By K.N. Pandita
In a recent public meeting, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr. Jitendra Singh asserted that exiled Pandits would return to their homeland of the Valley of Kashmir. Some more public personalities have also said the same thing.
The religious minority of the Pandits of Kashmir are living in exile since 1990.
The other day, there was a reference to the Pandits in the Legislative Assembly also. In all probability, the issue will come up again during the current session.
Dr. Jitendra Singh is a good friend of the displaced Pandit community. He is fully aware of the circumstances that led to their exodus in 1990 and the aftermath of it. Naturally, we expect him to be less rhetorical and more insightful in the matter of Pandit return.
Since the issue is likely to become a subject of animated discussion in the legislative assembly shortly, let us reflect on its seamy side to help lawmakers become rational, fair and just when time comes.
From the Pandit point of view, raising the issue of their return and rehabilitation intermittently at various levels sponsored at governmental or non-government levels is a ploy to circumvent the core issue of the Pandit community. It is to distract their attention from serious and fundamental issues to a non-starting one, namely return and rehabilitation.
The core issues of the community are different from rehabilitation. We need to go to the roots.
These are (a) current nomenclature (b) minority status (c) defining secularism, and (d) appointing a court of inquiry. We deal with each in detail.
After their exodus in January 1990, official nomenclature given to the Pandits is “migrants”. This nomenclature is as contrary to ground reality as it is politically motivated. Migrants move to and forth out of their free will. Pandits left homes out of fear to life and honour. The fear persists. They cannot return as long as this threat is there. Under international law and the Human Rights Charter, their proper nomenclature is Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) because they had to leave their homes under threat to life and they have not crossed the international border of their country. Identifying them with migrants denies them the wide range of rights that would accrue to them as IDPs especially the right to seek asylum in a foreign country because under UN Human Rights Charter they enjoy all the rights of Refugees.
The second core issue is of conceding religious minority status of the displaced community. The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir State of the Indian Union recognizes no group of its citizens as minority group on any count, religion, language, ethnicity or culture etc. However, National Conference leadership of the days of framing the Indian Constitution stubbornly insisted on inclusion of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution and special status for J&K State. Their plea was that J&K being a Muslim majority State needed constitutional safeguards against a numerically Hindu dominated Indian Union. We find sense in this logic and by the same logic should be applicable to J&K also. As long as Pandits remain deprived of their minority status, their return and rehabilitation in the valley under whatever module means relegating them to total political deprivation and loss of identity. The Pandit minuscule minority is too shocked to accept refoulment.
Interestingly, having safeguarded the rights of Muslim majority in J&K through Constitutional provision, the State hastened to disallow the rights of the J&K minority groups in the same breath. This reinforces the advantage of double benefit to the Kashmir religious majority community while depriving religious minorities of all benefits which otherwise would accrue to them if they were recognized as state level religious minority. The UN Human Rights Working Group on Minorities has formally recognized the Kashmiri Pandits as “reverse minority”. Bringing in an amendment to State Constitution that recognizes the status of religious minorities is many times more urgent and important a task than indulging in futile exercise of raking up return and rehabilitation issue of the IDPs.
The third core issue is re-defining “secularism” in the background of the history and politics of post-insurgency period in Kashmir. From Pandit point of view, the land of Kashmir valley is with India but not her people. Please discount all superfluous rhetoric in this context. Definition of secularism has to be made through the prism of valley Muslim leadership of all hues, pseudo-nationalist, anti-nationalist, pro-Pakistanis and pseudo-Pakistanis, one and all. Each segment has its own explanation.
A Pandit would return to a place where he has not to see Pakistani, ISIS or black flags hoisted all around him; where Indian flag is not abused and desecrated at private and public places; where 14 August is not a day of revelry and 15 August a day of mourning. Pandits would like to know whether returning to live in such environs is in consonance with the definition of secularism in the lexicon of J&K Government. Theoretical interpretation aside, practically Kashmir is a diehard pro-Wahhabi State within Indian secular structure. Pandits want to go back to an Indian secular state and not an Islamic theocratic carnival. A State with its largest minority community extirpated at gunpoint cannot claim to be anywhere close to secularist dispensation. This has no takers. The Pandits summarize the attitude of local majority community in the simple sentence “get guns from Pakistan and money from India”. To Pandits this is not acceptable.
