This post is also available in: हिन्दी

Washington, DC: An internet panel discussion on the state of the exiled Kashmiri Hindu, Sikh and Tibetan Buddhist communities, and the geopolitical dimensions of the human problem in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was held this morning between 11 AM and 1 PM (EST) of August 8, 2020 by a US-based Kashmiri diaspora organization (Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora). The online audience went into the thousands. This is part of a series of such online events being organized in countries across the globe by a Kashmiri Hindu diaspora that has been galvanized by the abrogation of the discriminatory Article 370 and 35A by the Modi government in India exactly a year ago. [A recording of the entire discussion may be viewed here.]

The panel featured prominent intellectuals, political representatives of the Kashmiri and Tibetan diaspora, and independent journalists. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Mohan Sapru, a founding member of GKPD and its coordinator for the Washington, DC area. Dr. Sapru struck the keynote, highlighting that the recent dispossession, murder, rape and forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs at the hands of Muslims is only the latest in a spasmodic series of genocidal rounds of ethnic cleansing that began in 1323 CE. In that broader perspective, it is important to understand the religious undercurrents of the political problem there. He suggested that intellectuals should remove their rose-tinted glasses and confront two political forces on the rampage in the world today: The first comprises expansionist religious ideologies that want to invade and dominate others, usurping their biophysical resources. The second comprises ideological nationalism that pursues the same aggressive policy in order to maintain a status as hegemon or superpower, the best example in the region being the People’s Republic of China.

The first panellist was Rajiv Malhotra, renowned Indian-born American researcher and author on current affairs as they relate to civilizations and cross-cultural encounters, and founder-director of a prominent think tank, the Infinity Foundation. In his address, Malhotra emphasized that India’s attempts to use soft-power must be balanced by the exercise of hard-power. He indicated that this was especially so in the case of China, whose record over the recent decades shows that it respects only hard-power as part of a pragmatic strategy, and puts little store by building long-term relationships based on intangibles like ‘trust’. In this regard, he lauded, both, the US government’s as well as India’s Modi government’s initiative to use trade as a political lever to contain China, which is building a chain of ruthless, fascist allies such as Pakistan and Iran. He noted that, historically, the capture of Tibet leapfrogged Communist China into hegemonic status. Importantly, he suggested that India must declare that the status of Tibet is open to discussion and retreat from its current position of accepting Tibet’s occupation by China. Malhotra also suggested that Indian diplomacy needs to consider a ‘post-Trump’ strategy of cooperation with the US, since the Democratic Party has been completely turned into an anti-India juggernaut by Islamist lobbies in the US.

The next panellist was Dorjee Tseten, a US-based member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and executive director of Students for a Free Tibet. Dorjee Tseten noted that this year marks 70 years of the Chinese occupation of Tibet – and 70 years of the Tibetan resistance that refuses to die. He noted that for millennia, independent Tibet and India shared mutually respectful intellectual and spiritual relations. China did not share a border with India, until the annexation of Tibet under Mao Tse Tung, who famously characterized Tibet as the ‘palm’, and regions like Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh as its ‘fingers’ that could be annexed subsequently. He warned that India cannot afford to be complacent about Chinese intentions, which play a direct role not just on the Ladakh front but also via CPEC infrastructure it is building in Pakistan-occupied J&K. He paid tribute to Ama Adhe, a prominent leader of the Tibetan Women’s Resistance, who passed away this year. She spent 27 years in Chinese prisons, finally escaping to India. Out of around 300 female prisoners like her, only 4 survived the torture. She had described the hellish repression of Tibetans under Chinese occupation. She inspired Tibetan youth to take up the cause of freedom. Since 2009, over 155 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest Chinese colonialism. Tibet today has been rated as the 2nd least free place on earth, after Syria. Dorjee noted significantly that even after decades, Tibetan youth born under Chinese occupation continue to periodically erupt in protest, indicating that the aspirations of Tibetans (within and outside) for independence have not subsided. Reflecting Malhotra’s recommendation, Dorjee Tseten strongly urged the Indian government to recognize that Tibet is an occupied country. Many countries are now reconsidering their acceptance of the ‘One China Policy’, and India should take a leadership role to expose Chinese colonialism. Dorjee’s website has more information.

