By Brian Cox
Team members for various parts of the mission included: Brian Cox (ICRD Sr. Vice President for Dispute Resolution Training and Kashmir project leader), Douglas Johnston (ICRD President), Dan Philpott (ICRD Senior Associate), Firdous Syed (President, Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies), and Raouf Rasool (Executive Director, Institute for Reconciliation).
Trip Objectives and Results
1. To participate in a civil society meeting in Srinagar focused on the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
In 1989, in the context of a growing climate of alienation, unrest and violence among Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits (Brahmin Hindus) migrated en masse from the Kashmir Valley to refugee camps around Jammu. Many Pandits also migrated to Delhi. Reliable estimates place the number of refugees between 125,000 and 145,000. While some Pandits have built prosperous and stable lives in Jammu, most continue to live in four or five refugee camps in squalid conditions.
Repatriation of the Pandits is important for two reasons. First, their departure represents one of four deep wounds in Kashmiri history. Thus, return of a significant number would provide a major step in the healing process. Second, the return of Pandits would begin to restore Kashmiriyat, the distinct pluralistic vision of Kashmiri society composed of influences from Islamic, Hindu and Sikh traditions.
The last reconciliation seminar in Gulmarg in July 2002 brought together 50 Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims with a small representation of Sikhs. As a result of the profound process of healing and forgiveness that occurred between Muslims and Pandits during the seminar, the core group made a commitment to work proactively for repatriation of Pandits to the Valley. In September two members of the Core Group, Bashir Manzar and Gowhar Fazili, traveled from Srinagar to Jammu to visit the Pandit camps. The focal point of the civil society meeting was to present the report of their visit and to conduct an open discussion about the return of the Pandits. (Appendix B)
Seventy invited guests attended the meeting (which was closed to the press) at the Hotel Broadway in Srinagar. Presentations were given by Brian Cox, Gowhar Fazili, Bashir Manzar and Douglas Johnston. There was a great deal of passionate response and intervention from the participants following the Fazili/Manzar Report. In the end, however, there was a general consensus among the participants (1) that return of the Pandits was a good and necessary step and (2) that Kashmiri Muslims should proactively welcome the Pandits and create the conditions to make their return possible.
2. To conduct meetings with indigenous NGO leaders and Islamic clerics and scholars.
Since the work of faith-based reconciliation involves a broader process of sociopolitical healing, we were interested in meeting with indigenous civil society organizations involved in various aspects of humanitarian assistance in the Kashmir Valley.
A meeting was held on October 20 with leaders from a group of Kashmiri indigenous civil society organizations. The meeting was organized by A.J. Hanjura, President of the Confederation of Social Organizations (COSO) and a participant in the March 2002 reconciliation seminar in Jammu. A separate meeting was held that same day with a group of Islamic clerics and scholars. That meeting was organized by Professor Hamid Nassim Rafiabadi, Chairman of the Department of Islamic Studies at Kashmir University, and Imam A.R. War, an imam and Islamic judge from the Kashmir Valley.
The purpose of both meetings was to begin the relationship building process, learn about the nature of their work and situation, to apprise them of the Kashmir-related faith-based reconciliation efforts of ICRD and the new Institute for Reconciliation (IFR), and to elicit their opinions and support for the Pandit initiative. Both meetings began with cautious reserve by participants, but ended with enthusiastic support for the Pandit initiative and the commitment to participate in a delegation of Kashmir Valley leaders to visit the Pandit refugee camps in Jammu.
3. To meet with key Kashmiri separatist leaders.
As the work of faith-based reconciliation has unfolded in Jammu & Kashmir over the past two years, it has become increasingly important for IFR/ICRD officials to build and maintain relationships of trust with Kashmiri separatist leaders primarily connected with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). This is critical for five reasons. First, it is important for Hurriyat leaders to learn about IFR/ICRD’s work directly from us so as to diminish misunderstanding and possible opposition. Second, it is vital for us to hear their concerns and thoughts as it relates to our work. Third, it fosters long term trust that could enhance ICRD’s ability to engage in track II diplomacy with senior and middle level leaders and so contribute toward an eventual political settlement. Fourth, developing rapport with separatist political leaders will eventually open doors for IFR/ICRD with militant leaders. Finally, continued dialogue with both government and separatist leaders enhances IFR/ICRD’s public profile as willing to engage all parties to the conflict.
