On 19 January 2016 I had the enormous privilege of being invited to speak at the prestigious London School of Economics on the twenty-sixth anniversary of a very sad, poignant event. On that day in 1990 almost the entire Kashmiri Hindu community of indigenous Pandits were ordered out of the Kashmir Valley at gunpoint by Salafi terrorist outfits: offered death, forcible conversion, or permanent exile. Not surprisingly, the last element was really the only option. Since then this community has been dispersed not just in India, but globally, with many remaining in wretched refugee camps in India, mostly Jammu. In fact they have not even been recognised as refugees by a media which insists on calling them by the more innocent sounding and neutral term ‘migrants’.
The persecution, exile and annihilation of Kashmir’s once vibrant Hindu community was one of the issues which Hindu Human Rights took up back when it was formed in 2000. This was a time of ignorance, apathy and even downright hostility to the subject even being raised. Hence the fact that the LSE hosted a seminar on Understanding Jammu and Kashmir was a milestone in itself. The breaking event was organised by the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK, LSESU NHSF Hindu Society, LSESU India Society, LSESU Sikh Society with support from Voice of Dogras, Queen Mary Indian Society, King’s College London India Society, UCLU Indian Society and Imperial India Society. The venue itself was important in its own rights. Vivek Nandha, a final year student of LSE, reminded the audience:
Lord Ahmed has never had any trouble in this. The existing narrative has denied the very existence of Kashmiri Hindus. Like with Hindus all over the world, including India, when this community faced massacres, rape, abduction, forcible conversion and genocide, the western democracies and political mainstream in India itself averted their gaze. With that very terrorism now stalking Europe the scene has very much changed. Yet this issue of Hindus in Kashmir remains sidelined. Hence I tackled the existing narrative and how it is saturated with Hinduphobia, but also that we must never give up. I cited the example of Helen Suzman, who for thirteen years was the sole voice of opposition to apartheid in white minority ruled South Africa. Yet she never gave up and always stuck to her principles against racism, discrimination and segregation, speaking up for the black majority who were denied a voice in their own homeland.
One of the reasons that Kashmiri Hindus have been sidelined in India is because the infrastructure of that country inherits the mentality and exploitation of the colonial masters from which it was inherited. British Raj may be long gone but a system which remains entrenched to benefit the rulers and not the ruled is never going to be in the interests of the majority.
It is important to remember that the ISIS-allied terrorists and similar outfits do not just threaten Hindus in Kashmir and elsewhere. There are other minorities also at risk.
Hence the event was privileged to hear from Syed Zafar Abbas from the Shia Muslim community, who has BA in Politics and History as well as an MA in South Asian Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He also concurrently studied Arabic and Islamic Studies from various scholars in the UK, most notably Hujjatul Islam wal Muslimeen Maulana Sayyid Ali Raza Rizvi as well as many others. Sayed has also studied fiqh and usul al-fiqh at the Islamic Seminary in Najaf al-Ashraf, Iraq, a major centre of learning in Shia Islam.
Other speakers included Dr Gautam Sen, former LSE lecturer, writer and international political economist; Col (Dr) Tej K. Tikoo (Retd), a Kashmiri Pandit, vice president of the AIKS and the author of the book, Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus; Tarek Fatah, Canadian/Indian writer, broadcaster, secular liberal activist and Bob Blackman MP, Conservative MP and voice of Jammu and Kashmir in the British Parliament. The session was co-chaired Kapil Dudakia, political commentator and Lakshmi Kaul, founder of KPCS UK.
These may be small beginnings but after fifteen years of hard work by HHR and others, the issue of minorities in India’s Jammu and Kashmir is firmly now on the political and human rights agenda.