Kashmiri Pandits on an edge

What is expected is that the governments, both at the UT and the Central level, think afresh about Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits.
Kashmiri Pandits celebrate Janamashtami in Srinagar, on 30 August 2021. [File]
Kashmiri Pandits celebrate Janamashtami in Srinagar, on 30 August 2021. [File]Aman Farooq/GK

Surely, Kashmiri Pandits, the indigenous people of the Kashmir valley are on an edge, politically, socially and economically. Their woes continue despite time and space. There seems to be no end to what they faced more than three decades ago in Kashmir valley. Even after thirty two years of exile, they are targeted for being Hindu. This time one of them, who lived in the valley all these turbulent years and served the society in Kashmir valley, braved every nasty situation therein, fell victim of hatred, communal calls and selective killings.

The irony of the situation is that he was not the only victim during the last one year. We saw more than ten Hindus getting killed in the valley in the last one year almost. Indeed the spree of ethnic cleansing against the Pandits is unabated. No amount of words or any sort of jugglery can justify the failure of the law and order machinery. Terrorism though has apparently receded but is not dead. It is getting the support from within some sections of the society in the valley at their own peril. Precisely speaking, it is a major failure of the society as well as the administration in command.

Over the last more than a year, we witnessed unfortunate and gruesome murders of Ajay Bharti Pandita, Sarpanch, Akash Mehra-Krishna Dhabha, Satpal Nischal, Jeweller, Shanker Chowdhary, labourer, Rakesh Pandita, Chairman, Tral Municipal Council, Ajay Kapoor, Anil Kumar Pandita, Bantu Sharma, Ajay Dhar, M.L.Bindroo, prominent chemist and Virender Paswan, confectionery vendor.

Hatred, jealousy and acrimony against the KPs have no end. We have seen a lot of these against the Pandits at various levels. Even political narratives in Jammu and Kashmir are pregnant with this hate. Their fault is that they are educated, soft-spoken, deeply religious, nationalist, culturally emancipated, descent, strongly rooted in history and patriotic. They have their own moral values and have protected these against all vicissitudes of history. They are so conscious of their daughters' honour that this very issue forced them to accept the road of exodus that was shown to them 32 years back in the valley of Kashmir.

Hate against them is visible even in the administration of the J&K UT despite abrogation of Article 370, 35A, separate constitution and separate flag in 2019. They fought for these constitutional changes to happen but have been selectively made victims of official apathy and discrimination besides political marginalisation. Junior Engineers appointed under the PM Employment package were not promoted duly like their other counterparts who were appointed for the same posts. The newly selected candidates were/are asked to give a number of affidavits which are almost the antithesis of the regime of equal rights for all enshrined in the constitution. In a statement, the LG was categorical that the government won't be allowed to run on the whims and fancies of some persons. But in the case of Pandits, even after eleven years of the implementation of the PM Employment package, the selected candidates are made subservient to whims and fancies of a few bureaucrats in the administration who are bent upon to apply SR 194 upon them. On one pretext or the other, the administration has been very casual and callous towards them for no fault of theirs.

Over a period of time now, some very serious statements were flowing out from Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha's office about the prevailing situation in J&K. He himself has been seen and observed 'batting' on the front foot with complete grip, confidence and authority. It is for the first time in the recent political history of Jammu and Kashmir that any authority with the official mandate of the government of India would speak with such credence, trust and reliance about the intent of the State regarding the social-political scenario in Jammu and Kashmir.

His statement that 'nothing would be done to purchase peace in Kashmir' is an overloaded statement with a clear message having different parameters. However, the intent is visible and stark. He said, ".....that time is now gone. Now the administration is trying to maintain and establish peace in Kashmir. This is the major shift in the policy along with a change in the situation in Kashmir. All those involved in anti-national activities or trying to create hurdles in peace will be strictly dealt with. No one will be allowed to harm the unity and sovereignty of the country. We won’t hesitate in dealing sternly with those involved in anti-national activities and the elements creating hurdles in the path of peace in Jammu and Kashmir. The Government wants peace and brotherhood to be maintained in the UT".

He also said "that the Kashmiri Pandits, who were driven away from Kashmir by Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in 1989-90, leaving behind their homes and hearths, will get back their property within a time limit", adding "the Government will help them to get their property within a timeframe and resettle them"........."The Kashmir culture is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits".

Despite such a confidential tone by the head of the government, the Pandits have been pushed to the wall. They were forced to lose their houses, lands, jobs, businesses, orchards, peace and prosperity due to terrorism in the valley. Again forced to live in tents, camps, government half-built buildings, one room tenements or in shabby structures and rooms on rent in different cities and towns of India, they are not the real beneficiaries of the portal that has been created for them to register their complaints about their properties. Moreover, the government continues to be silent on the status of distress sales of properties under powers of attorneys, as a matter of policy, despite having Migrant Properties Act of 1997 in the books of statute.

Unfortunately, the Pandits are the biggest victims of political marginalisation over the last four decades as well. The biggest and the most shameful indictment of them was in the shape of maligning Jagmohan, the then Governor of the state, for the forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits and calling it a 'migration' instead of 'mass-exodus' or 'ethnic-cleansing'. Inspite of National Human Rights Commission's decision that "acts akin to genocide were committed against the Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir ...and a genocide type design may exist against them...." the powers that be chose to be silent and non-committal about it and avoided to pursue the issue in the higher judiciary and/or in the administration just to buy peace with those who mattered politically in Kashmir including the separatist and elements like Hurriyat and others.

Elements responsible for killing of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley in 1989-90, IAF personnel and other minority community members in the Jammu province were allowed to roam free and enjoy the status of VIPs and have the social status of leaders and activists at the expanse of the government exchequer. The embezzlements, scams, frauds, exploitation of the power corridors and authority, hawala exchanges and misuse of position and status were all ignored only to purchase peace, to be very honest and truthful. As against this, the Pandits were fighting on roads for their survival and existence. Latest, there has been no increase in the amount of the poor relief holders for the last five years despite a steep increase in the cost of price index.

Kashmiri Pandits are unrepresented in the highest political representative legislatures of the state and country. No political party excepting the BJP has anything to offer to them so far as their political empowerment and representation are concerned. The community of the Pandits has been forced to scatter due to economic reasons in their exile. They lost their homeland due to the all round apathy for them in addition to their ethnic cleansing. Their demands for an enquiry into their mass exodus, creation of a board for protection of temples in the valley and reservation or nomination in the Assembly have meagre takers in the politico-administrative spectrum. Yet they are fighting for their dignified existence, kudos to them.

What is expected is that the governments, both at the UT and the Central level, think afresh about Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits. Four decades are too long. There is a perception of now or never. It is now the turn of the government to respond and they need to take the affected into confidence when they decide to think about them as a matter of state policy. Hope we are not making an appeal to deaf ears.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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