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Return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir -a reality or just an election slogan!

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By: Sanjay Sapru

The NATION FIRST, 2019 election manifesto of BJP contained a reference to Jammu and Kashmir which among other things read,

“We will make all efforts to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits and we will provide financial assistance for the resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb”.

With the hope that the BJP may perhaps now settle the issue of Kashmiri Pandit Migrants and rehabilitate them in the valley, 86 % of the votes polled by the migrants in this election were likely polled in favour of BJP. It would be prudent to note what action was taken in the matter of the return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits during the last 5 year rule of NDA 1.0.

The relevant part of the 2014 manifesto

Jammu and Kashmir was, is and shall remain an integral part of the Union of India. The territorial integrity of India is inviolable. BJP will pursue an agenda of equal and rapid development in all the three regions of the state – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

  • The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood will figure high on the BJP’s agenda.
  • The long pending problems and demands of refugees from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) will be addressed.
  • BJP reiterates its stand on the Article 370, and will discuss this with all stake holders and remain committed to the abrogation of this article.
  • All steps will be taken to provide good governance, better infrastructure, educational opportunities, healthcare and more job opportunities, leading to better quality of like in the valley.

In the year 2015 as well a notification was issued by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, Jammu, for Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit Migrants, stating that “The families (of displaced Kashmiri Migrants) are advised to furnish their plan of return to the Valley so that necessary arrangements can be made for their return “. The notification further said that incentives under the Prime minister’s Package for the Kashmiri Migrants would be made available to them. In response, out of the nearly 38000 Migrant Families registered with the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, Jammu, nearly 4500 applications were received across all Districts of the Kashmir Valley (except District Bandipora); however the majority of applications were received from District Srinagar (around 1250).

As per the press reports published in 2017, it is claimed that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has identified 100 acres of land at eight places in the valley for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits who migrated from the state in the early 1990s following outbreak of militancy. These pockets, where Kashmiri Pandits are likely to be rehabilitated, will be spread across all 10 districts of the valley.

The NDA Government 1.0, after assuming office in 2014, had earmarked Rs 500 Crore for rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated from the valley since January 19, 1990 following the rise in militancy.

Despite claims made by the leaders of BJP during the elections both at Central and State levels, assuring safe return and rehabilitation, not much seem to have been done on ground. Numerous letters and representations have been made by the community to the Central and State Governments regarding their rehabilitation but noting in transformed in action

The community is very hopeful that the NDA 2.0 will ensure our safe and dignified return to the valley and also address our issues related to

  1. i) Security and safety by providing for “Satellite Townships” (land having been already identified, as per reports) where a concentrated settlement of KPs along with other communities can take place. These townships should be self-sufficient in terms of security, infrastructure, economic avenues, decent housing, educational institutions, health care facilities, recreation centers, commercial complexes etc.
  2. ii) The employment package announced earlier for the displaced unemployed persons of the exiled community needs a relook in view of the enormous hardships faced by our youth, who had taken up employment in the Valley, as part of the Prime Minister’s package.

iii) Kashmiri Pandits must get the minority status and their rightful representation in the State legislatures and other representative institutions. Such provision will not only empower the community politically, but will also go a long way in allaying their genuine fears about their future well-being.

  1. iv) After the exodus of the community from Kashmir in 1989-90, the temples, shrines, pilgrimage centers, Matts, etc., which represents our age-old heritage, handed down through hundreds of years of continuing tradition, have suffered enormously due to desecration, neglect and poor management. To protect and preserve these institutions of heritage, the draft bill (Temples and Shrines preservation) pending in the Legislative Assembly should be passed at the earliest after taking people of other regions of the State on board.
  2. v) The State Government must evolve a mechanism to have the illegal occupation and encroachments of lands and properties belonging to displaced Kashmiri Pandits vacated at the earliest.
  3. vi) Government of India should create a Centrally Monitored Fund which will cater to the needs of the exiled community. This should include provision of enhanced relief compensation, health care, scholarships to deserving/destitute students, Grants to entrepreneurs, financial assistance to unemployed youth for setting up of small scale industrial units etc.

vii) Most people in the country are neither aware of the forced displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in 1989-90, nor are they aware of the circumstances that led to this displacement. As a matter of fact, the successive governments deliberately gave credence to the disinformation campaign launched by both the separatists as also by the main stream political parties of the state, in order to appease their vote banks. The biggest casualty of this policy was the truth behind the exodus of minorities. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Central Government constitutes a Commission, to probe into the circumstances that led to the ethnic cleansing of the entire Kashmiri Hindu religious minority from Kashmir in 1989-1990 and fix responsibility for the exodus.

It is earnestly hoped that the State and Central Government shall take some concrete and meaningful steps to facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors with dignity and not make it an election slogan again, for 2024 elections.

(Mail ID: sapru1971@gmail.com)

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