As of now it seems that the only priority Narendra Modi government has set vis a vis Kashmir is the return of Kashmiri Pandits, who had left Kashmir in early 1990s after an armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir.
There are conflicting figures about how many of them left at that time. Kashmiri Pandit organizations claim that 400,000 people migrated, but government figures suggest that 24,202 families went out of Kashmir, which roughly comes to not more than 150,000. Again, government data reveals that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed.
In his joint address to the parliament on June 9, President Pranab Mukherjee said, “Special efforts will be made to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits return to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood.”
This surely was a welcome step, and Kashmiri Muslims have always shown their concern over the plight of Kashmiri Pandits even as they have themselves faced the worst of conflicts in the last 20 years or so. But the way the government is planning to implement the plan of their rehabilitation has caused more concern than the solution to the problem.
[quote]Gun-toting security men may provide security in designated zones, but the real sense of security can only come from the erstwhile neighbours[/quote]
The idea of settling them in three specific zones in central, south and north Kashmir has not gone well with the majority community. Though there is no official confirmation yet, the information is believed to have been leaked by reliable sources in the government. This clearly indicates that the right wing policies are working well to fill in the gaps as per the wishes of Panun Kashmir, the organization of Kashmiri Pandits that has been demanding a separate homeland for them within the valley.
What is more disturbing is that the Omar Abdullah government has reportedly proposed repurchase of their houses disposed of in distress before fleeing Kashmir. This, according to a report in The Hindu, is part of a Rs 5,800-crore Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme aimed at incentivising Kashmiri Pandits to return to the valley. It is to be understood that most of the Kashmiri Pandits who had left Kashmir in early 1990’s have sold out their ancestral properties and to make any plan for repurchasing them would further divide the two communities, putting them at loggerheads and vitiate the atmosphere.
Since the proposed move evoked a strong reaction from various quarters in the valley, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah gave it a new twist. In an interview, he said: “We are encouraging Kashmiri Pandits to return. We are saying you are welcome to consider group housing. Four-five-six of you get together and get a plot of land. Why should we have a problem with a group housing project that blends in with the community in the place you choose to live in? I see no problem with that.” But that also is not a solution. The first and foremost thing is, who will stand guarantee for them? In case the government thinks that they will be guarded by Army or Central Reserve Police Force round the clock, then it does not serve the purpose of bringing them back to their hearth and home.
If at all the government wants their dignified return, then the plan should be to see how they assimilate back into the society and become part of the social milieu they have been longing for. The examples of horrific incidents of Wandhama, Sangrampora and Nadimarg massacres from 1998 to 2003 are still fresh in our memory. Despite their decision to stay back in valley, many Kashmiri Pandits fell victim to the bullets of unknown assassins, though blamed on militants.
Not only are the separatists and even mainstream political parties averse to such a way of their rehabilitation, but Sanjay Tickoo, head of the Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Samiti that represents those Pandits who still live in valley, calls it as another partition. It is worth mentioning that more than 5,000 young Kashmiri Pundits were offered jobs by the government in the last few years. They did return, took up jobs, but lived in strictly guarded hutments. They could not re-establish their links with Muslims. Many of them later managed to leave the area and the jobs especially created in and for Kashmir valley.
The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley must come after taking all the stakeholders in confidence. Putting them in ghettos without even deliberating on the issue with the representatives of the majority community will not suit their return. Gun-toting security men may provide them security in designated zones, as is evident from the course of statements being made by the government, but the real confidence and sense of security can only come from their erstwhile neighbours.
The Modi government should broaden the scope of this plan. It should seem that the government is impartial and would treat all the sufferings with equality. Return of Kashmiri families who have crossed to the other side of Line of Control due to intense shelling in the early 1990s and of those youth who are stuck across the border and want to return and lead a peaceful life should also be part of such a plan. This will then become ambitious and will attract support from all the stakeholders, creating confidence among communities to build a healthy atmosphere for a return to their roots.
The author is a senior journalist based in Srinagar, and the editor of Rising Kashmir