Washington:A senior Indian diplomat has triggered a controversy by calling for the adoption of an “Israeli model” in Kashmir, which is reeling under a crippling military lockdown and internet blackout for nearly four months now.
An hour-long video featuring Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s consul general in New York, has gone viral on social media, in which he is addressing a group of Kashmiri Hindus – known as Pandits – at a private event in the US city last week.
“I believe the security situation will improve, it will allow the refugees to go back, and in your lifetime, you will be able to go back … and you will be able to find security, because we already have a model in the world,” said Chakravorty, referring to the exodus of tens of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus in 1989 after an armed rebellion against the Indian rule started in the Himalayan region.
“I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it,” he said, adding that the current Indian leadership is “determined” to do so.
A senior Indian diplomat has sparked anger by calling for the adoption of an “Israeli model” in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“The video was chilling,” Mona Bhan, associate professor of anthropology at Syracuse University in the United States, told Al Jazeera.
“It tries to recreate an idyllic home for Kashmiri Pandits based on ugly and violent exclusions.”
Bhan, herself a Kashmiri Pandit, said the narratives about her community’s suffering have been “instrumentalised as a justification” for the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A.
“It will, unfortunately, mean that if Pandits do return at all, they will return as settlers. There can be no justification for an ethical return that does not affirm and acknowledge Kashmir’s plural cultures and histories,” she said.
Kashmiri novelist and journalist Mirza Waheed told Al Jazeera that it was “simply outrageous” that a senior Indian diplomat was allowed to express “such offensive and extremist views”.
“One wonders whether the Indian state has outsourced parts of its home and foreign policy to private gatherings where a high-ranking official feels free to essentially call for the expropriation of Kashmiris,” he said.
KASHMIRI HINDUS (PANDITS) REACT
The diplomat’s remarks have also evoked responses that are reflective of the positions various groups have on the return of between 150,000 and 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus, also called Pandits, to the valley.
Sanjay Tickoo, chairman of the Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, is a community leader who continued to live in Kashmir even after the exodus of his fellow Pandits. He said the idea of Israeli-type settlements was “crazy”.
“Do they think that with the abrogation of Article 370 they can do anything? We won’t allow such settlements. It is unfortunate that some people in our community who live in the West are not willing to live with their Muslim neighbors here. But whatever their plans, these settlements will not materialize,” Tickoo said.
He said such statements will endanger the lives of more than 4,000 Kashmiri Hindus who live and work in Kashmir Valley at present.
Satish Mahaldar, a Kashmiri Pandit leader who migrated to New Delhi in 1990, said: “I condemn his remarks because they go against the very grain of our secular constitution. Miscreants are trying to divide us along communal lines. My Kashmir is not a place for such ideas.”
“We can’t let anyone exploit people in the name of religion. These people are not aware of the fact that death rate in the community is three times higher than the birth rate. We are becoming extinct and they are playing politics on our plight,” he said.
However, Ashok Kaul, a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) representative in Kashmir, denied any plans of initiating Israel-style settlements.
“We have always maintained that Kashmiri Pandits should return to their homeland with honor, dignity and with full security so that the previous (mass exodus) things should not happen again,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir has been facing severe lockdown since Aug. 5, 2019, when the Indian government scrapped the special status, which allowed citizens to enact their own laws, of the region.
His comments drew the ire of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan who in a tweet on Wednesday said: “Shows the fascist mindset of the Indian govt’s RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] ideology that has continued the siege of Jammu and Kashmir] for over 100 days.”
Pakistan, which holds part of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir and claims it in full, has voiced concern over a lockdown which persists in the region since early August, in the aftermath of the scrapping of special status granted to the state.
The change in status among many other things did away with a law which prohibited non-Kashmiris from buying property in the scenic Himalayan state, raising fears that the Indian government will attempt to change demographics of its only Muslim majority state.