Rehabilitating the displaced Pandits

By K.N. Pandita – Reports say that displaced Kashmiri Pandits have filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for the rehabilitation. Reportedly, the SC has issued notices to the Government of India and the J&K Government. The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Union and the State governments.

It is ironical that the request for rehabilitation comes from those who are the victims of ethnic cleansing in their places of origin. Are they convinced that conditions in the valley are conducive for their return and rehabilitation? Only some weeks ago Dr. Farooq Abdullah the Patron of NC and his son Omar Abdullah visited a refugee camp of the Pandits in Jammu and publicly declared that conditions in the valley were not conducive for their return. How come the Pandits have discounted these views and undertaken to approach the SC?

Actually return and rehabilitation of the Pandits IDPs has never been that simple a matter. The State government under different Chief Ministers did take it up at various occasions declaring that it was interested in the return of the Pandits. The Government of Mufti Saeed went to the length of announcing it would build multi-storeyed habitats at two places in the valley for the Pandits

Rehabilitation of the Pandits has two aspects, namely return and rehabilitation. The return of the Pandits is closely linked to the ground situation in the valley. Since the ground situation continues to be insecure owing to escalation of terrorist activities as stated by the Home Minister in the Parliament recently, who is going to guarantee the security of 300,000 souls returning to the valley?

Retracing the history of early 1990, it is an established fact that the Pandit exodus was the result of a full-scale ethnic cleansing agenda of the terrorist outfits operating in the valley. Therefore the return of the Pandits after a lapse of sixteen years carries the re-requisite of setting up a commission of inquiry into the rise of terrorism-fundamentalism in Kashmir. This has been the demand of the Pandit organization right from the time of their exodus.

The Pandits are convinced that some local political groups were party to their ethnic cleansing and killings. But since they did not make a vote bank for any political party, nobody was prepared to take up the blatant violation of their human rights. Even the National Human Rights Commission showed scant concern for what had befallen them. Therefore, while addressing the issue, the Supreme Court is expected to go into all aspects of their ethnic cleansing and exodus in order to reinforce secularist democracy in Kashmir.

The state governments did take up the issue of rehabilitation of Pandits at one or the other point of time in the past but these lacked sincerity and careful planning. Actually no state government ever had any policy towards that end. The question of taking the Pandits into confidence was brushed aside as insignificant.

The Pandits have been seriously and deeply considering the matter of their return and rehabilitation. Through a consensus of opinion way back in 1990, and reiterated so often, the Pandits, organized into Panun Kashmir, demanded a Pandit Homeland in the valley as the only viable and acceptable formula of their rehabilitation. This was conveyed to the concerned quarters that showed only their reluctance to discuss the suggestion. Not only that, those opposed to the idea even began accusing the Pandits of dividing the State and working against national interests. What is more, during the past decade and a half, the Central authorities always offered unconditional talks to the separatists of Kashmir but the Pandits, the victims of terrorism, were never invited to express themselves in these deliberations. It was only the present Prime Minister who for the first time invited the Pandit leadership to participate in two round tables.

The Pandits are clear on their demand. They neither want the division of the country nor are they acting against the interests of the nation. Rather the truth is the reverse of it.

Panun Kashmir’s Homeland demand is practical reinforcement of secularist ideology of the Indian State. It is also the fulfilment of the clauses of the Constitution of Indian Union and of J&K State. It is recognizing the identity of a “reverse minority” as has been clearly set forth in the reports of the Working Groups on Minorities at the UN HRC. It is empowering a “reverse minority” with constitutional rights to be an equal partner in decision-making and decision implementing process. Pandit Homeland is to ensure and strengthen communal harmony and peaceful coexistence among various identities in Kashmir. In particular, the part of the demand that the Homeland is declared a centrally administered region testifies to the sincerity of the community to secularism and national cohesion. The Pandits do not lose their rights just because of their numerical insignificance. It has to be noted that regional autonomy must take into account the interests of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identities particularly when these are under the threat of decimation.

It is hoped that the Supreme Court of India, the guardian of the Constitution and the rights of all citizens of India, will consider with utmost patience the open as well as hidden aspects of the question of Pandit rehabilitation in a State that is torn by externally sponsored and abetted fundamentalism-terrorism, and where the Pandits lived as a miniscule minority with immensely curtailed space for political, economic and social growth. (The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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