THE VALLEY OF NO RETURN: How Hindu Kashmiri Pundits became Refugees in a Hindu-Majority Country

By |2019-02-19T16:38:47+00:0019th February, 2019|

In the wake of the terrorist attack carried out by a Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e Mohammad on 14th February 2019, India should relaunch a comprehensive and cohesive approach to tackling terrorism on its soil. Over 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers, referred to as Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans have been killed in a bomb attack by militants on their convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir. The blast was triggered by militants to target two vehicles carrying the CRPF jawans.

It is undoubtedly the deadliest militant attack on Indian troops in Kashmir since the militants, supported by Pakistani intelligence services (ISI), started their insurgency in 1989. The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the blast. For the last three decades almost all major terrorist attacks, both within and outside of Jammu and Kashmir, can primarily be traced back to the work of Islamists based in Pakistan

Hindus living in Kashmir have been persecuted for almost seven centuries, but, paradoxically, it was only 1989 that several hundred thousands of Hindus had to flee the state because they were systematically persecuted in the only Muslim-majority state in India

Every time when there is a major attack, the report causes shivers and shock waves amongst the diaspora of Kashmiri descent in Denmark. One among many Kashmiris living in Denmark is a woman called “Ekta”, which means unity in Hindi. She hails from Kashmir, and as soon as I falter and say Srinagar or anything pertaining to a little south of Kashmir, she corrects me, “no, I am from proper Kashmir”. Well, had there been ekta, unity among Hindus, this tragic story of the exodus of the Kashmiri pundits would have been avoided, is a proposition reiterated by many Hindus I have met across Scandinavia.

Hindus living in Kashmir have been persecuted for almost seven centuries, but, paradoxically, it was only 1989 that several hundred thousands of Hindus had to flee the state because they were systematically persecuted in the only Muslim-majority state in India. The year 1989 was also the very year when a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for writing his famous book ‘The Satanic Verses’ and the year when Islamic fundamentalism was no longer a clandestine movement but an openly and undisguised form of social insurgency affecting many countries in South Asia.

But such is the lack of unity among Hindus that one can easily correlate the dismal condition of Kashmiri pundits (Kashmiri Hindus), to the fact that no sincere political effort has yet been made to rehabilitate them. So little awareness is there in the international forum on this subject that had it not been for the efforts of courageous writers like Tarek Fatah, a person of Pakistani origin based in Canada, even less would have been known in the public forum on this subject.

Within India, in the Kashmir province, when militants started randomly targeting and killing Hindus in prominent posts and organizations in 1989, it was no longer considered to be safe by the Hindu community to live there at all. Ekta remembers what it was like to be a refugee in one’s own country, not being able to return to the region where her great grandfathers always lived. She and many other Kashmiri Hindus have lived in tents, leaving everything behind. She was 16 at that time, so she vividly remembers the traumatic situation and what it was like to not even tell the neighbours that they were leaving. Instead her parents decided to tell the neighbours that they were just going for a couple of days and with just one suitcase, leaving everything behind. Her family decided never to return to the Kashmir valley.

Hindus are so unaware of the persecution faced by other Hindus that this is one of the primary reasons why the world does not bother to learn about the sad plight of Hindus in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Hindu girls are still abducted in Pakistan and systematically married off to Muslim men. This is documented every year by Pakistani human rights organizations. These girls are presented in court after a few months, where they are forced to say that they have willingly accepted the marriage and their new religion, Islam. In 1947, the population of Pakistan had a ratio of approximately 22% minorities, the majority of them Hindus. Now the dwindling minority population is reduced from 22% to a meagre 2% in 2019.

The story of the Kashmir valley is a difficult one to tell to an audience who have never been there. But anyone who grew up in India like me has seen innumerable Bollywood films where several parts of the film were shot in the serene and gorgeous natural surroundings of Kashmir before 1989.

The situation got worse as Pakistan started its proxy war with India, trying to disturb the situation in Kashmir ever since. When billions of dollars poured in from the USA, whose government wanted to lure Pakistan into fighting the war against terrorism, Pakistani generals brilliantly outmanoeuvred the Americans by playing the classical double game. While reassuring the Americans after 2001 that they would do everything to trace down Osama Bin Laden, they saw a constant flow of cash and sophisticated weapons pouring into Pakistan. General Perez Musharraf, who was in charge of Pakistan during most of that period, has made no secret of it and publicly admitted that of course his motive was to obtain the weapons and save them or use them on the border between India and Pakistan. The reason for giving Pakistan those weapons, of course, was that the Americans wanted them to fight the jihadists and terrorists crossing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Osama Bin Laden was found hiding in a compound close to a military garrison in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In 2011, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda leader was captured and killed by American marines in a covert operation.

Kashmir has suffered enough because Pakistan cleverly and conniving had a better long-term strategy than the Americans, who never wholeheartedly did anything to change the situation on the ground. Today over $900 billion have been spent on the war in Afghanistan, the largest and probably the most expensive war the United States have ever fought. The Trump administration now wants the quickest possible way out, even if it means capitulating to Taliban. Over 2000 American soldiers have lost their lives, and even a tiny country like Denmark has witnessed 42 of their soldiers die while being stationed in Afghanistan, trying to bring peace to the region.

Until now, Kashmir has been lying low, as it had little priority among the Islamic fighters in the region. With the utter victory of Taliban, the future of Kashmir does not look bright. We will once again see a rise in the meddling into the internal affairs of India by jihadists, who might become unemployed as the Americans leave Afghanistan.

The plight of the Kashmiri pundits is so tightly related to the geopolitics of the region that unless the global community understands the true source of the state-sponsored terrorism, of which General Pervez Musharraf has kept no secret, no permanent peace will prevail.

As Kashmiri pundits are migrating to other regions in the world, their story is getting diluted, their memories becoming vague and distant, as almost 30 years have passed since their huge exodus out of their beloved valley.

Those forcing them out knew the demographic game. Clandestinely supported by Pakistan, they could easily destabilize the region if the Kashmiri pundits were not present. The Kashmiri pundits have done well, as they have started migrating further to other parts of the world, such as Scandinavia, in search of better opportunities.

Will they find peace and harmony in Scandinavia? Will these countries remind them of their good old days and peaceful life with snow and serene lakes surrounding their houseboats?

Yes, if they try to look away from the strong Pakistani community in all three major Scandinavian countries, namely Denmark, Sweden and Norway. This month, Tehreek-e-Kashmir Denmark arranged a major conference, inviting Danish political party leaders and asking them to condemn India.

As you may have guessed, the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian parliamentary leaders have little knowledge of the plight of the Kashmiris. The representation of journalists with Hindu backgrounds are so dismal that you may not be able to reach double digit figures, even if you took all the three Scandinavian countries together. Additionally, those few who have the privilege and possibility of bringing to light the plight of women like Ekta and her traumatized community, have never done so.

Kashmir was once like Scandinavia, a place people visited in search of beauty and tranquillity. It is no longer that paradise. On 14th February, Valentine’s Day, was a day to be celebrated in the name of love, romance and serenity. Instead, it became a horrible day when once again scores of young Indian soldiers lost their lives trying to preserve the integrity of Indian territory.

As elections loom large in India this year, expect terrorism to be a subject of great concern. The security of the personnel fighting at the border should also be a main focus as one of the prime items of political debate. Cross-border terrorism has to stop and state sponsors of terrorism need to be named and shamed in the international forum.

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