Disputing the Return of the Native Kashmiri

(Open letter to the Prime Minister)

Honorable Prime Minister,

Return and Rehabilitation of the displaced community from the Valley of Kashmir in the aftermath of armed insurgency of 1990, occasionally comes up for consideration at the level of State and Central governments.

For last two decades, official circles have not been able to hammer out a viable formula for their rehabilitation. The reason is that a human problem has been politicized. The patent rhetoric of the leaders in New Delhi and in Srinagar all these years has been that Pandits are integral to Kashmir social ethos. Beyond that the space is blank.

A couple of days back the spokesman of the J&K Government conveyed to social media government’s views on the subject, which, as usual, are vague, contradictory and misleading. It is the threat element in his statement that prompts me to address you direct Mr. Prime Minister.

He has supported rejection of “Sainik colonies and townships for Pandits” because he fears 2008-like agitation by the separatists.

In the first place, clubbing separate townships for Pandits with Sainik Colonies is the new motivated narrative adopted by the State government with the purpose of vitiating public opinion against Pandit rehabilitation in the valley. The spokesman of the government admitted in the same breath that “proposal and demand of colony by ex-servicemen have been going on for long time. But no land has been identified yet and the Sainik Board has been told that there is no land available for the colony.” Clearly, the State government is running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

Secondly, are the democratically installed governments supposed to enforce the statutory law for running the State or abandon the law and the right course for fear of public agitation? The public agitation and resentment were there when PDP decided to fight last elections.  It did not succumb to those agitations and did not stop election process. How come it is blowing the threatened agitation out of proportion now? Or is it indirectly asking for it?

The State Government says it will enter into a debate with Hurriyatis and other mainstream parties “if they have any objection within our plan”. They intend to bring the discourse to the domain of civil society and follow its campaign.

This part of the statement from the official spokesman of J&K State is pregnant with more meaning than what meets the eye. Firstly, what is meant by “our plan”? Obviously, it means the plan of the J&K Government. What is that plan, the displaced Pandits do not know. It never came in the press and there is no transparency in the matter. For the displaced person it sounds a hush-hush matter. Where is transparency?

If the State government has a plan, obviously, it will have received a nod from the Home Ministry. After all, it is the Home Ministry that will finance the plan if any. The displaced community is sorry to say that neither the State Government nor the Home Ministry has taken them into confidence before finalizing any formula of their rehabilitation.

Taking a decision on the rehabilitation of the internally displaced people without their consent and concurrence is an arbitrary act and in contravention of the Guidelines of the UN Working Group on Internally Displaced Persons. How can a displaced group accept a decision that is arbitrary and against their wishes and interests? The simple questions they have are (a) Has the government conducted any impartial inquiry into the rise of armed insurgency and communal atrocity on religious minority and nationalist elements in 1990? (b) Have the conditions under which they were thrown out changed in the valley?

The State government wants to enter into a debate with the”Hurriyatis and other mainstream parties” on the subject of return of the natives and “refer it to civil society”.

Who compose the civil society in Kashmir? For twenty-seven years of militancy when NC plus Congress ruled the roost, they never made civil society a party to the issue of return and return and rehabilitation of the displaced persons. Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, when you and late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed made a public announcement after a brief meeting in Delhi that the displaced persons would be taken back to the valley and rehabilitated in concentration, all hell broke out in the valley. Entire valley observed total strike for one day in protest against the return of the native. Much worse was the scenario in the legislative assembly. That is the composition as well as the reaction of Kashmir civil society to the return issue. Taking the issue to it has two obvious purposes. One is to pass the buck to the civil society and absolve itself (coalition) of any commitment that might destabilize it from power and the second is to make cat’s paw of civil society. The verdict of the civil society is known to us and the state government beforehand patently.

