Minorities play a major role
Barely three percent of the population in Kashmir today is non-Muslim. Another wave of distress migration spurred by sectarian killings could make the 'ethnic cleansing' of the Valley absolute, and carry it across into some Muslim majority areas of the Jammu region as well. This, it would appear, is the intent behind the selective killing of six Sikhs in Srinagar on February 3, 2001.
The first major strike against the Sikh community since the Chattisinghpora massacre in March 2000, in which 35 Sikhs were killed, the incident provoked enormous anger and insecurity in the minuscule Sikh community in the Valley, estimated at about 50,000. Sikh leaders have threatened a mass migration out of Kashmir unless the Centre is able to convince them that they will be effectively protected where they are; and the Centre, it appears, is beginning to respond, with a 'package' of security and economic measures being announced.
Irrespective of the actual implementation and impact of any such package, it is necessary to ask why, nearly a year after Chattisinghpora, did it take another massacre and a revival of the threat of mass migration by the Sikhs to secure this response? The policy of successive regimes on the protection of minorities in Kashmir has been, and continues to be, seriously flawed, with limited and entirely inadequate responses invariably following the incidence of selective and disproportionate violence by the terrorists.
Where such 'headline grabbing' incidents do not occur, and where a creeping migration has already been induced by sustained low-grade attrition - as in various Muslim majority and border areas of the Jammu region - there is no visible or 'proactive' action to specifically contain the pressure for migration and halt any movement that may already have commenced in this direction. Nor, indeed, has there been any clear declaration of policy on the protection of minorities and containment of distress migration in and from the State.
None of this is to suggest that the task of protecting a small and widely dispersed minority in a terrain such as that of Kashmir is simple, or that any easy policy option can be defined. But it is necessary to understand the enormity of what is happening. The issue at stake is not just the gratuitous violence directed against innocents, the tragic loss of life, and the atmosphere of terror under which all minorities - not just the Sikhs - live in the Valley.
Nor must such a focus detract from the fact that a majority of Muslims in the State also live in conditions of pervasive fear, that as much as 85 per cent of the civilian casualties have been drawn from their number, and that a very large number among them - particularly among intellectuals, professionals and businessmen - have also found it necessary to move out of J&K. The insidious and corrosive impact of selective murder must, however, be understood in fuller measure.
In the first instance, the 'ethnic cleansing' of the Valley was a primary objective of Kashmiri militancy from its very inception - and the proclaimed 'secular' character of the original movement (as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front loudly asserts) in the late 1980s cannot detract from the campaign of intimidation and terror that was launched mainly from the mosques in the Valley; and the selective killing of Kashmiri Pandits that provoked their migration en masse in 1989-90.
Whether or not the state encouraged or supported this migration, it is a fact that it permitted it without any effort to explore alternatives, and in doing so, substantially furthered the objectives of the extremist elements. But the 'cleansing' that the terrorists seek is not 'ethnic' or of the religious minorities alone. It is of all the dynamic and positive elements within Kashmiri society who could help in its reconstruction and in creating possibilities of a peaceful resolution. With each intellectual, each teacher, each entrepreneur, each trader who leaves Kashmir, the abandonment of its common people is the more complete, the economy stagnates, employment opportunities diminish, the possibilities of the emergence of an alternative leadership recede, society is divested of vision and vitality, and the strength of the extremists grows in the resulting and cumulative vacuum.
All alternatives to violence and the rule of the gun are an enemy to the terrorist, and militancy seeks to constantly circumscribe the sphere of such alternatives. Forcing selective migrations is consequently, a critical imperative of strategy for those who are planning and executing the terrorist campaign in J&K, as in other parts of India. Strategic requirements, thus, add inexorable force to the purely administrative and humanitarian consideration that demand the effective protection of these groups, and the stemming of the trickle - or tide, as it may be - of migration, and give urgency to the need for a comprehensive policy initiative in this context.
It is important, here, to understand that absolute numbers do not matter. The Kashmiri Pandits were a very small percentage of the Valley's population, barely 12 per cent; the Sikhs constitute an almost negligible proportion. What matters is the role - cultural, intellectual, economic and political - these communities play, or have historically played, in the region.
