In a country where film stars and other celebrities wallow in platitudes and politically correct claptrap, it is indeed refreshing to find Anupam Kher speak his mind—and that too on something as unfashionable as the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. It is chic to bemoan the encounters in which gangsters and jihadists get killed, for these folks have human rights. But the lakhs of Pandits who were driven out of their own homeland… well, it was just unfortunate. Didn’t Comrade Stalin say that a single death is a tragedy, million deaths a statistic? Thus, Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s encounter was indeed tragic, as was also that of Ishrat Jahan. But the ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley? Definitely unsexy. So, why should a celebrity bother about a depressing statistic?
But Kher is different. He has said things that the Bharatiya Janata Party used to say when it was out of office. He has demanded the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution, which guarantees a special status to Jammu & Kashmir. He has also urged the government to set up a smart city in the Kashmir Valley for the Pandits.
It is a good suggestion. Apart from making smart speeches, BJP leaders should also start doing something concrete; a smart city in the Valley could be a good beginning. It doubt if they have the guts and gumption to coax, cajole, or coerce their PDP allies to accept this demand, people like Kher can at least keep up the pressure on the saffron party which is notorious for forgetting its poll promises.
The veteran actor has rightly pointed out that Pandits cannot return to their erstwhile localities as most of the houses and other properties were burnt down or have been occupied since. “It is more important today that the Pandits feel secure when they return to the Valley and this is possible only when they live together as a cohesive unit in one township,” Kher told the media.
Arguing that some of the country’s best doctors, educationists, and IT professionals are from the Pandit community, he said that the smart city will benefit the entire Valley.
Kher didn’t name former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah for raising the bugbear of “ghettoization,” but he rubbished his statement. “Most of the Pandits are educated professionals who will settle there. I don’t know who coined the word ‘ghetto’; some sick mind must have coined that. There is a difference between ‘ghetto’ and being asked to come and settle down in the same place,” Kher said.
He also made an important point: Kashmiri Pandits are free citizens of India, so where they want to live would be their choice; nobody can force them to live at a place they fear for their life, limb, or liberty. Separatists, of course, are against the exercise of choice by Pandits. Led by JKLF’s Yasin Malik, they are engaged in violent protests.
Kher is likely to be slammed for being communal, bigoted, parochial, etc., for his views, but he has bravely said what was right. It is time more public figures came to the fore and took on the forces of jihad.