Quantifying suffering and responses to ‘The Kashmir Files’

Who is to blame for that is second to an acknowledgment of the primary issue – injustice. 

By Sarah L Gates

In the wake of The Kashmir Files, speculation over facts and accusations of accountability have mobilised intergenerational fractures between Muslims and Hindus in India and Diaspora.

Political leaders have indulged in mudslinging, accusation, and counter-accusation cycles that have at their basis, despite attempts to sweeten the point, a general acceptance that Kashmir Pandits were indeed forced out due to fear of their lives and, for all but the most diehard conspiracy theorists, that this was due to terrorism. 

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Prima facie, Kashmir Pandits are in exile. Very few remain in the Valley and they are a people with a culture and community on the brink of extinction. Spread out around all parts of the globe, but mainly in Jammu, they are unable to claim their ancestral homes, their temples, their businesses or live freely among the majority Muslim population without fear for their lives.

That has been largely agreed, if my observations are correct, by consensus on all sides. We see this even in arguments with an asterisk *we acknowledge the pain of Pandits, but…followed by the typical refrain of whataboutery. Only the most grotesquely unethical persons claim this exile isn’t real.

The Kashmir Files; Image Source: Supplied

I will not make a list of the long line of arguments nor wade through the political and factional point-scoring. My prerogative is to establish a framework for thinking about the suffering of others and the right to justice claimed by Kashmir Pandits which is at its basis no less valid than claims made by Kashmir Muslims. We have heard the voice of Muslims in countless congressional briefings, reports, Kashmiri Scholar Activist articles, anti-Hindutva websites, and news stories.

The parameters of what each party conceives to comprise justice differ, the point of both seeking justice is a valid claim in the context that injustice has occurred to both communities. No rational person would deny that. Who is to blame for that is second to an acknowledgment of the primary issue – injustice. 

Whilst some thinly veiled genocide denialist accounts argue that Kashmir Pandits are to blame for their own suffering and the suffering of others, it is impossible to uphold or maintain this view coupled with their inability to safely return. Should it have been a simple mistake, a moment of fear psychosis that drove their families out of the valley, it would be simple to amend.

The families could simply return, mend relationships with the Kashmiri Muslim majority and go about their daily business unscathed, in the assurance that the wider community, police, and security forces have their backs 100% against terrorist actors. This point of view would take a position of neutrality that accepts terrorism in the valley, which is indisputable, is the prime reason for the injustice, and leaves aside, for the time being, the numerous contested claims of injustice metered out by all other parties.

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This is not however a possibility. If it is prima facie accepted, and which is also indisputable, that Kashmir Pandits are in exile, regardless of the causes, it is just as prima facie that they are unable to safely return. Therefore, they are self-evidently not doing so, even from neighbouring Jammu. The second part here can be understood by the ongoing calls of terrorists not to allow Kashmir Pandits, Hindus, or anyone who is perceived to align with either ‘Hindutva’ or the Indian Government to reside in the Valley. 

Whereas the most consistent accusation of Kashmir Muslims is that it is the Indian Government to blame for the suffering endured by their community, the most consistent accusation of blame made by Kashmir Hindu Pandits is that their suffering was meted out by terrorists and radicalised Muslims of their own community who had turned against them.

The first response of detractors is that Muslim suffering is not depicted in the film, that what happened to Kashmir Pandits is dishonestly portrayed, and that the representation of Muslims as terrorists and violent is Islamophobia. This is contrasted by the accounts of Kashmir Pandits who state that there is, overall, to summarise, a mixture of terrorist attacks, attacks of a communal nature and that the overall climate of terror induced by terrorists in the community, from religious sites, on loudspeakers, issued in public notices, effectively radicalised sections of their community who acted by the commission and by omission to enable their ethnic cleansing.

What Kashmir Pandits argue, if my synopsis adequately reflects their experience, is that their people were killed by terrorists or radicalised members of the community acting on their behalf. By definition, those who committed acts of violence in the name of religious extremist ideology can be safely classed as terror actors.

The line between a mainstream and ordinary Muslim, or for that matter, a person of any faith who indulges in religious extremism, who induces mass fear or terror into the community at large, is no longer protected by UN religious rights and freedoms.