We understand that the subject of rehabilitation of displaced persons is included in the Agreement of Alliance that provides roadmap for the coalition government in J&K at present. Did the coalition partners seek the advice of the Hurriyatis and mainstream parties on the inclusion of the issue of rehabilitation of displaced persons back in the valley before signing the Agreement? We never heard PDP or BJP leaders saying they have taken Hurriyatis and mainstream parties into confidence on this issue. How do these suddenly surface on the scene? Mr. Prime Minister, reportedly there are no fewer than fifteen thousand Muslim and Sikh displaced families from Kashmir registered with the Relief Commissioner in Jammu. Whether they are actually the displaced persons or periodical migrants, we are not in a position to say.

Reverberations of opposition by the majority in the valley to concentrated rehabilitation of the displaced persons were loud and clear in the Legislative Assembly then in session. Regrettably, even sections of treasury benches including their seniors joined issue with the Opposition.

Reflecting on the debate, the then Chief Minister and leader of the parliamentary party in the Assembly made a laconic remark. He had said, “Pandits will come and go to their homes”.

The narrative by the separatists and secessionists and closely followed by the State government and also reflected in the official statement of the spokesman is that Pandits may come and settle back in their original homes but will not be allowed to resettle in concentration.

Where are the houses, shops, properties, orchards, arable lands and the rest of immovable property of the displaced persons to which they will go? Furthermore, taking recourse to common sense, how will those who have grabbed the property of the extirpated community by hook or by crook, react to their return? It beggars no elucidation.

Armed insurgents widely and openly supported by the civil society of the valley unleashed violence against the religious minority and forced them out of their homes in 1990. How can it reconcile to allow them to come back to the same places of residence after the civil society claims to have given “sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of mujahideen for the independence of Kashmir?”

The government spokesman says the government will enter into a debate with the Hurriyatis.  We are not aware on what subjects the government talks to the Hurriyat. All that we know is that the government cannot remain in isolation from the Hurriyatis, separatists, secessionists and the militants. What we are apprehensive about is that the government is trying to make the displaced Pandits the sacrificial goats.

From Pandit standpoint, before the State government asks the opinion of Hurriyatis on Pandit rehabilitation, the simple logic is that they should ask the Hurriyatis to  clarify who were the assailants of Molavi Muhammad Farooq, the father of the Chairman of Hurriyat (M) and how come the Hurriyat was lending outright support to the assailants and their handlers?

Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, the former Chairman of Hurriyat (M) is on record saying that they know that the so-called freedom mujahideen had gunned down the Molavi. And yet, the Hurriyat remains the powerhouse of the separatists of many hues. What justice and fair deal will Pandits expect from the civil society comprising Hurriyatis and separatists who take dictations from Pakistan? What justice will the displaced persons expect from separatists like Bitta Karate who said in a television interview that after gunning down 22 innocent Pandits in cold blood, he lost the count of his victims? This hero of the freedom fighters is walking a freeman on the streets of Srinagar.

Mr. Prime Minister, please understand that PDP is trying to play safe — to apply balm to the “wounds of separatists” albeit very subtly so as not to win the ire of the separatists and without creating ripples.

We have nothing to say on how the coalition government in J&K wants to conduct its affairs. Our question, Mr. Prime Minister, is this: Your party is there in coalition. Why it is covertly and subtly supporting de-secularization of Kashmir Valley, a process initiated, followed and sustained by Congress and Congress-NC combine during the days when in power. How come BJP has compromised on that?

Mr. Prime Minister, on the part of displaced persons, we have always said that a sincere, humanitarian and principled approach has to be made to resolve the tangle of rehabilitation. In fact, we . State and Central governments did not respond to our proposals… If there is no will to resolve it, how then can anybody say that Pandits are integral to Kashmir ethos? If ethnic cleansing is Kashmir ethos, or Kashmiriyat, well, God save the “secularism” of the State of Bharat.

In final analysis, Mr. Prime Minister, justice is what should govern human affairs and justice comes not by adopting weak-kneed policy but by using the might of the state for protecting broad and lasting interests of the State. A weak and pusillanimous government adopts deceptive and divisive antics. That is a tragedy.

Yours Sincerely,

K.N. Pandita

(A social activist)

About the Author

K.N. Pandita
Shri K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.