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Let me begin by admitting that I would not be writing about the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits today if I had not been shamed into doing so. I would have written about the flip-flop currently going on in the Congress over whether Rahul Gandhi should be declared their future prime minister or not. The whole debate is pointless because we all know that whether he is officially anointed heir apparent or not, he is, and will continue to be, the most powerful Congress leader after his Mummy. Nobody else matters. Not even the prime minister. There really is almost nothing more to be said on the subject.
So when a young man called Rashneek Kher called to remind me that today (January 19) was the anniversary of the Pandit exodus from Kashmir and asked if I would write something, I started off by making excuses. Then I thought about what he had asked and felt ashamed that I had never written about something as important as the only instance of ethnic cleansing in the history of India. I happened to be in Srinagar around the time this happened and, like a lot of others, thought then that the overnight exodus was simply a cynical move by the hated Governor Jagmohan to clear the way for aerial attacks on the mass protests in the Valley.
Jagmohan had been so brutal in the manner he dealt with unarmed protesters that the worst rumours about him were believed. But, more than two decades later, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits continue to be unable to go home, and somehow this bothers hardly anyone except those who are victims of the tragedy. When Rashneek called me, he told me that his own home had been burned and that he had lost relatives in the violence and that the hostility of ordinary Kashmiri Muslims to their Hindu brethren made it impossible for even those living in pitiful conditions in camps in Jammu to go home.
So why does nobody speak for the Kashmiri Pandits? Where are those noisy human rights types who shriek nightly on national television about ‘internally displaced’ people in Muzaffarnagar? Where are the Hindutva wallahs and why did a Bharatiya Janata Party government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee make no effort to rehabilitate the Pandits? As for us in the media, why have we done no more about this horrible tragedy than write token remembrance articles every anniversary?
When I thought about these questions, I found myself wondering if this was not of a piece with the false secularism that our political parties have propagated ever since Partition. Under this ‘secular’ worldview, the only victims of communal violence can be Muslims. And, even here, some victims continued…