During the course of our time in Srinagar, we met with the following individuals: Professor Abdullah Gani Baht (Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference), Mirwaiz Omar Farooq (founder of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and spiritual leader of several million Muslims), Sajad Gani Lone (son of Abdul Gani Lone and Chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Conference) and Shabir Shah (Chairman of the Democratic Freedom Party). The next day following our meeting with Shabir Shah, he made a public statement to the press supporting our efforts.
4. To meet with the Kashmir Core Group.
At the apex of the work of faith-based reconciliation in Jammu & Kashmir is the Kashmir Core Group. This is the heart and soul of the movement. At present there are fifteen members of the core group who have made a threefold commitment: 1) submission to God, 2) commitment to one another, and 3) commitment to play an active leadership role in the movement. Members include: Firdous Syed, Raouf Rasool, Bashir Manzar, Bashir Mir, Ejaz Malik, Javid Ghulam Jeelani, Gowhar Fazili, Karamat Qayoom, Daoud Iqbal, Shaheed Sleem, Iftikar Bazmi, Anil Choudry, Athar Pervez, Tabarak Hussain and S.M. Zubair.
During the deliberations of the core group, we focused on the Pandit initiative, development of cell groups, the January program in Jammu, development of a video for use in a future visitation to the Pandit camps and the advanced training for the core group in Southern California in March 2003. A key goal with regard to the core group is to expand its membership to include Hindus (both Pandits and Dogras), Sikhs, and Buddhists and to achieve a sense of gender balance. We anticipate that the ultimate size of the core group will be about twenty five members and that it will reflect in its diversity the very movement that we seek to develop in Jammu & Kashmir.
5. To conduct an exploratory visit to Ladakh.
Firdous Syed, Raouf Rasool, Dan Philpott and I spent October 25 – 27 in Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region of Kashmir. The road to Kargill was closed due to weather conditions. (It was cold and snowing in Leh.) Ladakh is predominently Buddhist in its religion, culture and political alliances. Kargill is predominantly Shiite Muslim. Ladakh also has small minorities of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. The overwhelming problem for Ladakh is isolation, particularly from the rest of Jammu & Kashmir state. Situated in the heart of the Himalyan mountains (Leh is at an altitude of 11,500 feet) and part of the high desert steppes extending from the Gobi Desert, this contributes to the political pressure for Ladakh to seek the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir State and achieve its own union territory status within the Indian federal system. This agenda is largely driven by the Buddhist community, but there is a lack of consensus on this matter with the minority of Muslims in Leh and the majority Shiite Muslim population in Kargill. Ladakh is largely isolated from the intense conflict of the Kashmir Valley and is therefore not part of the zone of conflict. Other than the typical communal tensions between Buddhists and Muslims, it is a relatively peaceful environment.
By the same token, we heard considerable resentment expressed by Ladakhi Buddhist leaders toward Kashmiri Muslims, particularly J & K officials and state institutions. They felt invisible, treated with disrespect, and practically no sense of ownership in the governance of Jammu and Kashmir state. Apart from a very few government officials and some members of the business community, there is very little interaction by Ladakhis with Kashmiri Muslims or Jammuites.
In our typical pattern of faith-based diplomacy, we arrived in Leh early in the morning with no appointments and no idea of our agenda. We simply showed up and trusted that the doors would. And they did! The manager of our hotel, Wang Chuk, met us at the airport and drove us back to the Shambala Hotel. He knew everyone in the community and when we shared with him the purpose of our visit he was eager to assist us. He insisted that we rest for several hours (due to the altitude). In the meantime, he began to arrange meetings for us with key political, religious and social leaders. Later that day we had our first meetings with two members of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), one of whom was a Ladakhi representative to the Jammu and Kashmiri legislative assembly. Our time in Leh became filled up very quickly with appointments.
During the course of our time in Leh, we met with the following individuals: N. Rigzin Jora (Executive Councellor, LAHDC and Member of the Legislative Assembly), Rigzin Spalbar (Executive Councellor LAHDC), Mohammed Shafi Lasu (President of the Muslim Association of Ladakh), Tsering Samphel (President of the Ladakh Buddhist Association), Abdul Gani Sheik (General Secretary, Muslim Conference) and Dolma Tsering (Director of the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh).