The argument then, that the film, which depicts terrorism, represents Muslims as terrorists, cannot be said to be misrepresenting or stereotyping Muslims, if it is based on factual events. Upon this line of reason enter the disputed facts.

The arguments have not managed to get past, to this date, how it was that certain Muslims of Kashmir turned upon their neighbours if they had not crossed the line from mainstream Muslim to radicalised extremist actors. Those who failed to act, acted by omission. Acts of omission can be strategic aspects of terrorist activities and they can be for other reasons. Those who failed to act, and in that case, acted by omission can be divided between deliberate, non-deliberate, coercively controlled, and non-controlled actors. 

The Kashmir Files; Image Source: Supplied

Who is who in many cases remains subject to debate. What is not subject to debate is that these incidents occurred. The degree to which they occurred and the measure of support, sympathy, apathy, or empathy between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmir Pandits will probably remain in the akashic record, awaiting moments of historic truth revelation as time and nature are want to do.

Just as some Germans hid Jews from the Nazis we should not forget those Muslims who assisted their community members, who died due to perceptions of disloyalty for doing so. In the past eight years of listening, reading, and maintaining friendships with Kashmir Pandits, I have not heard a single case of anyone suggesting that all Muslims are accountable, or that no Muslims helped. What I have heard consistently from hundreds of accounts, is that the community as a whole, did not sufficiently take a stand against it and in many cases actively or passively enabled the ethnic cleansing.

Now to the measure of pain.
How does one measure pain?

1- Is it the impact of trauma on the nervous system?
2- Is it vicarious trauma and intergenerational trauma?
3- Is it measured by the responses of the persons who endured heinous violence, sexual victimisation, mutilation, and suicide? Is it measured by the stain on the hearts of loved ones, of lives, lost and destroyed?
4- Is it measured by loss of community, the fragmentation of community, the cost of businesses and livelihoods, the loss of ancestral homes and lands, temples, shrines, rivers, mountains, of orchards?

I have heard of the loss of beloved walnut trees, of animals, of the sheer absence of presence in place and space. I have heard of the loss of memories, stories, language, of customs. How does one measure the loss of loved ones, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and the homes and villages in which the communities were cohesively bonded to the land, livelihoods, and ways of life?

How does one measure the loss of the first snow at Herath, the smell, and the taste of the air? How does one measure the cost of not watching the waters change colour at Mata Kheer Bhavani?

The feeling that one may be shot on Amarnath Yatra?

Negation is a cost exponential to Kashmir Pandits. And all they have, to express this loss, are poems, songs, and paintings. Now they have a film.

Truth and reconciliation: An Indigenous perspective

Australia had its own Black Lives Matter movement. We have a governmental truth and reconciliation process. There is a genocide map with the number of massacres during the frontier period. There are numbers upon numbers of lives lost and suffering that can only be described as a long and slow attempted genocide.

The difference between numbers and reality is not only qualitative but quantitative. There are many gaps in the data. There are invisible, disappeared people and no starting point to work from. Nobody knew how many first nations were here before the brutal massacres began. There are cases of mis-attribution to causes and so forth and so we are always working on numbers that are to be checked and rechecked.

Let me give an example of numbers that change. One is how many thousands of years first nations have occupied this land. From the 1980s to the 2020s those years have risen from 10,000 years to an acceptable minimum of 65,000 and an upper limit of around 120,000 years.

None of those numbers can be reconciled with being here since the Dreamtime. There is an unbridgeable gap between ‘always was, always will be’ and data crunching. And it is possible to coexist with numbers and lived reality because we are not numbers, we are human beings. Some truths are known by being felt.

The Kashmir Files; Image Source: Supplied

There is one part of the Australian discourse that repeats in the case of India, and Kashmir, in responses to The Kashmir Files. The argument is that X no of Muslims and X no of Hindus died and since those figures are higher for Muslims than Hindus, the Hindus cannot claim genocide. This is like saying that in Australia more white people die in prison than black people. The trouble with this reasoning is blindness to proportionality.

There are approximately 3% of Australians of indigenous descent. For every one of those who die, in ordinary circumstances, there would be 32 who die of non-indigenous descent. For every one black death in custody due to incompetence, neglect, mistreatment, or violence inflicted upon their bodies, there should be another who is non-indigenous treated in the same dehumanising manner.

