– By Anupam Kher, Anupam Kher is an Indian actor and the current Chairman of Film and Television Institute of India.
Every time I go to Jammu and meet the internally displaced Kashmiri Pandit community, I am struck by two things. Their staunch patriotism, and their optimism. Here is a community displaced from their homes, torn out of their state and made to abandon their moorings. For the past 26 years, they have been living in the most squalid conditions.
Here is where a new generation has been born, raised and educated in the most deprived conditions, and where they have gone on to get jobs all over India. A generation that should have been bitter, maybe even turned to violence, has instead chosen the path of light. It is working towards the betterment of their own lives, that of their families, and ultimately, of the nation.
People talk of tolerance. I say, this is what tolerance is. I went there recently again. And yet again, I was struck by their romanticism. There they were, dressed in their finest, 7,000 of them, talking, laughing and singing. And yet, when we were remembering the ones who have fallen, the graphic descriptions of what had been done to their near and dear ones was unsettling. They read out the way their relatives had been killed, and I have to tell you, a shiver ran down my spine.
One of those who was killed by militants was a Pujari. He was offered protection from the militants by a Muslim constable who asked him to convert everyday. When he refused, repeatedly, he killed him with his rifle butt. The details of the murder were excruciating to listen to.
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Another story was of a 23-year-old constable, who had come to meet his mother. He had gone to a shop to run some errands and was engaged in a conversation with the shopkeeper, who he thought was an old friend. He was kept talking long enough till the militants could come and pump some bullets into him. These were not fatal wounds, which was intentional. His hands and feet were tied and he was dangled from a bridge where he was left to bleed, even as a crowd collected and watched him die in agony. His widow was there listening to these ghastly details with composure.
I asked the organisers why the horror had to be recounted in such detail. They told me it is important to keep the wounds alive. Yet the leaders of the Kashmiri Pandit community have not become separatists, who, as their name suggests, separate people on the basis of religion. They walk freely in democratic India though they have raped, killed and maimed many Kashmiri Pandits.
Even after all this, the displaced Pandits have not become terrorists. They have instead gone on with their lives, even though the world seems to have forgotten them.
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Governments after governments have come and gone in the past 26 years. Promises have been made and not kept. But then Kashmiri Pandits are not a vote bank. There is no one to weep for their wounds. And now, there is talk in Kashmir about reviving the state’s special status, with the chief minister being called prime minister. I want to say to them that it is time to abolish Article 370. We have had enough of it! Kashmir does not need sovereign status.
Kashmir needs infrastructure. It needs schools, hospitals and industry. I conducted a 24-hour Twitter poll on whether Article 370 should be abolished. Over 27,000 people voted and 83 per cent said it should be. This is the only solution. It is the only way to undo the injustice wrought on thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who lost the right to call their home their own.