The Chief Minster and the Prime Minister both publicly stated that Pandits would be rehabilitated in concentration in Kashmir. Hell broke out in the valley. Not only were there widespread strikes and demonstration against Pandit return, there were exchanges of harsh words in the legislative assembly as well, where entire opposition, including many on treasury benches, joined their voice with volatile public in opposing the return of the Pandits. This makes us ask for re-defining of secularism. Pandits would want to return to their native land and not to the private estate of particular community where not the law of the land but that of the estate holders prevails.
A natural corollary of demand for definition of secularism leads to the imperative of appointing a commission of inquiry into the rise of fundamentalism and armed insurgency in Kashmir in 1990 leading to the killing of hundreds of innocent members of minority community and finally their exodus. The finding of this commission of inquiry will be the decisive factor about the return and rehabilitation of the IDPs.
The government should stop divide and rule policy by doling out false promises and fake concessions to returnees. It should put the return and rehabilitation on the back burner, and take up the core issues already stated. The proud Pandits have nothing more to lose if their return is delayed by another half a century, by which time Kashmir will have reached the saturation point of hatred, viciousness and religious bigotry. As long as Kashmir has the beggar’s scrip slinging from its shoulder, and New Delhi has Don Quixotic bravado of munificence, Pandits must remain reconciled to their present state of exile.
Lastly and importantly, the Government should constitute a joint committee of the Relief and Rehabilitation Department and the IDPs to submit a status report on the condition of the Pandits given employment under PM’s Package and posted to remotest nooks in the valley including those vulnerable to the terrorists from across. We have reports that they are in a very bad shape and need redressing of their grievances. A representative of PMO should also be part of the committee because these IDPs are employed under PM’s Package.
1. Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit IDPs, orchestrated at various levels in the State and the Centre, is a deliberate attempt of sidetracking the main issues of the IDPs. No official circle at any level has shown any serious interest in finding a viable solution to their return issue. It does not matter if there are varying opinions on the return module of the community. What matters are the will and the vision of the government of how it addresses the issue? From Pandit point of view, the core issue is not return and rehabilitation.
2. The core issues are other than that. First core issue is whether the State government is convinced that it has created conditions in the valley that existed prior to the exodus of the community. Of late, instances of infiltration, attacks on police and army camps, on public property and installations, hoisting of Pakistani and ISI flags in the valley, raising of pro-Pakistani slogans and signs, exacerbation of anti-India euphoria and many other symptoms are there to falsify government’s claim of return of normalcy in the valley.
3. The third core pertains to re-defining the concept of secularism in the state in the light of the treatment meted out to the Pandits in 1990 and thereafter. Few months ago, the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, after they met and discussed the matter in New Delhi publicly announced that the Pandit IDPs would be provided concentrated rehabilitated in Kashmir Valley. No sooner the announcement was made, entire valley burst up with protests and strikes seldom seen before. Not only was public resentment expressed expressly, even in the Legislative Assembly shrill voices of opposition to the return and rehabilitation of the IDPs were heard bordering on anger and animus. This all makes it clear that the majority community in the valley takes Kashmir as its private jagir and that others even if they be the indigenous Kashmiris have not right to be there because of they being of different faith. How will return and rehabilitation of the exiled community happen under these circumstances? The core issue is that the Government define what secularism implies in its thinking. If it implies that the valley is a private property of its majority community, then the IDPs have no wish of going to a place where heart and soul of the people is with some other country and people that have been the real source of their exodus and exile.
4. Another core issue is that of adequate representation of the religious minority community of the Pandits of Kashmir in all the three organs of the State. The Central government and many States strictly adheres to the practice of making reservations for religious and other minorities on national level in organs of the State and in institutions and services. This practice should be introduced in our State also.