Return of Kashmiri Pandits: There is more to it than meets the eye

•    ‘Need to forge consensus within the community first’
•    ‘Govt must meet our geo-political aspirations’

1Amid reports that Narendra Modi government is working out a comprehensive plan for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, members of the community remain skeptical about their homecoming seeking to build consensus with more political and economic guarantees.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer and Congress leader, Ashok Bhan said no plan or policy would be acceptable to the Pandit community unless all the stakeholders are consulted.
“Government is only issuing statements, any package of the Home Ministry is unacceptable unless there is wider consultation,” said Bhan.
Known for its radical views on the issue, Panun Kashmir has asserted that any return and rehabilitation policy of Kashmiri Pandits is incomplete without addressing the geo-political aspirations of the community.
“A demographic balance in terms of infrastructure and investment equally for Pandits and Muslims needs to be created. It includes social, geographical and economic upliftment,” said Rahul Kaul, national coordinator of the youth wing of Panun Kashmir.
However, he said Modi government’s interest was taken positively by the Pandit migrants.
“Everyone wants to come back to Kashmir but there are multiple views,” said Amit Raina, a Delhi based Pandit migrant.
“There needs to be consensus which will only come after we get an exceptional proposal from the government addressing the varied viewpoints,” Raina added.
Sanjay Tickoo, President of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS) said since 1996 the successive state governments and the Central governments have spoken of facilitating return of Kashmiri Pandits “but none of them showed sincerity”.
“Unless the Kashmiri Pandits get political power and a share in the state policy making, they will not get the confidence to return back,” Tickoo said.
However, he added that since 2007 more and more Pandit families are visiting the valley to see their relatives and Muslim neighbors.
According to official data, 24202 families migrated out of the valley after the armed conflict broke out. The UPA government sanctioned special package for their return and rehabilitation. A total number of 38,119 families comprising 1,42,042 Kashmiri migrants stand registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry till now.
Recently, a group of Kashmiri Pandits staged a protest at Press Enclave with a six-point charter of demands. It included passing of the Temple and Shrines Bill that’s pending in the legislature, probe into the encroachments of Hindu temples, facilitating visit to Sharda temple in Pakistan administered Kashmir, establishment of Shardha Peeth University in J&K besides one-time relaxation for over-aged migrant KPs and special employment package for non-migrant KPs.
In 2010, Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla told the Assembly in Jammu that 219 Pandits were killed in Kashmir from 1989 to 2004.
According to police reports, the killings of Kashmiri Pandits include the massacres at Sangrampora, Wandhama and Nadimarg — seven were killed during the night of March 21-22, 1997 at Sangrampora village in Budgam, 23 were killed in Wandhama on January 25, 1998 and 24 died in Nadimarg on March 24, 2003.
The state government revealed that it had also paid an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh for each death. “Besides an amount of Rs. 39,64,91,838 had been paid as compensation to the Pandits on account of damage to their properties since the eruption of militancy,” said Bhalla.
More than a thousand KPs were placed in the government services under the package offered by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“We are trying to create a condition for their return. Suggestions of providing Rs 20 lakhs to each family to return and be able to purchase some property have been made,” said Member Legislative Council, Vijay Bakaya.
Bakaya said recruitment policy was aimed to attract families of the employees to visit their homeland.
“3000 more posts were going to be filled and family of each employee coming back is a big number,” Bakaya said.
An amount of Rs.71.95 crore was spent in providing relief and other facilities to the Kashmiri migrants living in Jammu and other parts in 2007-08, Rs.70.33 crore in 2008-09 and Rs.68.59 crore from 2009 up to January, 2010.
With the improvement in the situation in the Valley, the government decided to construct 200 flats at an estimated cost of Rs 22.90 crore at Sheikhpora Budgam in 2004.  Eighteen flats had also been constructed through Jammu and Kashmir Housing Board at Mattan Anantnag.
The flats constructed with proper infrastructure were for the accommodation of the Pandits who had not migrated but were displaced from their villages. But on ground these packages have failed to lure the migrants so far as very few have returned to the valley.
The return of Kashmiri Pandits has been politicized by many vested interests who act like self-styled representatives of the community and tend to overlook the complexity of the issue. They give religious slant to the issue for their own ends.

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