More than 200 guests gathered at the London School of Economics on 19th January for a historic seminar exploring the history of the disputed Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir – and in particular the plight of the ‘Kashmiri Pandits’, the region’s long-persecuted Hindu minority.
The event was organized by the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK (KPCS-UK) and a host of other university bodies spanning a number of prominent educational institutions in London.
The date marked the anniversary of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, forced to flee from the valley they had called home for hundreds of years after being threatened by the Islamic radicals and their supporters.
In pointed opening remarks describing the inspiration for the seminar, Vivek Nandha, an Indian origin student of the LSE, said: “In 2013, Lord Ahmad in a seminar at LSE said that the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits was a myth created by Delhi. Last year I had the opportunity to attend a seminar at the Parliament organised by KPCS where the history of J&K was discussed and I got a chance to hear the Kashmiri Pandits’ perspective and Dogra perspective of the exodus. This was eye opening and we decided to organise a seminar at LSE putting forward the voices that were unheard of in the Kashmir debate”.
Key speakers included the writer and academic Dr Gautam Sen; Kashmiri Pandit activist Col. Tej K Tikoo, as well as Conservative MP Bob Blackman, a long-time supporter of the Pandit’s’ cause.
Speaking on the forced exodus of his community, Colonel Tikoo said: “The whole Jammu & Kashmir issue has been hijacked by a stretch of land between Verinaag and Uri heavily populated by Sunni Muslims.
“From 1971 to 1989 it became a political conflict and it did not become a religious problem until Zia Ul Haque came into power in 1977.”
He added that Islamic radicalization was the reason why tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits had had to leave their homes and flee to save their lives.
Dr Sen contended that the continued conflict in Kashmir and the tensions that it has caused between the nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan was a result of the armed insurgency that continues unabated in Pakistan.
He also maintained that a resolution of the issue of Kashmir would not be just or practicable without taking into account the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits.
Mr Blackman said that Britain would continue to press for justice for the Pandits and for a resolution of the issue of Kashmir but also called on Kashmiri Pandits in the UK to give voice to their plight.
“MPs will represent what their constituents lobby them for and if you do not lobby your local MP about your plight, nobody will speak on your behalf. You must document personal stories of tragedy and share them extensively so that people are aware.”
He also made a strong plea for the opening of a Holocaust museum for Kashmiri Hindus in London to educate the public about the dangers of radical Islam.
Speaking about the success of the seminar, Lakshmi Kaul from the KPCS, said: “This is only a first tiny step to urge the academic fraternity to write and research our stories. There is a huge gap when it comes to the documentation of the history of the Jammu & Kashmir state. There is a dire need for setting up studentships and research projects in British universities as well as collaborative projects between Indo-British universities on this subject.
“The geo-politics is only one element of the history of J&K. The socio-cultural traditions and language are on the brink of extinction so are the various forms of art and heritage. Temples have been desecrated and with them the religious traditions are endangered. I hope that as a result of our efforts, someone among the academia will be able to research and thereby preserve the history and fabric of Jammu & Kashmir.”