Plight of the exiled Pandits
By Sandeep Kaul
In the cold winter of 1989-90, a mobocracy, a part of the hydra-headed terrorism supported by Pakistan, tore into pieces what was known as Kashmiriyat. A community’s our sense of security was pierced by the bullets of men we came to recognise as jihadis, mujahidin. And a whole community was rendered homeless, forced into exile.
Since the terrorism that uprooted lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the land of our ancestors, we have been stalked by misfortune, gloom, and despair. And a blank future.
The voice of Kashmiri pundits was never ever given its due share in Jammu and Kashmir pre-1990; the exodus only muffled it further. Our fundamental rights as Kashmiris and as Indians were always ignored.
Now, some kind of peace is gradually limping back into the hearts of the people of Kashmir. We pray for the restoration of the lost glory back to Kashmir and for the prosperity of our motherland. And for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley. We are grateful that the Government of India had made some temporary settlements for Kashmiri Pandit migrants in Jammu. These settlements are occupied by the segment of our community who were hit hardest by the violence and terrorism; and they really needed it the most.
The Centre has given the impression that the Hindu migrants presently living in temporary settlements at Jagti and other places would be rehabilitated back in Kashmir once the situation is conducive for their return. This plan includes only those living in settlements at Jammu.
But what about the rest of us? The exodus included at least 3.5 lakh Kashmir Hindus post-1989.The numbers rise when we count those Pandits who left Kashmir post-1947 up till 1989; they also have a right to return. The rights of all Kashmiri Pandit’s have been equally mauled irrespective of their social or financial strata, and are entitled to equal justice.
Somehow we get the impression that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the UPA are not sincere in their efforts of rehabilitating all Kashmir Hindus. If they are serious in their endeavour, they should act fast.
In 2008, the Prime minister announced an employment package of Rs 1618 crore to facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits, but out of 6000 jobs only 1446 took the offer. The reason for this low response was fear and lack of security and safety. It is not easy to forget those gory incidents which drove us to live life in exile, that too, in our own country.
To be effective, the Prime ministers package should be linked to the settling of the Hindu community in a safe zone in Kashmir. All the Pandits irrespective of social and financial strata should be invited to settle there. And there should be only one settlement/safe area for all the Pandits where we can practice our faith without fear, where there will be no more terrorists, no mosque in the middle of night yelling at us to leave, where no Pandit will be killed and women raped for being Hindu and Indian. We will call it Homeland if it takes care of the security and safety concern of Kashmiri Pandits.
As of now, however, the Government of India and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir have no plans at all. Nor, we have been led to believe, do they have any intentions. The electoral calculations of the respective regime force them to pull their hands back when it comes to the political empowerment of seven lakh Hindus. The homeland would definitely empower the Pandits politically and that is precisely what they do not want.
Besides, there are some processes which are making the return of Pandits to their homeland difficult.
It has become very cumbersome to get the legal recognition as State-Subject of J&K. The writer was told to submit at least 12 different documents for getting recognised as State Subject, including revenue record of my land in Kashmir as well as the voter list of 1988. This is clearly intended to be a deterrent to getting the State Subject certificate.
Since so much of the community has been forced into exile, their homes burnt and destroyed or simply taken over by those who moved in after they were driven out, how are we to produce land revenue and other records? There is an obvious case for making the process simpler, especially as a large percentage of the community lives outside Jammu, mostly in large metropolitan towns.
Another point which needs an immediate attention is the Aadhar card, which has been made compulsory for any financial transaction including getting the monthly relief of Kashmiri Migrants. This might be a good decision, but not for Kashmiri Pandits in exile. For us, our only home is in Kashmir. And our homes have been occupied illegally or we were forced to sell them homes at throwaway prices under duress, or just leave them vacant and run-down. Any which way, we have no homes to call our own.
We fear that if we take the Aadhar card – which has no parliamentary sanction either – we may be permanently labelled as non-State Subjects and denied our Kashmiri identity and State Subject status. This will push us further away from the motherland.
The Government of Jammu and Kashmir should without further delay announce that all displaced Kashmiri Pandits can use their respective Kashmir addresses (prior to 1990) as their official addresses, and thereby help them to preserve their last identity in Kashmir and protect their status as State Subjects. Alternately, the Government of India should exempt all Kashmiri Pandits from using/recognizing the Aadhar card as their proof of residence.
Our existence and identity as Kashmiri Pandits should not be erased from the tapestry of Kashmir. Enough water has flown down the Jhelum since our exodus, and it is time to restore our rights. And they should be restored now….
The author is a Kashmiri exile