6. To establish contact with the Kashmir Committee in Delhi
The Kashmir Committee is an unofficial track II group of eminent Indian statesmen and leaders seeking to contribute toward a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir conflict. Convened in July 2002 by Ashok Bhan, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, the committee has conducted meetings both with Indian government officials in Delhi and with the various parties among Kashmiri separatists in the Valley. Their efforts are in an early stage and have been limited to the bilateral dynamic between Delhi and Srinagar. They hope to expand their effort to include Jammu, Ladakh, Islamabad, Azad Kashmir and Kashmiri expatriates in the United States and United Kingdom. Toward that end they need and are desirous of a partnership with a credible outside NGO that has expertise in track II diplomacy and a network of contacts in Pakistan, the United States and United Kingdom. ICRD is a perfect fit for their needs.
Firdous Syed, Raouf Rasool, Dan Philpott and I met with Ashok Bhan and Ambassador V.K. Grover (former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs) at the Indian International Center Club in Delhi. They briefed us on the genesis and activities of the Kashmir Committee. We introduced the work of ICRD in Kashmir and our efforts in track II diplomacy. We all agreed that a common effort was worth exploring and that the next step was for ICRD officials to meet with the whole Committee in January.
7. To continue building links with senior officials from the Congress Party in Delhi
A desired meeting with Sonia Gandhi did not materialize this time. She was preoccupied with the efforts of Congress Party officials to form a government in Jammu & Kashmir state following the recent elections. However, we did meet once again with Eduardo Faleiro, senior member of Parliament and former Deputy Foreign Minister. He is very interested in working with IFR/ICRD to involve Indian M.P.’s in the healing process in Kashmir.
The core group and I believe that the following steps need to be taken in the next few months:
- Creating a video of Kashmiri Muslims speaking words of welcome and healing to Kashmiri Pandits for use in the refugee camps.
- A reconciliation seminar in Jammu for 80 Kashmiri Pandits/Kashmiri Muslims/Dogras, Sikhs and Ladakhi Buddhists in January.
- A visit to the Pandit refugee camps in January
- A civil society forum in Jammu for spreading the vision of faith-based reconciliation to influential leaders.
- Meetings with the new chief minister and other government officials in Jammu.
- Meeting with the Kashmir Committee in Delhi.
- Moving forward with the faith-based reconciliation work in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir with a visit in January.
- Bringing the members of the core group to the United States March 10-31, 2003 for three weeks of advanced training in Southern California.
Kashmir is situated in the heart of the Asian sub-continent, with an area of 86,000 square miles and a population currently estimated at approximately 12 million. It is surrounded by four countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China with the narrow Wakhan Strip separating it from the Central Asian Republics.
India and Pakistan’s bitter dispute over Kashmir has proven to be one of the world’s most intractable problems. The tensions in Kashmir have stubbornly endured half a century and two major wars. Many geopolitical strategists pinpoint the dispute as the most likely flash point for the world’s first nuclear war.
The present cease-fire line, known as the Line of Control, between India and Pakistan has currently divided Kashmir into two parts. One is known as Jammu & Kashmir and is under Indian administration. It comprises 63% of the whole territory with a population of approximately 7 million. The second part is known as Azad (Free) Kashmir which has its own separate government, but is under indirect Pakistani control and also includes the northern region of Gilgit and Baltistan which is directly administered by Pakistan. It comprises 37% of the whole territory and 2.5 million people. There are approximately 1.5 million Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan, 300,000 in Great Britain and another 100,000 are scattered around the world.
When one considers the human toll of suffering on ordinary Kashmiris one must conclude that a human disaster of epic proportions is in the making. Kashmir needs and deserves the intervention of faith-based intermediaries to play a positive role for all concerned: Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis, in the cause of peacemaking, reconciliation and justice.
Historical Roots of the Conflict
Regardless of how much I have listened dispassionately to all parties of the conflict over the course of six missions, it seems clear that the conflict in Kashmir is based on four historical events. The first historical event involved the sale of Kashmir by the British to the neighboring Dogra prince of Jammu in 1846. Kashmir had been independent for over a thousand years until the Afghans established their rule over the territory in 1752. In 1819 the Sikhs from the Punjab replaced the Afghans as the rulers of Kashmir. The British defeated the Sikhs in 1846 and forced them to relinquish control. However, instead of extending British colonial rule over Kashmir, the British sold the territory to the Dogra prince. The Dogras ruled Kashmir as an independent principality until 1947, despite deep resentment from the primarily Muslim population. Kashmiris felt like chattel, being sold by one owner to another. This perceived injustice constitutes a historical wound and forms part of the collective identity and memory of Kashmiri Muslims.
