians?

We see that when politicians are out of power, they talk in support of Pakistan and when they are in power, they are pro-India. This has been their behaviour for quite some time now.

Look at a politician like Mani Shankar Aiyar who went to Islamabad and said that (Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas) Modi should not be in power.

All these politicians are using the name of our neighbour for their political gain and survival.

When we spoke before the yatra, you said that your plan was to go and look for your homes and if the houses were there, you would stay there itself.
How was the condition of the houses in Jammu?

So many Kashmiri Pandits had sold their houses at very cheap rates before they fled the state.

For example, if a house cost Rs 50 lakh, they sold it for Rs 1 lakh. So, these people did not have any place to live now.

Then, there are those who had abandoned their houses and run away, but we found them in shambles now.

Nobody will be able to live in them as they were in such a dilapidated condition.

Nine per cent of the houses were encroached upon by strangers.

Even the temples and our cremation ground have been encroached upon by other locals.

That's why we appealed to all the organisations in Kashmir, including the Hurriyat and other political organisations, that we, Kashmiri Pandits are part and parcel of the land and we want to live in our land.

Only the Hizbul Mujahideen issued a statement saying they are ready to welcome Kashmiri Pandits.

The state government had said they had earmarked the land, but there was no land. Our own land is being occupied by others.

So, we called the (then) chief minister (Mehbooba Mufti) but she did not respond to our phone call.

We then then tried to reach the spokesperson of the Opposition party and he had also switched off the phone.

The fact is, nobody is serious about settling us in Kashmir.

All this talk is just political jhumla.

Did the locals welcome you?

Local people, by and large, want Kashmiri Pandits back. But it is not the political wish.

Those who are radicalised also do not want us back. They do not want our culture to be a part of the region.

But let me say something: Only Kashmiri Pandits can bring peace back in the state.

Whether we are back or away, if they put Kashmiri Pandits in isolation, they will never see peace in Kashmir.

Only we understand the land for the last more than 5,000 years.

Since we know the land, we also understand the notorious elements.

But your voice has been muffled and your presence ignored by all political parties...

Absolutely, for the last 30 years.

The hypocrisy of all political parties was exposed when nobody came to meet us when we reached there.

There is a conspiracy to oust non-Muslims from the state. There were 15,000 to 20,000 Kashmiri Pandits at the temple. Those who were selling prasad and handicrafts were all Muslims.

So, it is the political wish and the wish of some vested interests who are paid by somebody that Kashmiri Pandits never come back to the state.

Did you have to come back after seeing the condition of the houses?

Yes, there was no way we could stay there though our plan was to stay back.

As you know, every human being wants to live in their own homes and their own birthplace.

We were there for a day and then we had to come back.

When we tried to reach out to the (then) chief minister under whose assurance we went there, she did not respond.

What should be done to bring normalcy back in Kashmir?

Enhancement of tourism is one of the best ways.

All the political parties are talking about unemployment as the reason for unrest. When more tourists visit the state, that will create employment opportunities for the youth.

Don't you think the situation worsened after the PDP-BJP government came to power?

There were recorded statements by the National Conference that they were paying for stone pelting. Now that there is governor's rule, you will see stone pelting not happening.

So, the question is, who was behind all those stone pelting?

Who was paying the stone pelters? This has to be looked into.

These incidents clearly show political parties indulge in so many things for political gains.

Now that it is governor's rule in Kashmir and with more power to the army, do you see any change happening in the state?

Absolutely not. There is not going to be any change on the ground.

By militarising, you are not bringing in peace, it will bring in only fear in the minds of people.

With a tough police officer like K Vijay Kumar as advisor to the governor, do you feel the army will be able to stop terrorism to some extent?

Of course, they can eliminate a few, but they will not be able to put a full stop to terrorist activities.

I will say it again that only through Kashmiri Pandits, you can bring in peace in the state as nobody understands the state and the overall psychology of the people of Kashmir better than the Pandits.

If we are back in our land, we can also work with the local people and bring about peace.

The people of Kashmir are confused right now.

The Hurriyat says they want azaadi. The Lashkar e Tayiba wants Nizam-e-Mustafa, Islamisation and radicalisation.

And political parties say they want Jamhuriat or democracy. Naturally people are divided and confused.

Political parties use these words as and when they are in danger. But nobody is talking about national integration which only we can help achieve.

Are political parties largely responsible for the situation?

Absolutely. If you look at history, you will see that the Quit Kashmir movement in 1931 against Maharaja Hari Singh was launched by Sheikh Abdullah.

Politicians created the problem and used the people of Kashmir for their survival.

Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com