||Much has been written about Kashmir, about her natural beauty, about the story of her kings (including the present day rulers that took over from the sultans, rajas, and residents), about the wars Pakistan waged over her with India, about the festering Kashmir problem, etcetera, but it has taken twenty two years for someone to write down a comprehensive account of the events leading to, and following, the tragic seventh exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. Yes, the author of this 680 page tome, Colonel Tej K Tikoo, claims that the latest is the seventh exodus of these aborigines from the vale.
On receiving a copy of Kashmir - Its Aborigines and their Exodus, I phoned Col Tikoo who is a Ph D. in defense studies, that he deserved another Ph D for this painstaking effort which has taken him more years than it takes completing a doctorate. In the process, one can imagine how he has trudged back in time to discover Kashmir's checkered history, endeavored to fathom her unique geographical, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity, probed numerous libraries, pored over heaps of printed material, traveled to places, interviewed people, and finally brought to bear on this monumental work his own personality and the experience of his ten-year stint on the LOC, fighting and monitoring the insurgency in Kashmir.
Unfortunately I have been one in that long human caravan of terror-stricken Kashmiri Pandit refugees who were forced to leave behind everything and flee across the Pir Panjal in search of life, liberty and security. Having survived the horrendous period, fought crusades for the rights of fellow exiles and written extensively on the subject, going through the book was for me a deja vu experience, like treading on a painfully familiar terrain. What looked like a formidable 680 milestones when I started the book ultimately turned out to be a heady journey where I had no idea of the time and finished before I knew it.
And yet, after this feast there was an insatiate feeling, for there is so much more that can be and needs to be written on the subject as to fill volumes. In that sense, Col Tikoo needs to be complimented for doing a commendable job of trying to stitch together everything in this book that starts with the history of Kashmir, moves on to describe the land and its people, including a commendable chapter on Kashmiri Pandits, another on Kashmiri Shaivism, and yet another on the much abused term, Kashmiriyat. From there he moves on to the genesis of the Kashmir problem and Article 370�the most fiercely defended as well as reviled, and, in my view, the root cause of the alienation of of J&K�racing on to Pakistan's fatal attraction for Kashmir that led to three wars with India, to the fuelling of insurgency, to the birth and rise of terrorism, to the targeting of Pandits, to their exodus, exile and its aftermath.
Written in lucid language and racy style, this boldly truthful, objective and unsentimental account should be an eye opener for the vast majority of Indians who must know the truth, and a voyage of rediscovery for the four hundred thousand Kashmiri Pandits thrown into exile, lest they forget what they have been going through.
For a change, there is no attempt at �balancing' or at trying to sound politically correct�an abhorrent and abominable affliction with many modern-day secular-liberal-intellectual commentators and writers. It is gratifying that Col Tikoo does not suffer from Stockholm syndrome. That would be tragic for an army man of his caliber. In the process, Col Tikoo has demolished many myths and exposed many lies with facts and figures. He has touched on several sensitive issues to give the other side of the numerous one-sided, Muslim-centric narratives on Kashmir. In the author's words, he has attempted �to provide the reader a one-stop reference point on every issue with which the Kashmir problem is identified'.
While doing that, he has explained the �Janus-faced' secularism of Kashmir, the gerrymandering of the two important constituencies of Pandits, and Nehru's �capricious' secularism in advising Kashmiri Pandits to remain subservient to the wishes of the Muslim majority if they willed to live in Kashmir. He has gone on to show how the successive state governments, through mala fide administrative and constitutional measures, applied a subtle, albeit unrelenting, squeeze on the rights of Kashmiri Pandits, forcing them into a silent exodus (two hundred thousand by his estimation) over four decades until 1989. From there, of course, it was just a matter of a few months of Islamic terrorism to complete the unfinished task of cleansing the valley of the Pandits. There was no difference between the first and the seventh exodus in that the Pandits were given three choices�either to convert to Islam, or to flee or to die�both during the reign of Sultan Sikandar in the fourteenth century, and now under the shamefaced and sham secular-democratic dispensation.
Col Tikoo has gone into detail on how article 370 of the constitution worked as a permanent psychological barrier between the people of the valley and the rest of India and explained why the long-standing problem of J&K was and will always remain an Islamic rather than a political problem. He does not spare the government of India for her �sterile' reaction to the communal frenzy unleashed on the Kashmir Pandits in 1986 that emboldened the radical anti-India forces and led them to defiant moves to radicalize the society, encourage beef eating and cow slaughter, manipulate temple encroachments and incite anti-Hindu feelings. With the result, every turn of events in Kashmir that the Muslim majority perceived going against their designs was blamed on the Pandits, whom the regional, and even the national media, portrayed as villains, justifying the culture of violence against them. One tends to agree with the author who states that real Kashmiriyat, (beyond the fact that the two communities had shared values rooted in common stock and ethnicity), was merely skin deep, always subservient to the dictates of radical elements within the Muslims and to the acquiescence of Pandits to aggressive Islamism, forcing them to play second fiddle and suffer in silence. Even that failed to bestow a peaceful coexistence that should have been at the core of Kashmiriyat.
Nor does Col Tikoo exonerate the Indian political class for its crass insensitivity �not to hear the shrill cries of Jihad', and for explaining away the rising Muslim communalism as an expression of the sub-national aspirations of Muslims of the valley and their desire to project their regional identity. He is equally unsparing of the Indian media and intelligentsia that helped in no small measure to sustain the �disinformation campaign launched by Pakistan and its proxies in the valley', in projecting Kashmiri Muslims as the victims of violence perpetrated by the Indian security forces. He has gone into the reasons for the moral, psychological and constitutional ineptitude of the government of India, and, even the large Hindu majority of India, who failed to recognize the tragedy of Pandits, and to provide succor to this battered community.
It may not be entirely the �untold story' of Kashmiri Pandit forced exodus, as the author claims in his introduction to the book, but it certainly is a compelling account that attempts to fill the many gaping hiatuses in the previous narratives on Kashmir.
There are unique touches of brilliance like the author's explanation of the contribution by the consistent cricketing victories of Pakistan over India (coinciding with the seizing of power by Ziaul Haq, the author of operation Topac, in the seventies) in modulating the Kashmiri Muslim psyche; how Imran Khan attributed his outstanding success in tearing into the Indian batting line up to his one-pointed focus during the games that he was treating the encounter not as a cricket match but as jihad.
Quoting liberally form UNHRC, NHRC, Geneva Convention on IDP, and civil and political rights of minorities, Col Tikoo has made a strong case for the minority rights, and internally displaced status of Pandits. He rues the fact that the return of the community to Kashmir seems a remote possibility as it has occupied �only the margins of political debate in the country', and because the reaction of Muslims separatists of Kashmir has raged from �ambivalence to outright hostility.' But he goes on to state that the new generation of Pandits faced an uncertain future in Kashmir and displacement �might eventually prove a blessing in disguise', a sad and depressing thought indeed, because it negates the spirit of reclaiming Kashmir, a struggle we are sworn to continue as long as there is life.
In sum, Kashmir � Its Aborigines and their Exodus is an engaging book, richly annotated, replete with tables, maps, graphs and histograms, embellished with relevant quotes at the beginning of each chapter, supplemented with an awesome record of the death and desecration caused to Hindus and their temples, and ending with ten voluminous appendices. The cover painting by the celebrated artist, Veer Munshi, of sagging bodies, sad and somnolent eyes, and somber expressions of refugees waiting in a queue, speaks volumes about the tragedy of the aborigines of Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits.
A must read.
Rating: [4 of 5 Stars!]