The second historical event involved the accession of Kashmir to India on October 26, 1947 without any plebiscite to ascertain the will of the people. The words “Kashmiri Self Determination!” have rung like a mantra through many of my meetings in Srinagar, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad. During the period of the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, there were guidelines stipulated by the British that Muslim majority areas that were contiguous would form part of the new state created for Muslims. The Muslim majority in Kashmir Valley assumed that they would become a part of the new state of Pakistan. For a variety of reasons, the status of Jammu and Kashmir was not resolved in this manner, but became part of a deal between the Maharajah, Hari Singh, and the Indian government. Fearing Kashmir’s Hindu ruler would side with India, Pakistan launched a covert operation to infiltrate the valley and overthrow the government. In reaction to this development, Singh appealed to New Delhi for military assistance, agreeing in the process to become part of the Indian union. This resulted in Jammu & Kashmir, in fact, becoming part of the Indian federal state system and the secular democracy that emerged from it, a development that only served to deepen the wound mentioned above.
The third historical event involves the advent of Kashmiri militancy in 1989 and the reaction of Indian security forces (over 700,000) to that militancy. The police actions of these security forces (regardless of perceived need or purpose on the part of Indian officials) have enraged older opposition leaders, radicalized the current generation and contributed significantly to the growth of a distinctive Kashmiri identity. In addition the violence of militant groups against the security forces and their own people have caused extensive suffering and a sense of weariness of the conflict among average Kashmiris. The resulting spiritual, emotional and moral wounds represent a formidable obstacle to rebuilding a civil society.
The fourth historical event was the forced migration of Kashmiri Pandits (400,000) from the Kashmir Valley to refugee camps around Jammu in 1989. This resulted in loss of life, property, businesses and homeland.
If one were to take a strategic view of the healing/reconciliation process that will be required, one must conclude that a political settlement alone will not bring peace to the region. Any political settlement, if it is to be lasting, will have to be part of a larger process of sociopolitical healing in which people of faith have a major role to play. A political settlement amongst the power brokers of India, Pakistan and Kashmir will collapse if it is not accompanied by a movement of faith-based reconciliation among the people that (1) restores pluralism to the Kashmir Valley; (2) fosters individual and collective forgiveness; (3) promotes social justice; (4) restores a sense of community across regional boundaries; (5) addresses the historical wounds; (6) imparts a new basis for political order and civil society; and (7) seeks to provide an alternative identity for Muslims who are otherwise negatively influenced by the larger geopolitical currents in the Islamic world.
What Are The Causes Of The Conflict?
There are generally a host of background factors contributing to the cause of a conflict. Depending on whether one is talking to a Kashmiri, Indian or a Pakistani, they share different perceptions of how and why the conflict began. Among the causes are:
- Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir as a way of infusing Kashmir with Islamic fundamentalist ideology into Kashmir.
- India’s denial of any right to self-determination to Kashmiris and its refusal to honor United Nations resolutions.
- Ethnoreligious tensions in Kashmir, with religion playing a significant role in communal identity.
- The political mobilization of Kashmiris caused by increased education, greater media exposure and a resulting tendency toward political activism.
- Institutional decay of regional and local Indian governing structures that has contributed to an increased centralization in Delhi of decision-making on Kashmir.
- The stifling of Kashmiri political expression under Indian rule.
To what extent does religion play a role in the cause of this conflict? I have asked this question many times to numerous individuals. It appears that religion plays a role as part of the communal identity of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in a broader context of ethnoreligious nationalism. This conflict is not primarily about religious fundamentalism despite the attempts of outside militant groups to push the conflict in this direction. The form of Sunni Islam in Kashmir has been profoundly influenced by Sufism and is thus resistant to political radicalization.
To what extent can religion play a role in the resolution of this conflict? Based on considerable exposure to the dynamics of this conflict, I conclude that faith-based intermediaries may have an important role to play in its resolution, particularly in relation to Muslims. In the Muslim heart, faith and politics are inseparable and secular approaches are inherently unacceptable to a practicing Muslim. In spite of this reality, I have been unable to identify a single indigenous religious leader who has been a force for peace and reconciliation in Kashmir. It would appear that the ICRD approach of combining faith and diplomacy is ideally suited to this situation.
