On June 8, Ajay Pandita, a Congress Sarpanch was shot dead by terrorists belonging to The Resistant Front (TRF), an offshoot of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Except for the immediate outrage and the issue becoming a talking point on prime time for a few days, the humming birds went about their lives with Ajay Pandita getting added as another Kashmiri Hindu Pandit meeting the same fate as of his idol worshipping ancestors. Ancestors from more than a thousand years ago, who began paying with their lives ever since the pandemic commenced with the arrival of Zulju, a Turkic-Mongol Islamic ruler.
A lot has been said and written about Kashmir, Article 370, terrorism, and other issues pertaining to the sacred land of those who live as refugees in their own country. Copious amounts of literature, articles and films have been made to sympathize with one section of the population or the other. Governments have come and gone. Courts have seen footfalls. But not an iota of justice has been delivered to the aborigines of Kashmir who often end up like Ajay Pandita, if they are lucky. Otherwise they die worse deaths.
We successfully managed to reach this level of decay because the Kashmir conflict, so far, has been perceived as a conflict of territorial sovereignty by the nationalists, and a question of free will of the current inhabitants of Kashmir by the liberals.
The valley however, is plagued by a completely different issue, which is civilisational. This aspect of the conflict has been absent from the mainstream discourse. Perhaps, the political class that sympathizes with the cause of Kashmiri Hindus still does not have the stomach to recognize it as one in the open.
Why is Kashmir a civilizational issue?
The centuries long persecution faced by the native population, that continues till date, clearly establishes the premise that it is a ‘clash of civilizations’ between believers and non-believers. But what sets apart the barbarism of the invaders during historic times from the post-independence genocide is that the latter was aided by locals who turned hostile to the native Hindu population with the blessings of the then political class of the state; a classic case of xenophobia that fails to amuse the cancel culture of current times.
Overnight, the locals stoked by their brotherhood across the border, raided, killed, raped and drove Hindus away because they were ‘non-believers’.
The hatred for such non-believers becomes evident from the gruesome murder of Girija Kumari Tikoo, who was a lab-assistant at a government high school. She had left the valley along with her native brethren who were driven out in the early 1990s and was living in a refugee camp in Jammu. She went back to the valley for a few days to collect her dues from the school. On the way back, she was kidnapped, gang-raped, sodomized and cut into several pieces with a saw blade.
The message was clear – convert, leave or die.
Now, this message did not surface out of the blue in the ‘80s or ‘90s. It has been the message all along since Zulju made landfall in Kashmir. Ironically, the non-believers who are the native population of the valley, have been reminded time and again that they don’t belong in Kashmir. Centuries of continued oppressio has reduced the Kashmiri Hindu population to a miniscule minority. And the scattered few end up like Ajay Pandita, shot for the crime not believing.
The terrorist group TRF issued an open threat last month that any Indian who comes with an intention to settle in Kashmir will be treated as an ‘agent’ of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and not as a civilian, and as a result will be ‘dealt with appropriately’.
The change in demographic composition caused by this repeated onslaught has made the valley averse to its native inhabitants. In that case, of what good is a territory if it is not conducive to live?
This article is limited by words, but the above is proof enough that the conflict in Kashmir is not over territory but a much bigger conundrum arising due to the change in its demography.
How do we solve this conundrum?
As many Kashmiri Pandit activists and scholars note, the Kashmir conflict needs an urgent shift to a civilizational approach. So, the first step would be to openly acknowledge the civilizational nature of the problem.
And a civilization problem cannot have a military solution.
That is because, the military can, at most arrest the crisis from turning into mayhem. What we need is the political class to display strong political will, as an open acknowledgement of the problem will prove to be politically incorrect. Thus, a strong unwavering display of social will from the people of India will go a long way in making this shift of perceptions a reality.
With the first corrective step taken by the striking down Article 370 and 35A, it is necessary to effect policy changes that bring about a conducive climate in the valley for the original inhabitants to return and this will not be possible with just Kashmiri Hindus returning to the valley as they are too few in number and most of whom are scattered across the country and the world. The demographic imbalance should be set right for the welfare of Kashmir and the rest of the nation. In a way, it is incumbent on every Indian to ensure justice for Kashmiri Hindus. The new domicile rules notified is just a baby step in the right direction to ensure protection of Kashmiri Hindus.
Along with this, immediate state interventions are needed to preserve and promote the unique and vibrant Kashmiri culture. To begin with, the Kashmiri language should be offered as choice in schools across India. The road of affirmative action must be taken to accord the economically weaker Kashmiri Hindus a 25% reservation in Group II, III and IV services. Private investment in Kashmir should be given a tax holiday of 3-5 years to promote sustainable businesses and build a flourishing economy. Bollywood must be incentivised to make films that showcase Kashmiri characters in their films who practice their culture unapologetically.
The Ram Janmabhoomi dispute came to its logical conclusion after the temple was destroyed four hundred years ago. Someday, the Kashmir conflict will also see its logical conclusion and this article will become redundant.
Editor-in-chief | The Commune. The author tweets at @kaushikramasamy