Return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley

The scrapping of Article 370 has increased speculation about the return of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) to the Valley. The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits in 1990s is the second gravest human tragedy in independent India after the horrors of partition, where hundreds of KPs were killed and lakhs forced to flee, rendering them refugees in their own country. The US Congress got an exposure of this (threat to KPs to flee, convert or die) and Pakistan’s involvement through a talk by Sunanda Vashisht – an Indian-American columnist of Kashmiri origin in November 2019 but what about our own country? Isn’t it ironic that the Supreme Court refused to entertain PILs to inquire into the genocide?

KL Chowdhury, Chairman Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD) told media in May 2019 that GKPD will take up genocide and ethnic cleansing of KPs at the UN and other world forums but wondered human rights violations of far less consequence were expeditiously pursued by the State/Centre in India over the years but not a word has been said about the genocide of KPs. Should this not be a matter of shame for us? GKPD claims it has data of killings of KPs in the Valley, temples damaged and destroyed, houses destroyed and encroached properties, high degree of deaths due to post traumatic syndrome, major health issues of women, decrease in population, late marriages, loss of language and culture among youngsters etc.

Threats to KPs through newspapers, posters and terrorist mobs brandishing guns began on January 4, 1990. Obviously the administration of Farooq Abdullah (Chief Minister till January 19) was complicit with Pakistan’s ISI, Hijbul Mujahiddeen and JKLF. Governor’s rule was imposed on January 19 but Centre/State did nothing to call in the Army. Why were additional troops not inducted into J&K? When the Union Government has pushed through CAA and NPR-NRC despite opposition, why no probe for the genocide of KPs? Is this to shield the then central leadership, vote-bank calculations in J&K or phobia that has denied declassification of the 1962 debacle? Now Indians will be exposed to the genocide of 1990s through Bollywood movie ‘Shikara’ being released on February 7. Will the Centre now find it politically opportune to order a probe?

Amit Raina from ‘Roots in Kashmir’ says, “If conviction can happen in a span of four years in Gujarat, why can’t the same happen in Kashmir?”

In September 2019, a delegation of KPs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston thanking him for abrogating Article 370. Modi acknowledged the hardships endured by the KPs and told them, “You have suffered a lot, but the world is changing. We have to move ahead together and build a new Kashmir.” Modi had announced a reconstruction plan for J&K in November 2016 including rehabilitation package for a one-time settlement of 36,384 displaced persons’ (DPs) families of PoK-1947 and Chhamb but this did not include KP’s forced to flee the Valley in 1990s.

In July 2019, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav had said that BJP will revive a plan for the return of KPs to the Valley. He said that the previous PDP-BJP alliance in J&K had considered building either separate or mixed resettlement townships, but had been unable to make headway since consensus could not be built around any one view. July 2019, also witnessed a representation by KP’s for the safe return and rehabilitation of the six-lakh-strong community in Kashmir to PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Their roadmap for rehabilitation proposes a three-fold package — physical and economic rehabilitation along with the safety and security of the families.

Return of KPs to the Valley has been part of BJP’s election agenda. To mark the 30th anniversary of the mass exodus of KPs from the Valley, scores of KPs took to social media on January 19, 2020 posting videos of themselves under the slogan ‘Hum Aayenge Apne Watan’, with the hope that they would return to their homeland one day. This has not happened till now because the situation in the Valley remains unstable and they fear a risk to their lives.

During an election rally in Delhi on January 27, 2020 Defence Minister Rajmath Singh said that no power can stop Kashmiri Pandits from returning to Kashmir, adding, “We will not touch anyone but if someone bothers us, then we are not going to let them live in peace.”

On August 16, 2019, Adviser to J&K Governor, Farooq Khan, had said, “The complete return of Kashmiri migrants to the Valley is possible only with the support and cooperation of all stakeholders, including the civil society of Kashmir, who share a social and cultural bond with the Kashmiri migrants” adding that the government was committed to the safe return and rehabilitation of KPs in the Valley. He further said the process for the recruitment against 3,000 posts for the migrants and the construction of transit accommodations for the migrant employees serving in the Valley would start soon.

The Centre is obviously working on the return of KPs to the Valley discarding the idea of separated gated colonies which would defeat the very purpose. This cannot happen overnight and will be linked to normalization of the security situation. The rehabilitation package proposed by the representation of KPs (including Rs 30 lakh compensation to each family) to the PM and HM in July 2019 would also be under active consideration.

The overall political aim must encompass identifying properties of KPs forced to flee, punishing perpetrators of the genocide following a probe, and those in unauthorized occupation of KPs properties made to pay for the duration of the occupation.

The J&K Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection And Restraint On Distress Sales) Act, 1997, provides that “Any person who is an unauthorized occupant or recipient of any usufruct of any immovable property of the migrant shall pay to the migrant such compensation for the period of unauthorized occupation and in such a manner as may be determined by the District Magistrate.”

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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