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A conversation about Kashmir
Under the auspices of its newly introduced monthly Hindus For Human Rights (HFHR) hosted Untold Stories From Kashmir on Saturday, March 18th, at the India Community Center and over Zoom.
The speakers of the evening included Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times, Ajay Raina, Documentary Filmmaker and Bill K Kaul, Author of the Exiled Pandits of Kashmir-Will They Ever Return Home.
From personal narratives to hope for peace in their motherland via varied strategies-the speakers expressed their views and also addressed some audience questions.
The Kashmir Valley after Article 370
After a brief introduction about HFHR and the speakers of the evening by Raju Rajagopal, co-founder of HFHR, the first speaker of the function, Anuradha Bhasin spoke about the aftermath of conditions in the Kashmir Valley after the revocation of Article 370.
Bhasin commenced her talk by alluding to the wider definition of Kashmir – India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) including regions of Leh, Ladakh, and others, and the part controlled by Pakistan (popularly known as POK).
She stated that people on both sides of the border have suffered in the last 70 years and are victims and pawns due to the quirk of history and competing claims and politics of India and Pakistan.
Clarifying that her expertise lies in the Kashmir region in India, she commented, “Democracy in J&K was always observed in breach. The problem is not of today but of successive governments of the past. Post 2019 abrogation of Article 370, it has become even more chaotic.”
An undemocratic move
She stated that revocation of Article 370 was done undemocratically and unconstitutionally resulting in internal and external unrest. “On the external border front, we are more threatened by both Pakistan and China. Internally attacks on unarmed civilians are on a rise,” said Bhasin.
She agreed that as a part of the Indian central government’s promise of investment in development, tourism in the Kashmir Valley has increased and a change in land laws has resulted in a greater number of business proposals from non-Kashmiri outsiders. Similarly, Bill Kaul also mentioned hearing anecdotes of rising tourism in the Valley and tourists feeling safe but the rampant presence of paramilitary forces.
“Jammu and Kashmir deserve peace. Security in South Asia is threatened if J&K is not peaceful,” added Bhasin.
Then, filmmaker Ajay Raina spoke about his latest film titled Moute Rang (colors of your face at the moment of death). “This movie has been made over many years. It mainly features Sanjay Tickoo– an active leader of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed behind in Kashmir despite the group’s huge exodus at the peak of terrorism in 1989 and follows a group of local Hindu pandits in Kashmir traversing the landscape of Kashmiri Hindu spiritual geography-sites of massacres, desecrated temples, while expressing their views of the happenings of last 30 years.”
From about 30,000 in the 1980s, the number of the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley has fallen to about 2000 and the documentary showcases how the dwindling has come about.
“My film is a record and an archive. Violence and bloodshed are not an answer to any problem, but only via a difficult conversation can any solution be found,” told Raina.
The Hindu Pandit community
His brief introduction was followed by excerpts from his movie showcasing the life of the minority Hindu Pandit community in the Kashmir Valley.
The final speaker of the evening, Bill Kaul, joined the conversation via Zoom from Perth, Australia. He had left Kashmir in 1989 fearing the crisis in the Valley. “All Kashmiris have stories-me included and while some stories may overlap, all don’t. My mom used to say that digging old bones causes new issues. For me, Hinduism is synonymous with humanism and I believe in a global village,” said Kaul.
He went on to centralize the human experience in his talk and reiterated the need for human feelings to be kept central for any resolution to work. “Force does not bring peace. People become stoic and buy time but if the underlying issues remain, and the longer it remains, it rebounds with a greater impact,” said Kaul.
Building bridges towards peace
Later while answering audience questions, Raina opined that primarily it is the responsibility of the majority populace in a nation (Hindus in India) and in a state (Muslims in Kashmir) to take the first step in building bridges across religious and other divides.
Bhasin suggested that a people-to-people dialogue is the essential first step toward peace and also pronounced the need for an India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir.
Replying to a query on rising authoritarianism in India, Kaul chimed, “Authoritarianism is on the rise globally and has become the new norm. Freedom of the press is paramount to keep governments in check and to qualify as a democracy.”
Image credit: By Aehsaan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14904614