It is easy to see from the outset that if more white people are in prison, more of them will under ordinary circumstances die than indigenous peoples. To argue on face value numbers is so often not a measure of suffering but a game of deflection and it is a trope of number games played to whitewash, negate and explain away systemic racism and violence inflicted on black bodies in the justice system. The same logic can be applied in the case of the Kashmiri Pandits genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Systemic racism and violence in Australia are widely understood as fact. The qualities and quantities may be recalibrated, represented, reconceptualised, they may change in time. And we want them to change because we want to know the truth as fully as it can be known, and we want it to stop. There are hard facts to be drawn even from fluctuating figures because one act of racism is too many.

It is a matter of principle. If the principle is clear, that abuse of indigenous peoples is an act against humanity, it is an act against humanity both here and elsewhere. Let us use this model as a basis of thinking. 

Kashmir Pandits are the equivalent of First Nations people who were not converted by missionaries to Christianity in Australia and who still live in accordance with their ancestral customs, their kinship systems, and their continuous cultural ways of life from at least five millennia of calendar records. There is a difference in the culture and the extent of technological development between different indigenous peoples around the world. Needless to say, no amount of ‘civilising’ negates one’s indigeneity. Nor does conversion to Abrahamic religion take away one’s indigeneity. Muslims of Kashmir and Hindus are, in many cases though not always, from the same stock as it was Kashmir Hindus or Buddhists who converted to Islam over 700 years. 

The difference is that Kashmir Pandits did not convert. The indigenous Kashmiris may be all ‘traditional owners’ to use Australian terminology, however, Kashmir Pandits fit the criteria of traditional owners AND traditional knowledge holders AND cultural custodians of Kashmir. The Hindu ancestral traditional knowledge is not practiced by Kashmiri Muslims as it is against their religious beliefs. 

The Kashmir Files; Image Source: Supplied

The classification of groups in Kashmir is easiest to comprehend by comparing pre-colonial with colonial systems. The first wave of colonisation, when Muslims started to rule was in the 14th Century. The two sets of people are no longer the same. It is because they are not the same that there is religious conflict among these dichotomised ‘traditional owners.’ 

They are not the only indigenous communities with whom meaningful comparisons can be made. There is not one group of Muslim Kashmiris either. There are also tribal and nomadic Muslims and there is a range of different sects. In addition to this, there are other Muslims who have migrated to the valley who are not indigenous at all to the area.

So, the demographic has become almost entirely Muslim. The point is that they are not all indigenous, or ‘traditional owners’, meaning they do not all share the same claim to ancestral land, or what we might call, ‘native title’. In Australia, native title requires proof of ancestral claim. It is not a simple case of self-identification as we have seen coming from those speaking to the media about Kashmir. Ancestral identification is necessary to claim ‘native title’ or claim over ancestral lands.

Let’s return to thinking about numbers. The numbers do not make any difference to this claim of ancestry, ancestral lands, and ancestral culture. The numbers of deaths do not alter the fact of a long, 700-year genetic destruction of a people. That there are millions of Kashmir Muslims today and around half a million Kashmir Pandits suffices if we accept that both are indigenous.

Those who are Muslim, had they not been converted from their ancestral Hindu culture, would all be Kashmir Pandits today. That is what it would look like had no genocide, ethnic cleansing, or cultural genocide ever taken place. This should not be difficult to comprehend and yet, for some, the destruction of a people, the Kashmir Pandits, matters less than the crunch of numbers, like bones in a sawmill, to justify to themselves that what we all see with our own eyes, that which is self-evident, is not the truth.

Author: Sarah Louise Gates, Independent Research, Author, Ecocritical Theorist, PhD student

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The Australia Today is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Australia Today and The Australia Today News does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Kashmiri Pandits Websites

Kashmir As It Is
Kashmir Pandit Network
Global Kashmir Pandit Diaspora
Panun Kashmir
Art of Ravi Dhar
Core Sharada / YouTube
Ishwar Ashram Trust
Roots in Kashmir
Kashmir Pandits Australia
Subhash Kak on Medium
The Seven Exoduses of the Kashmir Pandits 1
I Am Buddha Foundation