Resilience: The plight of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits

Wednesday 11th September 2019 06:03 EDT

Two British Indians are trying to shed light into the plight of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits following their mass exodus from the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. About 30 years ago over 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus fled from the Valley following Islamist insurgent attacks on them. Gradually they found refuge in parts of India, USA, EU and the UK. In recent times, mainstream international media has extensively reported about Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, many pockets of international media and think-tanks in their historic analysis of Kashmir have failed to address the conditions and concerns of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits.

Away from the political noise underpinning Kashmir today, Ramon and Arjun cast a light on the humanitarian stories rarely discussed in western media. Their documentary 'Story of Kashmiri Pandits', features anecdotes from the Kashmiri Pandits now settled in the UK.

A humanitarian approach

“I started working on this documentary after I attended an event hosted by the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK. Before going to that event, my knowledge of Kashmir was limited to what I read in mainstream media and knew very little about the subject.

“I didn't understand the history, conflict and complexities of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. But after meeting some Kashmiri Pandits, I realised that their stories and experiences are equally important in understanding the bigger picture today,” says Arjun, London-based filmmaker and director of the documentary.

Aside from echoing voices of the Kashmiri Pandits, Arjun also interviewed Paul Scully MP for Sutton and Cheam. Over the years British MPs such as Paul Scully and Bob Blackman have actively supported and campaigned for the rights of the Kashmiri Pandits. From parliamentary debates to working on community-led projects, these MPs have assisted the Kashmiri Pandits in finding a haven in the UK.

But, in their quest to learn about the root causes that trouble Kashmir ever since the independence of India in 1947, Arjun travelled to Delhi and interviewed Sushil Pandit. A long-standing advocate of the Kashmiri Pandit community, Sushil is the founder of 'Roots in Kashmir'. A historian and a social activist, Pandit has been instrumental in raising awareness about the mass exodus of the community in 1990 at international forums and diaspora groups.

“Upon speaking to these people and in the process of filming this documentary, I was shocked when I realised that their stories were completely ignored in the past by some reporters, politicians and even some activists. And through this documentary, I aim to educate and inform not just the South Asian diaspora settled in the UK but a wider international audience,” said Arjun.

Diplomacy and politics

He is further assisted by Ramon Menon, producer of the documentary in reviewing existing literature and gathering factual data. Ramon analysed the influence of Hindu nationalism on Indian foreign policy in his dissertation during his under-graduation in politics at King's College. This research-intensive paper helped him gauge the log-jam between diplomatic bilateral relations and insurgency on the ground in J&K. Now, slated to pursue his post-graduation in conflict studies at London School of Economics with special focus on Kashmir, he discussed the UK's role in Kashmir politics.

“Kashmir is an internal bi-lateral issue for India and Pakistan to solve between themselves and I agree with the UK's official line of argument.

“I don't think that the Kashmir crises is the same as Arab-Israel crises because the latter has a mediator in the form of US whereas these South Asian countries are too large to need a mediator. The Kashmiri Hindu society is very small and they need our support to voice their concerns in light of present events,” says Ramon.

Following the abrogation of Article 370, protests from members of the Azad Kashmir, Khalistan, and Pakistani diaspora have surged outside the Indian High Commission in London. Today, their objective is for a worldwide screening of the documentary. They aim to educate and inform the second and third-generation youth of the South Asian heritage who have limited or no understanding of the persecution of the Kashmiri Hindu pandits. The documentary was first screened on 9th September, Monday at the House of Commons.

30 years in exile and London mayoral elections

The event at the House of Commons was attended by Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East, Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall and Lord Dolar Popat. The event was organised by volunteers of the Kashmiri Pandit Cultural Society, and besides the screening of the documentary, a special book was also launched. Resilience is a collection of stories from those Kashmiri pandits who have lived in exile in the UK for 30 years now. It is a first person account from those who suffered the trauma of extermination in the Valley and have never been back to their homeland ever since. Members of the Kashmiri and Hindu diaspora gathered at the event and echoed their concerns about the violent protests outside the High Commission of India in London.

“Peaceful Indians including men, women and children had gathered outside the High Commission of India in London on 15th August to celebrate their Independence Day. They were in the police designated area, which was separate from the area assigned to the protestors. I witnessed the violent behaviour where some hurled eggs and potatoes resulting into injury to many people.

“As a member of the Assembly Member of London a City Hall, do you denounce the hate crime and violence towards the small numbers of women, children and elderly on 15th August 2019?” asked Trupti Patel, President of Hindu Forum Britain.

Her question was addressed to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has been criticised with allegations from members of the community for lack of protection and adequate action. Responding to these concerns, Lord Dolar Popat said,

“Our problem unlike the Muslim community has been that we are divided. We are the ones who have voted for Sadiq Khan and what has he done for us? It is time we voted Conservative,” he said.

However, speaking at the sidelines of Asian Achievers Awards, Rajesh Agarwal, Deputy Mayor of London for business said,

“For decades the Labour party has supported India right since independence. Labour party’s core values are centred around internationalism which brings people together and I think that Labour party continues to be the natural party for Indians.

Pro-India protest in Birmingham

In light of the recent events in Kashmir and following the adverse reactions from some British Parliamentarians and some Pakistani groups in the UK, the Indo- European Kashmir Forum and Hindu Council UK are holding a pro-India demonstration in support of abolishing of Article 370. The protest will be held on Saturday 14 September, 2019 at Victoria Square, outside the Birmingham Council House from 11.30 am to 1.00 pm.

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