updated Nov. 2, 2012:
By K.N. Pandita
Twenty-two years after they were thrown out of their homes and hearths, and four and a half years after the Prime Minister announced Rupees 7648 crore return and rehabilitation package for them, the exiled natives of the valley of Kashmir are once again on the horns of dilemma whether or not to risk their future and accept the sugar-coated pill offered by the government in the shape of revised PM’s Package recently hammered out by the teams of State government and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
According to knowledgeable sources, the Union Home Ministry’s team led by the Home Secretary has taken pragmatic and more humanistic view of the case, and consequently, suggested some improvements in the draft recommendations of the State government. In turn, State government’s proposed recommendations are essentially based on the outcome of discussions of the Apex Committee comprising senior government functionaries and some representatives from Kashmiri Pandit displaced persons, most of them handpicked by the then Relief Commissioner but not credited with formal representative character.
Presumably, the proposed largesse for the displaced persons will be twenty lakh rupees for construction of a house for each returning native family, five lakh rupees compensation to an orchardist and three lakh to an agriculturist family. Monthly amount of relief may be enhanced to ten thousand rupees per month per family. The 2007 cut off line for eligibility to the PM’s return and rehabilitation package arbitrarily imposed by the State government is likely to be waived. Those already employed and posted in the valley under PM’s package will also be entitled to the house building facility, and all the six thousand jobs created for the returning natives will be financed by the centre because the State team expressed its inability to bear the expenditure on that count.
In all probability, Kashmiri displaced persons will hail these improved recommendations of the Home Secretary as a positive steps to mitigate their suffering. The deck may not be cleared in one go. Nevertheless, step by step movement forward is the right course of action in this case. The government expects that about twenty thousand families will return and more may follow suit. From government’s view point, this seems an encouraging, and the return of the native will strengthen government’s claim of restoration of normalcy to the valley. More humanistic, tolerant and moderate segments of local majority population will, hopefully, take it a sensible and pragmatic measure on the part of the government to restore Kashmirian society to its natural and spontaneous description.
However, what the State and Union governments are working at is only the economic and material aspect of the issue, and not the implied and crucially important political dimension. They are fully conscious of advertently dealing only with the superficialities but meticulously avoiding touching on the core of this sensitive issue. The measure of return and rehabilitation of the natives throws up the litmus test for state mangers whether they want to ensure political, economic, social and cultural empowerment of a minuscule religious minority of indigenous origin, history and tradition in accordance with the provisions of Indian Constitution. Extirpation of bare 2-3 per cent defenceless and harmless religious minority from its homeland, which is the only predominantly Muslim majority state among 28 federating units of the Union, raises the question of how policy planners will define Indian secularism. It is a test of how the Indian polity defines a “minority” and “minority rights”. Interestingly, the Constitution of J&K does not recognize any minority group in the State. It does not use the word “minority” even once in the entire text of the constitution; all that it often speaks about is “weaker group” by which it means economically weaker ones. Yet at the root of Article 370 remains the majority-minority syndrome. It has to be seen whether the Government of India (a signatory to the UN Human Rights Charter) will recognize the new definition of “reverse minority” in the case of Kashmiri Pandits, one that stands incorporated in the Working Group on Minorities of the UN Council on Human Rights documentation.
The Prime Minister’s Return and Rehabilitation Package of 2008 (now partially modified) keeps clear of political dimensions of the impact of armed insurgency on the religious minority that was made a frontline victim while insurgents fought against the State. Noticeably, no inquiry has been ordered either by the State or by the Union government into the rise of armed insurgency and subsequent radicalization of Kashmirian society.
Rehabilitation of the natives back in Kashmir in a state of dispersal is no guarantee of their political, economic and social empowerment. Rehabilitation has to be in inclusively concentrated habitat(s) and not in dispersal in any case. This is necessitated by the imperative of their otherwise elusive political empowerment. Evidently, return and restitution have to be preceded by their political empowerment not only within the parameters of constitution but even by invoking special enactment or constitutional amendment as demanded by the exigency of situation. This can and should take shape in many ways including taking into account the possibilities and precedents of constituency in exile, reservation of seats in the assembly commensurate with their population (as in the case of reserved seats for PoK in our assembly), restitution of their traditional concentrated habitats by dismantling some of the delimited constituencies, mechanism for their adequate representation in all the three organs of the State, and the quota for admission in professional institutions and government services as disenfranchised group. These are all essential pre-requisites of actual return and restitution of the displaced natives. Their full participation in nation building process cannot be possible as long as they remain politically segregated. In granting them the recognized rights and privileges of a minority group, the State will be translating real meaning of secular democracy from words into deeds. According to the perception of the government, twenty thousand families of the natives may opt to return but it is to be ensured that this is not “return in distress”. The Chief Minister of J&K is doing his very best to ensure devolution of political power to the people. His conviction in empowering the people is reflected in his tenacity to go ahead with the second and third tier of Panchayati Raj process. This all is well and good, but here is a large chunk of circumstantially disempowered and disfranchised group of the natives. It will do him no good to be selective and partisan; he is the chief minister of all the people of the State. Implementation of PM’s package will become meaningful only if it is accompanied by a package of political empowerment of the affected group. According to the CM, Kashmir is a political issue between India and Pakistan. The Pandit return is a corollary to that issue, and, by the same token, asks for political and not economic solution.