Visit to migrant camps: A few recommendations
A visit to the Kashmiri migrant camps in Jammu by a two-member team of Institute for Reconciliation has proved a big leap in the direction of reconciliation process given the positive and overwhelming response that it got from the migrant community. Despite all apprehensions and doubts, most of the people, with whom the team members met, were of the view that the concept of faith based reconciliation has a potential to help bridging the gulf that distances Muslim and Pandit communities. They believe that frequent interactions between the communities will not only do the desired healing but will pave way for something that may help get both the communities out of present turbulent situation.
During the course of discussions, the visiting team received some suggestions which the migrant community people feel would help in the process of reconciliation.
- Establishing a unit of Institute for Reconciliation in Jammu: This unit, the migrant community members feel, would provide a platform where community members can sit together and discuss issues of common interest frequently. They are of the view that like Muslim community in Kashmir Valley, migrants too don’t have frequent interactions amongst themselves regarding the problems that people of the both the communities are face to face with. Besides, they think that such a unit will help involving more and more members of the community into the fold and thus making it a popular movement. They suggest a regular interaction between the two units.
- Organising a broad-based reconciliation workshop: Another suggestion that was put forth by some of the community members was that a reconciliation workshop should be organised at Jammu involving maximum number of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. They suggested that at least one hundred members from the migrant community, from different migrant camps, should be involved in the process who will later become ambassadors of the reconciliation mission.
- Taking the movement to grass root level: A very interesting suggestion was made by some of the community members regarding the future strategy of the reconciliation institute. They want this process to reach the grass roots. In this behalf, they suggested that meetings should be organised between the people of the communities who used to live in each other’s neighbourhood before the onset of the trouble. They felt that these are the people who at the end of the day have to decide that whether they want to reconcile with each other and whether they want to live together afresh.
- Working amongst Kashmiri Muslims: Most of the community members were of the view that reconciliation centre should do more work amongst Muslim community in the Valley. Arguing that Pandits are a microscopic minority, it would be the majority community that would have to decide whether it wants minority people back or not. Citing examples from history, these members stressed that Pandits have been forced to migrate umpteenth times in the past too and therefore let there be a final settlement of the issue. Expressing apprehensions that if the community returns back to the Valley once again, who is going to guarantee that the ugly practice of migration will not take place in future also.
Visit to Pandit migrant camps in Jammu – a personal account
After the first reconciliation workshop involving Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslim it was decided that a team of Muslim participants would visit migrant camps in Jammu in continuation of the process that had just begun to unfold by the end of the workshop. We realized that enormous amount of courage on part of the participants led them to share their personal and collective grief and suffering. We witnessed that honest sharing can transform people and must be respected and valued. To further explore the spirit of oneness in suffering and to take it beyond the confines of the meeting venue, a visit by some Kashmiri Muslim participants was to be the next step.
Accordingly, Bashir Manzar and I were deputed to visit Jammu in the month of September and we visited homes of Pandit participants residing in and outside the camps and also met with some other members of the community. The experience generated so many emotions and thoughts that it will take a lifetime to unpack them but I will try to share some of the observations that can be made.
When I told some of my friends in Srinagar about the plan, they said why should I be visiting Pandit camps while the suffering is far too greater here in Kashmir and no one is bothered. There are too many widows, orphans, bereaved and people who have lost their homes and property in the ongoing turmoil in the valley, while Pandits in Jammu are better off by far. Some said that Pandits are a pampered lot. Both the central and the state government pampers Pandits and they are living better lives in the safety of camps in Jammu than any of us here. They also said that everybody from the humanitarian organizations to politicians visit Jammu camps as a priority while we (Kashmiri Muslims) are merely seen as terrorists who deserve what they are undergoing because we are supposedly the source of all trouble.
Nevertheless we went ahead with our plan, if only to know if the stories that take rounds in Srinagar are true and to what extent. How do Pandits themselves feel about their migration from Kashmir valley, which has been their home for ages? Are they living away from their homeland by choice? What were the circumstances, which compelled them to leave? Was it merely state policy whisk Pandits to safety, as many believe in Srinagar or was their enough fear in the atmosphere to have made a community of a such small size feel vulnerable and unsafe? What is it really like for a Kashmiri, used to living in spacious house to live in a camp? What is the condition of the camps … and so many questions that could be answered only through experience and first hand interaction.
