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'No peace in Kashmir without Pandits going back'

April 06, 2022 18:54 IST
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'We need to have a prosperous J-K, where all communities must prosper including Dogras, Gujjars, Sikhs, Muslims and Pandits.'
'Prosperity is the first signal of peace.'

IMAGE: Kashmiri Pandits protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Photograph: ANI Photo

Congress member of Parliament Vivek Tankha has tabled a private member's bill for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.

The Kashmiri Pandits (Recourse, Restitution, Rehabilitation and Resettlement) Bill, 2022 seeks to undo the injustice meted out to the Kashmiri Pandit community, and has come at a time when The Kashmir Files, a film that depicts the persecution and exodus of the community, is all set to touch the magical figure of Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.5 billion) at the box office.

"I am offering a solution for the Jammu and Kashmir problem (through my bill)," Tankha, who is a Kashmiri Pandit, tells's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

Please share the details of your bill and what inspired you to do that.

This issue has not been addressed in the past 32 years. It is high time the issue is addressed now, as 32 years is a very long time.

I am a Kashmiri Pandit myself, though my ancestors left Kashmir 100 years ago and settled in Madhya Pradesh.

In 1994, when the Digvijaya Singh government came to power in Madhya Pradesh, my father-in law, the then finance minister of Madhya Pradesh (Colonel Ajay Mushran), who was also a Kashmiri Pandit, ensured that students from the community who had to leave the valley were given reservations in medical and engineering colleges.

This reservation was not restricted to Pandits only who faced a genocide, but for all Kashmiris -- Sikhs, Muslims or anyone belonging to any other religion who stood by the idea of India and had to face the wrath of terrorism.

After the release of The Kashmir Files, people have been blaming the Congress for the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits.

I am not blaming any party. What I am trying to say is that people like us in the Congress were serving the cause of Kashmiri Pandits when all this happened.

You can cross-check this with film-makers Ashok Pandit and Mahesh Bhatt on how I arranged ambulances for Kashmiri Pandits at Jammu (refugee) camp from Jabalpur.

This was for a humanitarian cause. I have done a lot over this issue in the past.

Coming post the release of Kashmir Files, doesn't your bill look like an afterthought?

No, this is not true. A year ago, the Kashmiri Pandit global Diaspora approached me as I was the only MP from the community. They wanted me to take up the cause.

I told them I can bring in a bill or a resolution. I then drafted a resolution on the Kashmiri Pandits. I filed this resolution for balloting and (unfortunately) in the balloting system, my resolution was not selected.

This happened in January 2022.

Then, I set my team of researchers to prepare a bill, which I filed in the secretariat two months ago.

At that time, The Kashmir Files was nowhere on the scene. Hundreds of people were involved in this private bill which you can cross-check to know the fact.

My bill got accepted for introduction on March 17, but the Holi holiday was declared in Parliament on that day and all the bills were shifted to April 1.

And, therefore, this bill was introduced in Parliament on April 1.

The Kashmir Files tries to convey that secular parties failed to act and save the Kashmiri Pandits.

I have not seen The Kashmir Files, but I knew from day one what happened to Kashmiri Pandits.

They suffered much more than what was shown in The Kashmir Files.

The Kashmir Files is a film and you must treat a film as a film.

Here, I am offering a solution for the Jammu and Kashmir problem (through my bill).

Vivek Agnihotri is from Bhopal and he is bringing Kashmir Files while Vivek Tankha from Jabalpur is bringing a solution to the Kashmir problem.

You think it is possible for Kashmiri Pandits to go back?

(Union Home Minister) Amit Shah thought that removing Article 370 was the answer to the Jammu and Kashmir problem.

But I told him in Parliament that it is not the answer.

You have to create jobs and employment opportunities.

You have to make them feel that they have a stake in their government and then they will take interest in your policies.

You have to ensure that local industries bloom.

You have to look at the larger outlook if you want peace in J-K.

You cannot have a myopic picture in mind to solve this problem.

Isn't it easier said than done? Who will go and put his money in a troubled state like J-K?

For the last six years they have either governor's rule or President's rule (in J-K).

Only administrators are running the state. They don't have empathy for the Kashmiri people.

Officers can give you shaasan (administration) but they cannot give you sarkar (government). There is difference between shaasan and sarkar.

Government can reach out to people and solve their problems.

The answer is to reach out to the Kashmiri people.

Kashmiri carpets are as good as Persian carpets. But today it's a dying art.

I tell the government to go and meet the people.

Listen to my speech in Parliament. You need a human touch to solve this problem.

How did the Indian government 'lose humanity' in J-K?

It is because J-K had its own rulers and their own interests.

And, later on, each of their leaders had their own interests and serving some or the other cause. Nobody was thinking about J-K as an identity. Amid all this, the people got forgotten.

This happens because politics prevails over everything else.

Van the bridge of trust with the Kashmiri people be rebuilt after the abrogation of Article 370?

It will happen only when you reach out to the people of Kashmir.

Right now, there is only administrative reachout.

Collectors, commissioners and administrators are not trained to reach out to people.

You mean only politicians can solve this problem?

Politicians play only politics. You need genuine people to solve this problem.

People to people contact is needed. Pick up the best people in civil society and make them your ambassadors to (rebuild the) bridge.

And this is not going to happen overnight. It will take some time. But start the process. Nobody is thinking of this process now.

Nearly one lakh Kashmiri Muslims have died in 30 years. Can all this pain be overcome?

The same question holds for Kashmiri Hindus, too. Both sides suffered.

In the Second World War, six million Jews were killed. But today, they are not alienated from the world. They stand together with the world.

Germans exterminated Jews during the Nazi era. But today, Germans don't see Jews the same way. They don't have the same enmity against Jews today like they had in the 1930s and 1940s.

Passage of time and prosperity change things on the ground. History becomes history.

Is the German model good to solve the J-K problem?

History has to remain history. You need to ensure that everybody prospers.

Without Kashmiri Pandits going back to the Valley, there can be no permanent peace in Kashmir.

This bill talks about these things. We need to have a prosperous J-K, where all communities must prosper including Dogras, Gujjars, Sikhs, Muslims and Pandits. Prosperity is the first signal of peace.

What about the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits? Do you believe it was a genocide or targeted killings?

It was a genocide. The Kashmiri Pandit community suffered ethnic cleansing.

Once five lakh Kashmiri Pandits lived in Kashmir, only 5,000 are left now.

How many Kashmiri Pandits were killed?

I have no idea as I don't have the figures.

I have no access to those figures, but I have knowledge of the sufferings of Kashmiri Pandits.

I have knowledge of Kashmiri Pandit camps and I have knowledge of Kashmiri Pandits who lost their properties.

Has any punishment been meted out (to the perpetrators) for that? You have to commiserate with what happened.

At the end of the day, justice heals the wounds.

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