A small digression helps illustrate the point. The total population of Sikhs in Ranjit Singh's sprawling empire was a bare 2 per cent, and the role of Hindu and Muslim administrators and military commanders in what was perhaps the most truly secular government this country has ever seen was overwhelming. Yet, it was the Sikhs under the Maharajah's leadership who catalyzed the great and unprecedented imperial enterprise that created an empire that extended from Tibet to Sind, and from the Khyber Pass to the Sutlej, and their moral authority was unquestioned.
Very small communities have, in many different ways, enormously influenced the history of vast regions. The imprint of the Pandits and the Sikhs on the history and culture of Kashmir is undeniable, and the efforts to obliterate it through brute violence is bound to distort the entire social system beyond recognition, forcing it into a regressive primitivism that can benefit none of the communities in the long run.
This is, however, not a problem restricted to the Valley or the State of Jammu and Kashmir alone. The proliferation of 'freedom movements' in other parts of the country, and particularly in much of the Northeast, is largely based on exclusionary ideologies that direct the wrath of militancy primarily against minority ethnic, linguistic and religious groups - often referred to as 'outsiders', irrespective of the tenure of their residence in these regions
The 'cleansing' of local societies of these 'alien' elements appears to be a significant component of the 'ideology' of most extremist groups, and is given primacy particularly where the situation destabilizes, or when the militants feel themselves under extraordinary pressure, as has been the case with the succession of massacres of 'Hindi speaking' people in Assam over the recent months. The crippling parochialism of these perspectives, and the hatred, the intensity and the bloodshed it produces, are challenges governments both at the Centre and in the States must meet.
During the years of terrorism in Punjab, several attempts had been made by the extremists to force an increasing polarisation of communities, and an eventual migration of Hindus from the State. This was substantially unsuccessful as a result of a multiplicity of factors, including the greater balance in the distribution of populations, and much deeper family, social and cultural relations between the Hindus and the Sikhs.
Nevertheless, the state's policy - defined by the Punjab Police and implemented by the various Security Forces deployed there, since all other branches of the 'state' had temporarily withered away, entirely unmindful of their duties to the nation and its Constitution - had a critical role to play in ensuring that the scale of migration from areas of concentrated terrorist activity never went beyond a trickle that was reversed almost as soon as a focused fight-back was organized against terrorist violence.
The policy defined and rigorously implemented in the Punjab was that, wherever there were three or more Hindu families in a village, they would be provided protection by the state and would be encouraged to continue residence there. In case there were less than three Hindu families in a particular village, they could be relocated with their consent and cooperation to the nearest village with a significant Hindu population - and never to any distant 'camps' or 'resettlement' areas.
The intention was to ensure that their linkages with their properties, their land and their neighbours were not broken, and that their movement was seen as, at worst, a temporary shift without any loss of control over their local assets or of contact with the local people. The policy was immensely successful, though a substantial number of people did migrate as a result of the pressures of terrorism despite the policy. Such migration, however, was overwhelmingly 'internal' and comprised primarily of a shift from relatively poorly protected rural areas to the towns and cities of Punjab - a pattern that was followed not only by the Hindus but by large numbers of Sikhs as well.
This is not to suggest that such a policy can simply be transplanted to Kashmir or to Assam. The terrain and the dispersal of populations in both these States would make it impractical. The point, however, is that coherent policy options must be defined, assessed and implemented, given these ground situations. If the relocation of threatened populations is an inescapable imperative, then it should be carried out within the region, with a concentration of dispersed families, settlements and groups in protected areas located as close to the areas of their origin as possible.
Their control over and contact with their properties and assets must be sustained. The worst possible option is the kind of 'flight' that was permitted in the case of the Kashmiri Pandits, whose return to the Valley has become a virtual impossibility in the prevailing circumstances, and that will face significant hostility and opposition even after the return of peace because other interests - including the forcible occupation or acquisition of their properties - have become entrenched in their absence.
In any event, the fitful response of heightened deployment of security forces after each massacre is no policy, and can have little impact on the recurrence of selective carnage.(Tehelka.com, February 14, 2001)