Since we arrived in Jammu on the eve of a festival, we did not think it prudent to land up in the camps right away. We stayed in a hotel and from there called some people we had met in the reconciliation workshop and fixed to visit their places on the next day. But even before we set out for our visits we received an early morning delegation of Pandits associated with the Chamber of Commerce. They had heard about our work and were curious to know more. They appreciated the idea of faith based reconciliation and assured us their support especially in the section of people associated with trade and commerce. They also spoke of the efforts they had made earlier to maintain relationship between the members of the two communities but that they could not sustain it for too long. They also emphasized the need for a place in Jammu so that there could be sustained communication between the people of two communities.
From then on Anil (one of the participants in the workshop) played our host and guided us to residences of the members. He had already fixed our schedule for the day and we felt very relaxed to be guided in this manner. We began by visiting members who lived outside the camps. The houses we visited looked similar to the ones in Kashmir as though there were a deliberate effort to live back the life as it was in Kashmir. One of the houses even had an elaborately and exquisitely designed Chinar like gate. The residents explained that this keeps the memory of my homeland afive. We felt very much at home possibly because of our common culture and the fanu’uar foods that we were treated to. The conversations went on endlessly as they do in Kashmir. There was a special feeling like when we meet relatives separated from us for a long time. There was so much to catch up on. We could sense among our hosts a deep longing and love for the homeland. It didn’t need to be said it was clearly evident by the manner in which they had maintained continuity with their way of life in an alien land and the profusion artifacts that they had surrounded themselves with. We could also sense genuine gladness in their eyes. to receive us in their homes and I guess a lot healing must have taken place while we shared about our experiences and the situations we are faced with in either place.
The greatest fear that seemed to override the minds of most Kashmiri Pandits was not economic loss but the fear of losing community itself in the vast sea of humanity that is India… They so much want to remain Kashmiris and so easily find extension of their selves among the co- community of Kashmiri Muslims. At least with Kashmiri Muslims they can share the language, culture and the local idiom even though their religion is different. They can talk to us and share the inherited meanings while it is not possible with co-religionists from other parts of India. In Kashmir they also shared a relationship of mutual respect with other Kashmiris, while in a place like Jammu or Delhi no one recognizes them as a special community. They are merely outsiders who are encroaching on the local resources. But even now when we meet after thirteen years of separation, we seem to be familiar and know how to address each other and can share so much. In all our conversations the use of ‘we’ to signify all Kashmiris including Muslims and Pandits was frequent. We could still identify ourselves as a people apart from others.
From the homes we visited it was clear how much they must have had to struggle to settle themselves in a place like Jammu. It had taken years for some to finally resolve and make permanent houses in Jammu. For a long while they felt that their stay in Jammu was too temporary, hoping to return very soon. Some said that they can still not relate to these houses as their own, and that whenever they dream of home they can only visualize their houses in Kashmir.
I realized the difference between migrating for better opportunities like many of us do and being forced by circumstances to migrate from home and having no place to return to. I realized that Pandit migration was a tragic for Kashmiri community as a whole because they took with them so much that was us. It was especially tragic for the Pandits who feel so vulnerable as a conununity away from home.
From there Anil led us to the camps for the first time. Since most of the participants for our workshop had come from the Porkhu camp we went there to meet up with the people. I must confess that my idea of Pandit camps while in Srinagar was that these must be decent flats as befit the so-called ‘pampered’ community. To my shock the camp can be described no better than a slum. Pandit camps in Jammu are shanty barracks made of plywood or single brick walls. In the barracks each family has been allotted a room or if the family is really large two rooms at the most. The lanes between the barracks are narrow and lined by deep open drains. The residents have constructed toilets and small kitchens and walls around the space on their own. Once inside, we felt very hot. Three children who were sleeping in the room where shifted to one side to make room for the seven men who had visited the house. The immediate feeling that came to our mind was that this was no place to live for ten days and these people had managed to live here for more than thirteen years. Yet we were treated very hospitably, as we would be in Kashmir. Again we realized that Kashmiri culture was being lived with a vengeance even in terms of the food they continue to consume as in Namkeen Chai and traditional Kashmiri bread (chochwor!) We met up with most of the members that had visited Kashmir. Some of the members in the camp had to give serious explanation for having participated in the workshop at Gulmarg and had been blamed of having made a compromise with Kashmiri Muslims. We had to assure them once again that there was no hidden agenda and that none of the known political organizations had anything to do with our work. We decided to visit the camp once again on the next day in order to hear from more people and also to share the idea of reconciliation with them.
