A sapling of hope in the Valley of fear
3 August 2002
Shah Imran Ahmed
New Delhi: It was a small but significant step towards reconciliation in a Valley torn by communalism and militancy. From July 21 to 24 in Gulmarg, 24 Kashmiri Pandits sat down with 15 Muslims to talk about their forced exile from the Valley and other problems. ''Though initially the workshop released latent hostility and anger accumulated over 12 years, we saw a transition on both sides by the middle of it,'' says the workshop organiser Gauhar Fazili, a member of the International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy (Washington) which has taken up the task of mending the broken relationship between Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir. This was the third workshop conducted by the Centre in J&K, though it was attended by Pandits for the first time. ''Brian Cox, who runs the Centre, has been visiting J&K for two years. The Centre has worked on the tradition of faith-based reconciliation which lays a very strong emphasis on peace-making, restoration of relationships and forgiveness,'' says Fazili. Brian Cox has been involved in reconciliation between communities in strife-torn places like Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kosowo and Bosnia. Cox introduced this concept one-and-a-half years ago to 35 Muslims from J&K through a workshop. After intense discussions over four days, it was felt that the ideas were applicable to the situation. Consequently, a core group was formed to carry the work forward. In the Gulmarg workshop, says Fazili, ''the core group had undergone the process of releasing hatred, so they were receptive to the pain the Pandits were experiencing by staying away from their homes. Both communities expressed closeness despite their differences.'' ''These Muslims realised that the departure of Pandits from the Valley was the deepest wound afflicted on society and that efforts should be made for providing a healing touch,'' says Fazili. At the workshop, Pandits expressed the fear that their younger generation would lose their cultural traits and have no memories of home. They may not be able to psychologically adapt to life in the Valley, when it was time to return, they felt. The Institute now plans to include four more Pandits in the extended core group, whereas representatives from Dogras, Sikhs, Buddhists and Shias from Ladakh will be included at the next stage. However, many Kashmiri Pandits question the purpose of such workshops. ''Reconciliation in talks is easy but application is very difficult. The wounds inflicted on the community are not easy to heal. Although we welcome any move to bring peace in our land, it should be genuine and not for the sake for mobilising overseas funds,'' says Nancy Kaul, gen secy of Daughters of Vitasta, an organisation of Kashmiri Hindu women. ''20-odd Pandits cannot bring reconciliation. There are 16 migrant camps at Delhi, Udhampur and Jammu. If a beginning is to be made, it should be with the elders living a wretched life in these camps,'' she adds.