Author of 'Of Gardens and Graves: Essays on Kashmir| Poems in Translation', and an academician, Suvir Kaul spoke to The Logical Indian while commemorating 30 years of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, about various topics pertaining to the region - ranging from its history under the Dogra regime, to the most recent political developments in the Valley.
During the detailed conversation, he revealed and reiterated several facts lost to the memory or buried in time, about Kashmir's complicated and dispiriting past.
Touching upon recent developments, the professor also expressed his reservations on certain ideas being floated on the future of the troubled vale.
Excerpts from the interview
Many people refer to you as a historian, thus would you be able to give us a brief insight into the relationship that Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits shared before India's independence, during the Dogra rule more specifically?
The fact is that under the Dogra Maharaja, Kashmiri Pandits, and Hindus more generally, had many advantages. The Dogra Maharaja, Hari Singh, was quite sure that his feudal role was going to be supported either by people with bureaucratic expertise - Muslims imported from Punjab, Punjabi Hindus, or by Kashmiri Pandits.
Pandits also possessed literacy, which meant that they were able to occupy a great many of the bureaucratic roles for revenue extraction, land record-keeping, et cetera. There were, of course, a few Muslim landlords who had equivalent power, but for the most part, Muslims were poor peasants without basic education.
Senior Kashmiris, particularly Muslims presently residing in the Valley, say that there used to be an 'unwritten rule' to not allow the admission of any Muslim into a school. Is there any truth to that belief?
I do not know about an 'unwritten rule' but there were a precious few schools and the Maharaja was not interested in making higher education available to Kashmiri Muslims. So, even if basic education could be provided to a small number of Kashmiri Muslims and indeed a small number of Kashmiri Pandits, higher education was not encouraged.
Therefore, we are talking about a situation where due to many decades of Dogra rule, there was a huge disproportion between the educational credentials of the large mass of Muslims and the remaining Hindus. Pandits, in particular, had access to secondary and tertiary education.
Since that time, if we look at the events in 1947, Kashmir saw no internal rioting. However, in January 1990 the region saw the exodus of the Pandit community. What led for a transition of Kashmir - from a secular and composite society, to one which was sectarian enough for an entire section to forcefully migrate?
These are extraordinarily complicated events. Yes, Kashmir saw no communal rioting but the history of Jammu Muslims is often left out.
Remember, 1947 is not just about the anti-colonial movements in India that led to her independence, because in Kashmir there was a parallel movement (not identical) led by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. The idea was to get rid of the Maharaja, as their anti-colonial movement was directed at his legacy, and not the British.
So, in 1947 - there are extraordinary records available which point to the fact that one of the most malicious acts that the Dogra state performed was to rid its Jammu province of Muslims. It was a plan to be executed either by pushing the Muslims into Mirpur or Poonch, or by massacring a large number of them.
State forces with the accompaniment of Hindu and Sikh refugees - who had just moved into the area, who were actually armed by the Maharaja, executed that plan. And that pogrom is not part of the usual record of the history of Jammu and Kashmir.
While it is true that Kashmir saw no rioting, Jammu province tells a very different story.
Also, the first armed rebellion against the Maharaja took its birth in Mirpur and Poonch, where people who had once been a part of the British army and demobilised after the war but were trained soldiers, actually took up arms against the Maharaja.
Thus, I am reminding you that 1947 was a very complex mix of events and the history of Jammu and Kashmir is different from the history of India.
What happened later that led to the exodus?
My grandparents were living in Kashmir at that time and we lived in Bengal. We would always go to the Valley during summers and during our vacation periods to spend time with them.
Then, when my parents retired they shifted back to their ancestral home in Srinagar but they would come to Delhi during the winters. When the events of January 1990 took place, my father went back home - over the next three summers, just to keep an eye on our ancestral home.
You must remember that civil society had collapsed and Srinagar had turned into a massively militarised state where the militants were battling the CRPF, the BSF, and the Army in the city.
Now, what happened in 1990 was cataclysmic. A tiny minority felt scared enough, they felt their lives were threatened enough to leave and live the next part of their lives in refugee camps in Jammu and elsewhere. Of course, several of them, who were from the middle class had family elsewhere and had homes in other cities to help them settle.
However, this was a remarkably painful moment in the lives of Kashmiri Pandits and (I am happy to argue) Kashmiri Muslims as well. The Muslims saw the lives they had known being ripped apart. The people who suffered displacement went through a lot, but Kashmiri society and life changed - not for the better, but worse. Apart from our community, Kashmiri Muslims also mourn the losses that were a result of all that happened at that time.
The Modi-led government, even in its manifesto, has promised the return of Pandits to the Valley. Many believe that after the abrogation it is possible, what are your thoughts?
It has been 30 years and no government, especially the current one, is going to do anything about Kashmiri Pandit lives. There have been small attempts in the past that have been marginally successful but nothing will change for the Pandits post the abrogation. No government so far has treated us as anything more than a political weapon in their armoury - that can be produced when needed as an alibi for their inaction or for their vicious actions against Kashmiris, Muslims in particular, by saying: "What about Kashmiri Pandits?"
Therefore, why should Article 370's abrogation change anything? For the most part, not all of them, but most Kashmiri Pandits are very well settled all over the world. None of us, even me, is going to give up the privileges we have in the West or anywhere, to live in Srinagar. I cannot imagine living there and I am happy to speculate that this is true for most of the Kashmiri Pandit diaspora.
Recently, Indian's consul general in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, spoke about emulating an 'Israeli model' in Kashmir for the resettlement of Pandits. What do you think about the duplication of such a model?
That conversation is one of the ugliest conversations I have heard in recent days. We know that this government, in particular, is deriving a great deal of its security apparatus - weapons, arms and strategies - from the Israeli occupation and destruction of Palestinian lives. There is no question about that connection.
But to see an Indian diplomat, say this out loud to a group of assembled Kashmiri Pandits is very disheartening. It is a reminder that so many of our government institutions are being taken over by a Hindutvavadi mindset.
So, I don't for a second believe that this recent political move which is an appeal to the Hindutva constituencies in India more than an actual solution to the problems of Pandits and Muslims, has any credibility.
What has happened in Kashmir since August 2019, has triggered further the alienation of Kashmiri Muslims from the Indian state. Who can blame them at this point?
What do you think of the settler-colonisation project that some pockets of the Kashmiri Pandit community demand?
I do not see how Kashmiri Pandits will go back into armed camps. How many of them can or will do that? Or, are we talking about the much more nefarious model that has been circulated in right-wing groups in India, where it was said that retired armed force personnel will be sent to Kashmir, given a plot of land, and told to settle there with the underlying assumption that this will lead to a demographic change.
I don't think any of the two are credible options. People may fantasize about it, but given the topography and demography of Kashmir, this is not an acceptable option and I hope it never takes place.