India’s top diplomat in New York has compared the proposed return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland to the return of Jews to Israel. Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s consul general in New York City, made the remarks last week during an interaction with a group of Kashmiri Pandits. A video of the private event was posted by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, who also addressed those who had gathered.
Later, Chakravorty tweeted that his remarks had been taken “out of context”, but did not clarify further.
During the event, praising the Narendra Modi government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status in August, Chakravorty promised the group that Pandits would soon return to their hometowns and villages. “We already have a model in the world, I don’t know why we don’t follow it,” he said. “We have a model in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it.”
The envoy pointed out that a person in the meeting had spoken about the “Jewish issue, the Israel issue” and how Jews kept their “culture alive for 2,000 years outside their land” before going back. “I think we have to keep Kashmiri culture alive,” Chakravorty said. “Kashmiri culture is Indian culture, it is the Hindu culture...None of us can imagine India without Kashmir.”
Chakravorty said people criticising India at international forums should do so with other countries instead. “Some people are upset with us over this decision...dragging us to human rights council, the US Congress...why don’t you go to Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan and take photos?” asked the consul general. “Why come to us? They are not liking it that we are asserting ourselves.”
The envoy said he believed that in his lifetime “we will have our land back and our people have to go back”. He added: “Our Kashmiri people are living in refugee camps...they must go back.”
Chakravorty also promised the audience that terrorism and violence in Kashmir would go away and asked for “some time”. “I believe the security situation will improve, it will allow the refugees to go back, and in your lifetime, you will be able to go back,” he said.
Sharing a news article about the video, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that the remarks showed “the fascist mindset” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideology in the Indian government.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs has not yet responded to the envoy’s comments.
In the late 1980s, as insurgency activities grew in Muslim-majority Kashmir, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes in the Valley as they feared for their safety. According to a report by the Jammu and Kashmir government in 2010, around 219 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by militants since 1989.