The 'return of Kashmiri Pandits' is an issue that has been inflated along the wrong contours turning it more complicated than it ought to be. The threads that need to be pulled and sorted out one after the other are being wound up into a convoluted knot. This issue is positioned so intricately within the complexities of Kashmir imbroglio that a solution in real sense placing the community comfortably and homogeneously, gelling with others, seem to be not within the priorities envisioned. Their resettlement plans appear to be drawn on paper, effectively sketched out to incarcerate the community. If a small 'zoo' is what they fathom would save the endangered community is all that could be possibly established for them, then the barbed out pockets with sirens and security is enough and appropriate protocol to be embarked upon. But Kashmiri Pandits are not the animals that ought to be caged down in their own home land just because their return would suffice certain egos. They are not the guinea pigs to be experimented upon and to prove that the land does belong to them too.
Kashmiri Pandits demonstrate an important fragment of Kashmiri society and culture with strong ethnic streaks to establish their roots back in Kashmir. They do not need any hand holding and cosseted rehabilitation in the secluded compartments. Kashmir belongs to them as equally as it belongs to Kashmiri Muslims and there is no denying that the Muslims back in Kashmir are waiting for them with open arms. But if they are pocketed out and partitioned off in the corners of the land, there seems to be something sinister to start with the plan itself. With this plan of creating discrete colonies for them, they cannot be expected to assimilate with the culture they belong to, they cannot be expected to integrate with the medium they are reverting to, they cannot be expected to gel with the people of Kashmir the way they would. Then why herding them with the hostile paraphernalia to the land that actually belongs to them?
Some 25 odd years back, the violent flip in the relations with India, happening to be a secular country, was construed by some as a struggle to part away from this country on the grounds of religion. This notion led to the exodus of Pandits in the early years of 90's, triggered by some gruesome killings of both Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits, on seeing blood spilling, preferred shifting themselves to safer areas like some Muslims did. The wave of migration among Pandits during those days spread like a wild fire triggered essentially on the plank of rumors that Kashmir is turning into Pakistan and this community is destined to be butchered out in the process. The reminder of mass killings of 1947, post partition, of a particular community buzzed in the air adding fuel to the misgivings spread by some fanatic zealots who wanted to color the Kashmiri agitation with religious shade. And in the process Kashmiri Pandits shifted their base down to Jammu or to the plains of India.
There is no recorded evidence of any threat in writing or announcements propagated by any agency or Muslim community against the Kashmir Pandits. Those who preferred staying back did live and are living as comfortably in their houses and villages as their Muslim neighbors. In fact, they are more pampered for having shown their support and their resilience during the years of turmoil when their Muslim neighbors slogged. Never ever has any attack on the Pandits taken place on their annual visit to Kher-Bhawani when they come in hordes. Had there been any threat they would have been easy targets on their mass arrival. Even Muslims host them, offer them lunches and dinners. Now, why this phenomenon of caging them in separate colonies when their rehabilitation at the level of community in their native villages should be focused upon. This separate homeland concept is more predisposed to prove counterproductive and might possibly boomerang. This would give a sense of separate identity to Pandit community and the Muslim community would feel that they are not being trusted, Pandits are being coddled at the cost of their honor and something or the other taken away from them is the cost of their rehabilitation. This trust deficit, being planted in the hearts of both the communities, would drive them away from each other. And these small Pandit colonies would become more susceptible to the anger of the other community which might manifest into frequent stone pelting attacks on them or even would lead to the restriction of free movement of the members of this community.
Besides this, let those Kashmiri Pandits who cry hoarse on the television channels in favor of these colonies first come and stay in the colonies already existing for a month and then decide on behalf of the hapless community. It is not easy to live in the projected hostile environment with the muzzle of the gun, over their shoulders, protecting the gates and buildings, the CCTV's monitoring their movements endlessly and the threat of being attacked constantly clouding their minds. Before taking a conscious decision on the issue, if at all they are to be placed in separate colonies, a proper plan needs to be drawn which should include the registration of those Kashmiri Pandits who actually want to come. The registration should not be just for the sake of entry into the ledgers but actually cancelling all the benefits they are getting outside so as to force them to come back. Fanning the passions by a few and shouting out demands to come back and then either not coming or coming to gathers the benefits in terms of jobs or financial packages and then fleeing back makes the whole process redundant and purposeless.
(The writer is a post-graduate in Management Studies from the University of Kashmir)