Washington DC: A panel discussion on the state of the exiled Kashmiri Hindu, Sikh and Tibetan Buddhist communities, and the geopolitical dimensions of human problems in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was held by the US-based Kashmiri diaspora.
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 (Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora) and its coordinator for the Washington, DC area. In his keynote address, Dr. Sapru highlighted that the recent dispossession, murder, rape and forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs at the hands of radical Muslims is only the latest in a spasmodic series of genocidal rounds of ethnic cleansing that began in 1323 CE. 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.
Rajiv Malhotra, founder-director of a prominent think tank, the Infinity Foundation in his address said 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, Rajiv Malhotra 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.
Dorjee Tseten, a US-based member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and executive director of Students for a Free Tibet in his address 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 plays a direct role not just on the Ladakh front but also via CPEC infrastructure that 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. Ama Adhe had spent 27 years in Chinese prisons and finally escaped to India. Out of around 300 female prisoners like her only four could survive the torture. Ama Adhe 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, said Dorjee Tseten.
French author, journalist and historian Francois Gautier was another panelist. 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 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. Francois Gautier 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 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. Francois Gautier agreed with previous panelists that China was the main problem, and India must support the Dalai Lama against China, allowing him to teach in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. 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.
Aasha Khosa, a senior journalist and author who covered Kashmir’s insurgency for a decade during the 1990’s shared several anecdotal experiences of the terror individual Kashmiri Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists felt even from ordinary radical 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, and 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 Article 35A, there has been some movement towards setting up colonies to resettle Kashmiri Hindus in their native land. 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.
Jeevan Zutshi, another GKPD (Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora) founding member 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.