To our surprise more people turned up for the meeting than we were prepared to face. We expected not more than fifteen to twenty people in the meeting. But the hall meant for marriages and other functions, began to fill until we had more than hundred people many of whom did not understand why we were there. Some of the people were charged up due to the election campaigns and the offer made by the central government to give rupees seven-lac assistance for Pandits who chose to return to the valley. One of the elderly persons emphasized that they did not want this package because they saw it more as an insult added to the injury. He said that the problem of Kashmiri Pandits was not about money, but about insecurity and how they can redeem the way of life that was lost. Would they be able to return the security we felt in living among our own people and how would they ensure that now with the changes that our people have undergone by living away from each other?
It was clear that some of the people in the camp were mistaking us for the representatives of some political party or the central government. After hearing to some angry expressions some of our hosts thought that we must be asked why we have come to the camps in the first place. We began by explaining that we did not represent any official initiatives for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits and that we have just come as concerned individuals who are not happy with the situation as it exists. We have no offers to make because have nothing to offer except a patient hearing. In a sense we feel guilty for not having done enough to stop the migration when it took place and also for not having been in touch for the last thirteen years. It is partly to absolve ourselves of that gnat that we have come. We have also come to hear from your experiences and to observe how you people are living away from home and what you have to say.
This brief introduction changed the tone of the meeting and then on almost all the members individually began to share their experiences. Some laid emphasis on the unique brotherhood that existed among Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits and how they longed for its return, while others expressed the pain of living for thirteen long years away from Kashmir. While the elderly were very vivid about their memories about Kashmir and their desire to at least die in Kashmir, the younger ones were bitter about the state of helplessness and feared whether their future would be safe if they were to choose to return. Some of the members related the number of times Kashmiri Pandits have had to migrate from Kashmir and how every time after the peace was restored they returned to their homeland. They also said that if they were to return this time they would want to ensure that they do not have to migrate yet again.
Some of the younger members were very bitter about the circumstances that led them to leave Kashmir and said that under no circumstances are they willing to forget how some of their people were tortured and killed. We tried to explain that to reconcile did not mean that one has to forget and we did not expect them to forget what they had experienced. Asking one to forget would amount to disrespecting their pain and suffering. We only feel that hate should not be the motive for our actions and that we must forgive without forgetting.
One of the members explained how the state was maintaining the camps in bad repair so as to win the sympathy of the foreigners and visitors to the camps as a means of propaganda to impress upon them their own version of the conflict in Kashmir. He explained that they felt like animals kept in a zoo, displayed whenever the need was felt. The state according to them could do better and at least afford to provide reasonable conditions of living for the migrants. The dilapidated condition of the camps was a deliberate state policy.
Almost all the people appreciated our effort and felt that it was in some ways different from all the other efforts that are being made for their return and rehabilitation. They also felt that our efforts were in the least sincere and thus need to be expanded. Many emphasized that the greater part of the work is required in Kashmir, as they being a minority do not pose a big problem. It is only when certain receptiveness is created among the majority community in Kashmir that the return of Pandits can be made possible.
There was a difference of opinion whether they should return to their own respective villages or a separate enclave should be created to rehabilitate them in the valley. For some the texture of the villages over the years had changed so drastically that it was no longer possible for them to feel safe in their old homes. So though the interaction between the members of the two communities should get restored, but for their safety they must be settled in an all Pandit habitation. Some felt that this arrangement would not be healthy, as it would not help restore old relationship and increase suspicion and segregation.
The meeting lasted well over five hours into the night and at last when most people had spoken we sought permission to leave. But the people would not let us go and took us back to their homes where more rounds of tea and informal conversation resumed. We had to leave finally because of an earlier commitment to dinner with one of our Pandit hosts living outside the camp. The conversations at the dinners, which lasted well past midnight, were in my opinion, most fruitful. They operated in a language that can only be possible with the members of ones own community. There was endless joking and laughing!
To sum it all, I think what we encountered in Jammu was beyond our expectations, a tremendous and deep felt desire to restore the broken relationships and the way of life that has been lost. People are cautiously, willing to explore … because the stake is worth every bit of effort.
On October 17, 2002, the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD) conducted its seventh mission to Kashmir.