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Kashmir - Historical Background of the Dispute

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Beginning 1989, India witnessed immense atrocities in her Kashmir Valley. Kashmiri Pandits (descendants of Hindu priests), who are believed to be the original inhabitants of the region, over years, became a minority in the religion. After the onset of conflict between India and Pakistan for possession of the Kashmir territory, religion started playing an important role. Over the years, the Muslim separatists, wanting freedom from the Indian rule, initiated an uprising. The biggest victims of the uprising were the Kashmiri Pandits, who were seen by separatists as a representation of India’s presence in the region. This faith deficit resulted in mass killings and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits who continue to live in exile in other parts of the country.

This paper will discuss the background of dispute while discussing the viewpoint of parties and its current status from a standpoint of reconciliation. An analysis will be presented to discuss ways of reconciliation and what role religion can play in it.


The religious clashes in Kashmir started because of the ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan. As the separatists saw it, religion represented the political allegiance too. Per Mr. KPS Gill’s (Former Director General of Punjab Police) report, this has been the most successful, yet least recognized ethnic cleansings in the world. Per the estimates, between February and March 1990, approximately 140,000 to 160,000 Kashmiri Pandits had left the valley to move to other parts of the country, while the death tolls remain highly debated. The Hindu officials, intellectuals, and prominent personalities were specifically targeted. Eventually, estimated 400,000 (95 percent of original Hindu population in the valley) Kashmiri Pandits had fled the valley, and they became part of the ‘internal refugee’ population of the country. Further, the properties of Hindus were sold, vandalized or occupied by the Muslims in the region, leaving little hope for them to return.

Prof. K.L. Bhan in his article ‘Paradise Lost’ describes the outrage that Muslim community had against the Hindus. He writes that the separatist leaders called it ‘jehad’, a holy war, against the infidel Indian government, who according to them, was represented by the Pandits in the valley. As the threats to life, and number of targeted killings increased, Hindus fled, to save their lives and to escape Islamist extremism.


Ashima Kaul (journalist and coordinator at Yakjah organization in Jammu and Kashmir), in her article, gives an account of her conversations with many Kashmiri Pandits, who survived the events of the early 90s. As she puts it, most of them have been able to reconcile with their reality in exile, but have not been able to reconcile with their past lives in Kashmir. Quoting Aima (survivor), she says that justice would only prevail if the genocide is acknowledged and perpetrators punished.

Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma in their book ‘The Long Dream of Home’, have complied narrations of Kashmiri Pandits, about their lives during and after the exodus. Arvind Gigoo, in his narration, says that they do not talk about Kashmir at home. Siddhartha Gigoo talks about the despair and shock that he underwent after leaving his ancestral place under horrific circumstances, but he said that the need for survival had him moving. He further writes, “reconciliation in its true sense will happen when there is an acknowledgment of wrongdoings by the majority community of Kashmiri Muslims and when separatism and Islamic fanaticism cease to exist in Kashmir.”

In his conversation with Ashima Kaul, Gigoo narrates how his own friends and neighbors had turned against him and compared Pandits to venomous snakes. Upon being asked, if he would want to go back, he said that he would not go back and he cannot live there, adding that he hated those lanes and the smell of that place.


The Muslim constituency that wants reconciliation and harmony between Hindus and themselves, are relatively weak and silent, whereas the separatists who oppose this are stronger and know ways to force their decision upon others. While interviewing Aamir Wani (Kashmiri Muslim), I asked him what do the Muslims of his land want. He said that the majority wants the Pandits to return and for him, Kashmir was incomplete without them. He added that the wrong done must be acknowledged and apologized for, however, the fact that the majority Muslims were not a part of it should not be forgotten.


According to the Press Trust of India report in April 2015, the Union Home-Minister talked to the then Chief Minister of the state, to identify land in Kashmir for building townships to rehabilitate the Pandits. However, the vice-chairperson of Panun Kashmir (political organization of displaced Kashmiri Pandits) said that they had equal right over the land of Kashmir and to develop the land the way they wanted to. In short, the proposal of a separate township was not acceptable to them.

Moreover, in the earlier times, especially early 2000s, all such proposals were followed by targeted terrorist attacks on Hindu communities in and near Jammu (largest refugee base of Kashmiri Pandits). This increased reluctance among the Pandits to fall for any such schemes.


Various NGOs like International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) and The Art of Living Foundation, have undertaken different reconciliation projects in the valley. Daniel Philpott from ICRD, in his article, has talked about the success of their four-day reconciliation seminar and has shared some experiences.

As an initiative by a few Kashmiri Pandits who returned to the valley, and started their lives afresh, projects have been started to reconcile Hindus and Muslims by initiating personal dialogues between them. Under one such program, Muslim families hosted Hindu families in their houses for a week. The Hindu families who returned for the first time after the exodus, experienced the same love and trust. [Source: NDTV report by journalist Barkha Dutt].


Reconciliation, in this case, is not as simple as it seems on the face of it. It is more than the rehabilitation of Hindu families in the valley, it is about ensuring lasting peace in the community. The complexity of this issue owes to the fact that along with religious differences between the two groups, there have been differences in the political



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