The next panellist was French author, journalist and historian, Francois Gautier. He described his experience covering the situation in J&K during the murderous exodus of Kashmiri Hindus. He revealed that it was an ‘eye-opener’ for him as a Westerner who had been misinformed with clichés about India and Kashmir. He realized that the ground situation was quite different, and he saw the terror Hindus faced in their own country. He recalled how his journalist colleague Mark Tully, who was chief India correspondent for the BBC at the time, had peddled the opinion that India was wrong that Pakistan had anything to do with Islamic terrorism in Kashmir, and other international journalists would blindly follow that line. He noted that this journalistic disinformation continues to this day, by otherwise respectable people. He shared his anecdotal impression that common Muslims in Kashmir nurtured an active hatred for India and a preference for Pakistan based purely on religion – and that no amount of economic development and other sops by India can change religious fanaticism. He echoed the thoughts of Sri Aurobindo, that only by reversing the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent on religious lines can that thorn be removed. The hypocrisy of using Human Rights tribunals against those who fight religious terrorism was another aspect he brought out in his comments. He agreed with previous panellists that China was the main problem, and India must support the Dalai Lama against China, allowing him to teach in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal. Tibet must be declared a disputed territory. He felt that while Narendra Modi was a welcome change for India, Indian policy was still being hampered by Nehruvian bureaucrats.

His comments were followed by Aasha Khosa, an award-winning senior independent journalist and author who covered Kashmir’s insurgency for a decade in the 1990’s. She shared several anecdotal experiences of the terror individual Kashmiri Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists felt even from ordinary Muslim civilians, who cooperated with armed terrorists in oppressing these minorities. She pointed out surveys that show the number of random killings of Kashmiri Hindus is grossly under-reported, many unaccounted for. Many continue to suffer sexual harassment and rape at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Looking at the future, she gladly noted that after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, there has been some movement towards setting up colonies to resettle Kashmiri Hindus in their native land. She proposed that Kashmiri Hindus should consider having their own townships within Srinagar metropolitan area under its newly conferred ‘smart city’ status. She admitted that religious hatred for Hindus is ancient and will remain but pinned her hopes on an efficient law and order machinery that would allow these settlements embedded within Muslim communities to live safely. She also noted that she personally witnessed many pro-India Muslims in J&K suffer and die because they stood with India. She suggested that Kashmiri Hindus should make common cause with them if possible. She disagreed with Gautier’s impression that all Kashmiri Muslims were pro-Pakistan and referred to a common slogan among even Islamists that ‘Pakistan can go to hell’. She urged the Kashmiri Hindu community to learn to build a cohesive narrative that goes beyond breast-beating and self-pity, a narrative platform that all Kashmiri Hindu organizations can subscribe to.

Delhi-based BJP leader and author, Kapil Mishra was also on the panel, but was unable to participate due to last minute technical difficulties.

The concluding speaker was Jeevan Zutshi, another GKPD founding member and co-ordinator for Califormia. He placed the J&K demographic in perspective, stating that only 60% of the population of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was Muslim. It is only the Kashmir Valley where they had an overwhelming majority. Yet, even in such a demographic situation, the 40% non-Muslim population have found themselves treated like second-class citizens. He repeatedly mentioned the thousands of Hindu and Sikh Kashmiris who still live in miserable conditions in refugee camps and said that the rest of the diaspora will never forget them and continue to extend a helping hand. He emotionally recalled the words of Narendra Modi to the Kashmiri Hindu diaspora in Houston, TX – “You have experienced great hardship. But a new wind is blowing.” He said it was the first time in 700 years that a ruler of India had expressed sympathy for their plight and given them hope. He invited truly secular Kashmiri Muslims to join hands and condemned those who join hands with pan-Islamists to launch a disinformation campaign about ‘oppression under Hindu India’. He said this was a fraudulent narrative that began with the Pakistan-sponsored Khalistan movement. It is a mendacious narrative that is now being patronized by certain political forces within the US, who conduct Human Rights hearings that are little more than a dog-and-pony show for moral grandstanding. He regretted the disgraceful way that India is demonized in such hearings in the US, a putative ally. He hoped that the future would bring dignity to all Indian citizens, irrespective of creed. He expressed emotion at the Ram Mandir foundation-laying in Ayodhya, which to him signalled a willingness of dispossessed Hindus to reclaim what has been taken from them.

The host Dr. Sapru concluded by noting that Kashmiri Hindus have been a peace-loving community in spite of having undergone 7 exoduses in as many centuries. Yet, they have never resorted to terrorist violence to make their voices heard – here Dr. Sapru took a dig at Bollywood celebrities and Leftist apologists who romanticize Islamic terrorist leaders and claim that ‘police excesses’ are to blame for making people terrorists.  He wished that Muslims there would teach their children to live and prosper along with others instead of handing them rocks and guns and filling their hearts with prejudice. US Human Rights bodies and political candidates who claim they have a zero tolerance policy for terrorism must recognize the human rights of those killed and driven away by terrorism in Kashmir and Tibet, and not just those who are inconvenienced by a lack of cell phone coverage during curfew. He ended on the optimistic note that he hopes for a new day when Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists can all live together and prosper in a new Kashmir.

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.