Disputing the Return of the Native

(Open letter to the Prime Minister)
By K.N. Pandita

Honourable Prime Minister,

Return and Rehabilitation of the displaced community from the Valley of Kashmir in the aftermath of armed insurgency of 1990, occasionally comes up for consideration at the level of State and Central governments.

For last two decades, official circles have not been able to hammer out a viable formula for their rehabilitation. The reason is that a human problem has been politicized.

The patent rhetoric of the leaders in New Delhi and in Srinagar all these years has been that Pandits are integral to Kashmir social ethos. Beyond that the space is blank.

A couple of days back the spokesman of the J&K Government conveyed to social media government’s views on the subject, which, as usual, are vague, contradictory and misleading. It is the threat element in his statement that prompts me to address you direct Mr. Prime Minister.

He has supported rejection of “Sainik colonies and townships for Pandits” because he fears 2008-like agitation by the separatists.

In the first place, clubbing separate townships for Pandits with Sainik Colonies is the new narrative adopted by the State government with the purpose of vitiating public opinion against Pandit rehabilitation in the valley. The spokesman of the government admitted in the same breath that “proposal and demand of colony by ex-servicemen have been going on for long time. But no land has been identified yet and the Sainik Board has been told that there is no land available for the colony.” Clearly, the State government is running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

Secondly, are the democratically installed governments supposed to enforce the statutory law for running the State or abandon the law and the right course for fear of public agitation? The public agitation and resentment were there when PDP decide to fight last elections. It did not succumb to those agitations and did not stop election process? How come it is blowing the threatened agitation out of proportion now?

The State Government says it will enter into a debate with Hurriyatis and other mainstream parties “if they have any objection within our plan”. It will bring the discourse to the realm of civil society and follow its campaign.

This part of the statement from the official spokesman of the J&K State is pregnant with meaning more than what meets the eye. Firstly, what is meant by “our plan”? Obviously, it means the plan of the J&K Government. What is that plan, the displaced Pandits do not know. It never came in the press and there is no transparency in the matter. For the displaced person it sounds a hush-hush matter. Where is transparency?

If the State government has a plan, obviously, it will have received a nod from the Home Ministry. After all it is the Home Ministry that will finance the plan if any. The displaced community is sorry to say that neither the State Government nor the Home Ministry has taken them into confidence before finalizing any formula of their rehabilitation.

Taking a decision on the rehabilitation of the internally displaced people without their consent and concurrence is an arbitrary act and in contravention of the Guidelines of the UN Working Group on Internally Displaced Persons. How can a displaced group accept a decision that is arbitrary and against their wishes and interests?

Again the State government wants to enter into debate with the”Hurriyatis and other mainstream parties” on the subject and “refer it to civil society”.

We understand that the subject of rehabilitation of displaced persons is included in the Agreement of Alliance that provides roadmap for the coalition government in J&K at present. Did the coalition partners seek the advice of the Hurriyatis and mainstream parties on the inclusion of the issue of rehabilitation of displaced persons back in the valley before signing it? We never heard PDP or BJP leaders saying they have taken Hurriyatis and mainstream parties into confidence on this issue. How do these come on the scene so suddenly?

May we remind you Sir, that last year, after one of late Mufti Sayeed’s meetings with you in New Delhi on the subject, you both had agreed on concentrated rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiris in the valley and it was announced publicly. There are no fewer than fifteen thousand Muslim and Sikh displaced families from Kashmir registered with the Relief Commissioner.

However, Honourable Sir, permit me to remind you about the fallout of that announcement. Entire Kashmir went on full strike against return and rehabilitation of the displaced persons back in the valley.

Reverberations of opposition by the majority in the valley to concentrated rehabilitation of the displaced persons were loud and clear in the Legislative Assembly then in session. Regrettably, even sections of treasury benches including their seniors joined issue with the opposition.

Reflecting on the debate, the then Chief Minister and leader of the parliamentary party in the Assembly made a laconic remark. He had said, “Pandits will come and go to their homes”.

The narrative with the separatists and secessionist and closely followed by the State government and also reflected in the official statement of the spokesman is that Pandits may come and settle back in their original homes but will not be allowed to resettle in concentration.

The armed insurgents widely and openly supported by the civil society of the valley unleashed violence against the religious minority and forced them out of their homes in 1990. How can it reconcile to allow them to come back to the same places of residence after the civil society has given “sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of mujahideen? Where are their houses?

The government spokesman says the government will enter into a debate with the Hurriyatis. That is an affair between the ruling coalition and the Hurriyatis and separatists and mainstream parties. From Pandit standpoint, before the government asks the opinion of Hurriyatis on Pandit rehabilitation, it should ask them and clarify who were the assailants of Molavi Muhammad Farooq?

Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, the former Chairman of Hurriyat is on record saying that they know the gun wielders who gunned down the Molavi. And yet, the Hurriyat remains the powerhouse of the separatists of many hues. What justice and fair deal will Pandits expect from the civil society comprising Hurriyatis and separatists who take dictations from Pakistan?

Mr. Prime Minister, please understand that PDP is trying to play safe — not to win the ire of the separatists and not to displease the Indian State yet remain in power, more through machination than by majority support.

We have nothing against how it wants to conduct its affairs. Our question, Mr. Prime Minister, is this: Your party is there in coalition. It is covertly and subtly supporting de-secularization of Kashmir Valley, a process enthusiastically initiated, followed and sustained by Congress and Congress-NC combine during the days when in power. How come BJP has compromised on that?

Mr. Prime Minister, on the part of displaced persons, we have always said that a sincere, humanitarian and principled approach has to be made to resolve the tangle of rehabilitation. In fact, we made two options, a homeland and a twin-city. State and Central governments did not respond to our proposals… If there is no will to resolve it, how then can anybody say that Pandits are integral to Kashmir ethos? If ethnic cleansing is Kashmir ethos, or Kashmiriyat, well, God save the “secularism” of the Indian State.

In final analysis, Mr. Prime Minister, justice is what should govern human affairs and justice comes not by adopting weak-kneed policy but by using the might of the state for protecting broad interests of the State. A weak and pusillanimous government adopts deceptive and divisive antics.
Yours Sincerely
K.N. Pandita
A social activist

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