There has been no comprehensive package for their betterment, no concrete planning for their resettlement, no policy innovation or strategic breakthrough to ensure their safety in their own land.
Kashmiri Pandits are some of the worst sufferers of human displacement in the recent history of the Indian subcontinent. There is no catastrophic occurrence, no inclement weather to drive them away, no war or pestilence. Kashmir is a beautiful place with God’s abundance. It is the result of uncertainty and deprivation, of fear and insecurity that keep the Kashmiri Pandits on tenter hooks.
LIVING miles away from their native place for the past three decades, displaced Kashmiri Pandits recently voted with the hope for an end to terrorism and peaceful return to their homeland. “We want that South Kashmir should be freed from the twin grave threats (terrorism and radicalisation) to the composite culture of Kashmiriyat,” 65-year-old Pyara Lal Pandita, who hailed from Pulwama district of Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, said after casting vote at a special polling station here. The third and last phase polling for the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency took place in Pulwama and Shopian districts on Monday. Polling was staggered in the constituency due to security reasons. Kashmiri Pandits, who have been voting in exile for the past three decades in Jammu, Delhi and Udhampur for their native Assembly and parliamentary constituencies, say the situation in Kashmir is getting worse due to rampant radicalisation and terrorism, weakening the possibility of their return to and rehabilitation in Kashmir Valley.
Arvind Koul, who hails from Shopian, says his community members cannot return to their homeland unless and until there is the restoration of “composite culture (Kashmiriyat) and humanity (insaniyat) as existed before the emergence of terrorism in the valley” in 1989-1990. For 21-year-old Sunita Bhat from Tral of south Kashmir, “Peace and security are first and foremost conditions for settlement of a minority community.”
“The Government should consider these before formulating a rehabilitation policy,” she said. The Election Commission set up 21 special polling stations for Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, one in Udhampur and four in Delhi to ensure their participation in the democratic process. Kashmiri Pandits are some of the worst sufferers of human displacement in the recent history of the Indian subcontinent. There is no catastrophic occurrence, no inclement weather to drive them away, no war or pestilence. Kashmir is a beautiful place with God’s abundance. It is the result of uncertainty and deprivation, of fear and insecurity that keep the Kashmiri Pandits on tenterhooks. Thousands of them have been killed over the decades – either by accident or by design – forcing them to leave their homelands in hordes. Many have come down to live a deprived and tensed life in big cities like Delhi, severed from their roots and cultural moorings. Most of them know they would never return to their birthplace in their lifetime.
The hearth is in ruins and burning. Governments over the years have done little to assuage the problems of Kashmiri Pandits. Sometimes it has been policy paralysis, at other times it has been the unwillingness of Governments – be what it may, the Pandits have been unilaterally at the butt of all ills. Though, in some ways, it is not unilateral. It is, in fact, India’s loss – India’s cultural and diplomatic defeat. It is the win of the divisive policies perpetrated by the radicals and terror outfits. We have given in to them and left space for them to thrive, instead of making space for the rightful owners of the land. The Governments had their compulsions – political, economic and strategic – yet, they cannot be absolved for the ‘crime’ of allowing systematic displacement of a whole community from where they belong. There is a history of plunder, violations and bloodshed behind this. Kashmiri Pandits have long fought for justice and respect, but the experience of a whole generation says, they haven’t got much beyond lip-service and cosmetic uplift. More or less they have been left to their plight – for decades. There has been no comprehensive package for their betterment, no concrete planning for their resettlement, no policy innovation or strategic breakthrough to ensure their safety in their own land.
The Governments in Delhi have failed to understand the actual socio-political nature of the problem and they haven’t tried either. This is perhaps because of the fact that there never has been any leader to represent the Kashmiri Pandits and their plight. The Kashmiri Pandits have never been as united or aggressive as a force like many other communities. Their voice has never been so strong in the national narrative that could force a change in the approach of policymakers. They are not big vote banks for any political party, which is why their voice is never important. This sets them at a disadvantageous point to start with. Kashmiri Pandits have mostly fought for themselves – albeit in a civilised and democratic way. But decency and propriety don’t count in the din of discordant voices where force often wins over logic. But it is time that we worked towards giving the Pandits their right and what they deserve. We cannot make them Tibetan or Bangladeshi refugees.
We need to reclaim our land lost to violence and restore peace. We need to give terrorism a befitting reply and reestablish the lost glory of Kashmir. We need to be more conscious and create consensus in society to help the displaced families. The Kashmiri pundits alone can do little unless larger public support is forthcoming. It is the national spirit and unity that can force Governments to act. We need to stand for a cause and help to rebuild the broken homes. Development is the key and the Government should invest in innovation, technology and industry and infrastructure to make the region liveable and prosperous again. Making constructive inroads is a better option than destructive violence. Terrorism can be ended not by war but by development – by better technology, better surveillance, by better roads and railways, by business and job opportunities for the people, by tourism, by the greater movement of people and flow of money.
If we target these, Kashmir will be back to its former glory. We must know that people are tired of terrorism and no one is endorsing bloodshed anymore. Times have changed the world over and so have people’s perceptions and aspirations. People want development. Development and economic sustenance is a unifier and leveller, which we need to exploit for aligning people with the national discourse. We need a unified and stronger India and for that, we need to take all groups, communities, classes, religions together. No one should feel isolated and left out. The liberals, who feel so aggrieved at the so-called alienation of Muslims in the Valley, must also spare some kind words for the Kashmiri Pandits, who have lost much more, with their pain much deeper. By the way, their goodness must not be read as a token of acceptance of their fate. It is our fortune that they did not choose the path of violence. We must respect their choice and strengthen them in their struggle.