[Reader-list] Plight of the Pandits; Silence of the Pundits

Aditya Raj Kaul kauladityaraj at gmail.com
Sat Jun 19 22:50:58 IST 2010


Plight of the Pandits; Silence of the Pundits


Musings on life, politics and economics from TOI’s Washington correspondent

*Link *-

The World Refugees Day is coming up again on June 20 and Lalit Koul is
making the rounds of Washington DC wonks and writers, lawmakers and
legislative aides, just as he did before World Human Rights Day on December
10 and the Kashmiri Pandits’ Exodus Day on January 19. In a city where every
cause has a proponent, every émigré and exile has an advocate, “we are
nobody’s children,” he complains. He can’t even rustle up a decent
demonstration on the Hill or in front of the White House. The best he can do
is drum up an occasional letter of support from a Congressman or schedule
the screening of a documentary to highlight his community’s plight. It has
an eloquent title: “...And the world remained silent.”

    Some two decades after nearly half a million Kashmiri Pandits were
expelled from what were their homes for millennia, Koul and a small band of
his activist colleagues are fighting to keep world attention alive to their
cause. It’s hard; seemingly hopeless. In a city where Palestinians, Kurds,
Tibetans, Armenians, Burmese and dozens of other ethnic nationalities and
sub-nationalities are fighting for attention, the Pandit cause is just
another blip on the human rights radar. “We don’t have the backing of
Pakistan nor the funding of petrodollars,” says Koul, an info-tech
professional who heads the Indian-American Kashmir Forum, referring
obliquely to the support Kashmiri Muslims get from Islamabad and elsewhere,
“We are just falling through the cracks.”

    Indeed, for the 1,500-strong Pandit community scattered across the
United States, it’s not so galling that they have no traction in America as
much as the neglect they say they suffer in India. When India itself is not
moved by half a million Pandits expelled from their homes and turns its back
on 50,000 lodged in refugee camps in the capital, why blame America — or
expats here, they say. It’s like Bhopal: when the people of

India, and their political and judicial representatives, sold them cheap,
why blame others? They rage against Indian civil society, which they say is
all a-bleeding about Kashmiri Muslims, but is unmoved by the plight of the
Pandits. And they note with more than a hint of bitterness that the
government of the day is pressing for rehabilitation of Tamil refugees in
Sri Lanka while concern for Pandits fades.

    Their one hope is that like Palestine and Bhopal, the issue will
re-ignite somehow, catch world attention, and activists will pick up their
cause with renewed energy. The genocide of Kashmiri Pandits happened before
the internet age or instant 24/7 television. There were no TV cameras when
the judges and academics were murdered by Islamic militants with the stark
message — get out of Kashmir. There was no Facebook and Twitter and no viral

    Now technologies and techniques are available, but they lack benefactors
and big name support. The 1,500 Pandits in the US came mostly as students
and professionals, not as political refugees, and so lacked the voice and
the drama that asylum seekers bring. Most of them are too busy making a
career and home to spare time and bandwidth for their homeland.

    In fact, some years back there was a poignant situation when a certain
Vikram Pandit became the top honcho of Citibank. Initial joy that finally
one of their own had risen to top of the corporate ladder and might be the
benefactor (in terms of face and voice if not with finance) they were
looking for was followed by dismay when they discovered that he was not from
Kashmir, but from Nagpur; “a Pandit by name, not by blood.”

    Indeed, there is a sense of irony that even as the Pandit issue is
fading from the world’s conscience, the term Pandit is more in use than ever
before in the US — where it is spelt “Pundit”. If Koul and his fellow
activists could collect a dollar for every time the term was bandied about,
they would be lolling in lolly. TV talking heads and op-ed columnists are
now routinely referred to as Pundits, and there is a whole new media
subculture of Punditocracy, a term used to describe a group of powerful and
influential political commentators. From a book titled Sound and Fury: The
Making of Punditocracy to the website punditicracywatch.com, it is a much
overused term. Not a day passes without the tribe pontificating on issues
ranging from Obama and the BP oil spill to the Gores’ divorce to World Cup
soccer. Everything, except the plight of the people who gave them the word.
chidanand.rajghatta at timesgroup.com

Aditya Raj Kaul

India Editor
The Indian, Australia

Cell -  +91-9873297834
Web: http://activistsdiary.blogspot.com/

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