Award-winning Kashmiri Hindu activist says he has little hope of normalcy

Ritu Jha-

Kashmiri Pandit activist Sushil Pandit was recently honored with the Festival of Globe Hero Award 2022 during the Independence Day celebrations last weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Festival of Globe is a nonprofit founded by Dr Romesh Japra. The Indian American organization hosted its 30th India Independence Day parade and fair on August 20 and 21. Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu hoisted the national flag on August 20.

“It is a pity that thousands of Kashmiri Pandits are still in exile in our own country, after being denied justice or even acknowledgment for decades,” Pandit told indica. “We are denied a policy nor is there any effort to rectify the situation.”

In an interview with indica, Pandit did not sound pleased with the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi dealt with the abrogation of Article 370. He said the recent spurt in violence is fomenting a new exodus of Kashmiris, and “even those people who did not leave in 1990 are leaving now.”

The migration of Kashmiri Hindus began in early 1990 after a tumultuous 1989 when extremist movements violently pushed for a secular, independent Kashmir. Simultaneously, the presence and activity of several Islamist extremist organizations raised the spectre of mass violence which forced Kashmiri Hindus to leave their ancestral land and move to other parts of India.

According to government records, of the approximately 140,000 population of Hindus in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley area, close to 100,000 left and settled elsewhere.

Sushil Pandit was in school when he left the Kashmir valley. He said he has been striving to restore the rights of Hindus in exile and also their land for nearly two decades, and “getting both would be an honor.”

He said the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 should have been the first step to normalcy. “Instead, the Indian government thought it was the only step. It did nothing, and so what we have now is the that de jure system seems to have gone, and we have a de facto situation. Also, there seems to be no political will to dismantle jihadist movements.”

He added, “The BJP government tries to show things are normal but they are not. In reality, we are back to square one.”

According to data provided by the Indian government in Parliament in July this year, 21 non-Muslim Kashmiris and outsiders were killed by militants in the Valley since August 5, 2019 but no Kashmiri Pandit migrated out of the Valley since the said date. “From August 5, 2019, till July 9, 2022, 128 security personnel and 118 civilians have been killed by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. Out of 118 civilians killed, five were Kashmiri Pandits and 16 belonged to other Hindu/Sikh communities. No pilgrim has been killed during this period,” MoS Home Nityanand Rai told Lok Sabha in a written reply to a question on July 22.

Pandit said the government’s priority seems to be only to conjure a semblance of normalcy on the road. “Normalcy is not just about a school running, or a market remaining open,” he said. “There is no attempt to prosecute those who have publicly bragged about abducting us, and survivors is awaiting justice. There is no plan to bring Hindus back to Kashmir.”

“There is a sense of betrayal,” Pandit said. “They (the government) think that they will win the hearts and minds of the jihadis and they feel the same jihadis who hold Kalashnikovs now will hold the Indian flag and sing Vande Mataram. The BJP is living in La La Land.”

He said the only option left with Kashmiri Hindus is to build public pressure. “You see, you can say that a strategy has failed if there is indeed a strategy. This government is clueless.”

Pandit cites the example of Punjab, where insurgency had taken over in the early 1980s, and even led to the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October 1984. “Beant Singh, the chief minister and state police chief KPS Gill trusted each other,” he said. “They were a team and they were objective driven. Punjab recovered. Here, they don’t even acknowledge what’s going on. They don’t punish people that commit heinous crimes.”