Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims sharing a platform is a bit like Israelis and Palestinians having a heart to heart discussion. And that is exactly what happened at an online global conference Sunday September 13.
The effort was to heal the three-decades-long wounds, to nudge the urge to understand each other, and move on united to restore peace.
The conference, Kashmir – The Way Forward, was hosted by the United States-based Ibaadatkhana and the India-based Chinar Foundation.
It passed a unanimous resolution for submission to the Indian government. The resolution, drafted by former judge of the Indian Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju, demanded revival of peace in the region and emphasized restoring the dignity of 12 million people living in Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh.
The resolution was submitted to the Indian government by Vivek Tankha, who is an Indian Supreme Court lawyer and a member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House of Parliament.
Tankha also serves as chairman of the Chinar Foundation and senior vice president of Ibaadatkhana.
The Chinar Foundation describes itself as an organization representing the old ethos of the people of Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh.
Ibaadatkhana is an initiative of Kashmiri’s living in USA; which connects Kashmiri diaspora around the world.
Katju, in his speech at the virtual conference, shared the resolution urging the Indian government to restore democratic rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
He said that if the democratic space is not restored, the situation will soon turn explosive.
If people are not allowed to express their grievances peacefully, they will vent them violently, by resorting to militancy and crime, he stressed.
It has been over a year since the Modi government August 5, 2019 revoked Article 370 and Article 35 A of the Indian Constitution which granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And this promulgation stands contested in the Supreme Court of India at present.
The resolution submitted called for four points:
(1) Demanding restoration of normalcy in Jammu & Kashmir, amelioration of the suffering of the 12 million people residing there, which could be restored through democracy, by hosting free and fair elections; as well as immediately setting free all political prisoners and juveniles presently in detention or under house arrest, and establishing freedom of the media and freedom of speech.
(2) The state’s economy, which has been greatly damaged, particularly after the events of Aug. 5, 2019, must be restored by preparing and implementing a rational plan with the help of economic, technical and administrative experts. This plan must aim to improve and uplift the state’s industries, for example, horticulture, tourism, and handicrafts.
(3) The status of J&K, which was downgraded from a state to a union territory on 5th August 2019, is again restored to a state.
(4) Adequate compensation is given to Kashmiri Pandits who were uprooted, and steps taken to enable them to return to Kashmir with dignity and security.
The resolution submitted stated that the implementation of these four points is perhaps the best way forward.
“We cannot imagine an India without Kashmir as it is an integral part of the nation. We request your support in taking this initiative forward,” said Tankha.
Tankha, in his speech, shared how amid the coronavirus pandemic he and fellow members of the Chinar Foundation and the federal and state governments helped thousands of stranded Kashmiris to the safety of their homes, including over 600 students across the globe.
“We all want Kashmir to revive and see the old Kashmir,” said Tankha and added that it is possible only when the government engages the civil society.
The conference went for four hours — double of the two-hour schedule — when speakers, Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmir Muslims, young and old, shared thoughts through an open dialogue.
Muzzafar Shah, vice president, Awami National Conference (ANC), said many attempts have been made to bring together both sides and that pain and anguish are equal on both sides.
“We cannot increase rage, but the best way now is both the communities sit down and talk about the future of our children and the next generation. People in Kashmir, particularly women and children, suffer from tremendous mental health disorders because of political, economic and communication lockdown,” Shah said.
He strongly believes restoration of Article 370 and Article 35A is the only way to restore peace in the state.
He is one of the many petitioners who have moved the Indian Supreme Court challenging the J&K Reorganization Bill & the abrogation of Article 370.
California-based Jeevan Zutshi, founding member Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD), shared the pain that Kashmiri Pandits went through and said the community never received an apology from the other (Kashmiri Muslims).
“What we hear was it was a conspiracy and just leave the area (Kashmir)…the fear was created of murder and rape, which forced Kashmiri Pandits to leave and become refugees in their own country,” Zutshi said.
He believes there has to be a dialogue before Kashmiri Pandits can return to Kashmir and feel at home in Kashmir again.
No one has started a dialogue so far and done much to restore dignity of Kashmiri Pandits, he stressed.
Responding to him, a young Kashmiri responded and apologized on behalf of the community.
Athar Ilahie, 23, pursuing medicine in Kashmir, said: “You cannot generalize the ideology. What people used to think back in ’89 is very different from how people think today, especially youth. We can’t let the hatred and animosity rule our reason. And if you think you didn’t get an apology, I apologize, but whatever is going on in India right now, especially on the Kashmir scenario, why aren’t Pandits taking any stand if they feel that no one took a stand for them? Why aren’t they correcting the mistake then? They are same as us. We have same flesh.”
Zutshi later told indica News: “The most touching moment for me was a response from a Muslim youth to my concern about no acknowledgement having been received from our Kashmiri Muslims when he said ‘I am apologizing on behalf of all those who caused pain to Kashmiri Hindus’.”
Dr Wahid Sidiq, an academic with roots in Kashmir, described the situation in Jammu Kashmir as volatile, especially with the recent of rising conflict with China.
He iterated the need for peaceful dialogue with key stakeholders of Kashmir, which includes Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Aksai Chin (under Chinese control) and Baltistan.
Tasawar Jalali, chairman of Ibaadatkhana, emphasized that many in among the US-based Indian diaspora who are incognizant and unmindful of the sufferings of fellow human beings in Kashmir.
“Such people obviously have an agenda, but doing so at the cost of the people who are still suffering poverty, injustice, illiteracy is contemptible,” he said.
“The whole idea is to understand both sides (Muslims and Pandits) and heal the wounds,” Jalali, a tech entrepreneur, later told indica News.
“Peace can’t be restored till justice is delivered — justice to thousands of Kashmiris, both Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims, who have immensely suffered during the violence entering its third decade this year.”
Nagma Morarji, general secretary the All India Mahila Congress and the Congress party’s in-charge of Jammu & Kashmir affairs, highlighted the poor state of Kashmir’s economy after abrogation of Article 370.
She said the conflict not only breeds fear and suffering but also poverty, hunger and lack of education and corruption. It destroys the environment, human and social capital.
Economic reconstruction, she said, would start the peace process.
Satish Mahaldar, chairman of the Reconciliation, Return, and Rehabilitation of Migrants, said he feels the pain of all Muslim brothers and sisters but also believes the time has come for the majority population to walk to the camps to talk to them.
Sanjay Sapru, a Kashmir native and technologist, urged both sides to have faith India’s judicial system.
Sapru told indica News: “We all should have full faith in the Supreme Court of India and expect iustice delivered in line with the Constitution of India.”
He emphasized the developmental and political benefits that are expected to flow from the Indian government’s arrangements.
“Instead of wasting our energy on the issue in my view it is time for us to align ourselves to this Naya Kashmir Vision and try to make Jammu & Kashmir a peaceful heaven again,” Sapru said.
Dr Gazala sharif, another Kashmir native, agreed but said that the government must be held accountable to the commitments made on the August 8 — of creating jobs and the vision for a new Kashmir.
California-based entrepreneur Ramesh Yadava urged the conference participants to take the initiative “reach out to your communities” and not to be dependent on what the government could offer.