Friday, January 9, 2015
Kashmiri Pandits need justice, not Rs 40 lakh flats.
As I sat to write this piece, I received a WhatsApp message on my phone. It said Kashmiri Pandits would be given Rs 40,00,000 flats in Srinagar. The news item published in The Economic Times talked about how Kashmiri Pandits will be provided “quality flats”, which it said would be a far cry from the shabby two room accommodation provided to them in Jammu. The story also mentioned that 1,000 such flats would be made on a 20 acre plot of land in Srinagar city. The newspaper report sums up what exactly is wrong with the government’s thinking on the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. That anyone in the government believes that Kashmiri Pandits would be lured by “quality flats” has either no knowledge of what led to the Pandit exodus from the Valley or is simply blind to the facts. No wonder most governments have been barking up the wrong tree.
On the onset of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in the year 1989-90 a small but significant ethnic minority called Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes. Though estimates vary on the number of those who were forced to leave Kashmir Valley in the winter of 1989-90, it is broadly believed, on the basis of various figures available with the government, that a total of 61,000 plus families were forced to seek refuge in the plains of India. The exodus which was preceded by a spate of killings, torture, massacres, rape apart from burning of Pandit houses, desecration and destruction of places of religious worship was described by the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) as “akin to genocide”.
There is a huge gap between what the problem is and how various governments have perceived the problem to be. The issue of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits is not the same as that of the rehabilitation of let us say a populace who may have been displaced by a natural calamity. Rehabilitation forms just one component of the return policy. The government first of all needs to address the issue of sense of security (not security, Kashmiri Pandits understand that government can’t place a policeman outside every home) which is a prerequisite to any resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits back in Kashmir. For this it is imperative that the government first accepts that Kashmiri Pandits were ethnically cleansed out of their home. More than 500 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by terrorists, though the official figure as per J&K Police is only 209. Whatever be the number of people killed there have been no convictions in the killings of Kashmiri Pandits. A self confessed killer of Kashmiri Pandits by the name Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Bitta Karate was freed for lack of evidence. That there has been no closure in any of the Pandit killings is the first stumbling block to return.
Government of India has many times in the past announced packages for “return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits”. The most ambitious of such packages was the one announced by Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008. The package envisaged a lump sum of Rs 7,50,000 for each family for reconstruction of house apart from providing transit accommodation during the time the house is reconstructed. Under the PM’s package 6,000 jobs for Kashmiri Pandits were also announced. The government was expecting a huge response to the package. However not even one Kashmiri Pandit family has gone back to Kashmir. Even the response to the jobs was lukewarm. Only 1,600 posts have been filled so far.
It shouldn’t have been difficult for anyone to figure out as to why even the poorest of the Kashmiri Pandits have not taken up the economic package. The reasons are simple. Kashmiri Pandits did not leave the Valley because they wanted a better life in the rest of the country. They did not leave because they did not have economic opportunities in Kashmir. Economic packages would be meaningless unless the basic question of justice and security of the small ethnic minority is addressed. First of all the nomenclature of the problem needs to be changed from “Resettlement and Rehabilitation” to “Justice, Resettlement and Rehabilitation”.
Kashmiri Pandits are wary of any proposals to settle them in their original places in Kashmir. They say this would mean living with the same neighbours who burnt their homes, encroached on their land and were overtly or covertly responsible for their exodus. Besides where do they go back to is a common refrain because most do not own the houses that once belonged to them. They were either gutted by the rioters belonging to the majority community or sold as distress sales or have been encroached upon. More than 450 shrines and temples of Kashmiri Pandits have been either partially or completed destroyed and sans a few most have been desecrated. Even cremation grounds have not been spared.
Today there are five transit camps in Kashmir for Kashmiri Pandits who took up jobs under the PM’s scheme. Except for the Sheikhpora camp in Badgam and the one inside the Kheer Bhavani temple complex the rest are prefabricated settlements. They are fenced by barbed wires and the Kashmiri Pandits living there are always vulnerable. The facilities in these transit camps are terrible to say the least. The last time India defeated Pakistan in a one-day match, the camp in Hall near Shopian received a volley of stones. Now what is the use of making another such camp even if the flats are going to be “high quality”? Only those in dire need of jobs will live in these camps because they have no other options of livelihood available to them. But such settlements would be coerced if not forced settlements.
Kashmiri Pandits have time and again told various governments that resettlement has to be en masse and not piece-meal. The various proposals submitted by Kashmiri Pandits organisations have talked of one enclave of Panun Kashmir or one satellite city for the Pandits. There is almost complete unanimity among Kashmiri Pandits on this issue. There could be a difference of opinion on whether this should be centrally administered area or a notified area or a cantonment board or a smart city. Kashmiri Pandits believe that only a separate enclave will give them a required sense of security. Till the time the government acquires land for this, they could re-open cases against killers of Kashmiri Pandits. The conviction of Bitta Karate alone would convince more people about the seriousness of the government’s rehabilitation policy than any “quality flats for Rs 40,00,000 each” would.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Roots in Kashmir