'Kashmiri Pandits seek composite culture not ghettos to return to Valley'

Srinagar: The ‘composite township’ for internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits, which had sparked widespread uproar last year, could soon become a reality in Kashmir, as the Centre has asked Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP coalition government to identify land so that action is taken to develop these townships.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

But the question remains even if the government constructs these townships exclusively meant for Pandit community, is the minority community in the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir ready to move into them.

Kashmiri Pandits, living in different parts of the country, say until and unless the political uncertainty and violence continues in valley, their chances’ of return remains abysmal, and the decision of return has to be taken in consultation with both mainstream and separatists leadership in Kashmir.

“We want to go back. Maybe for the younger generation it would a difficult decision purely for economic reason. But like young Kashmiri Muslims working in other Indian cities have a connect with their home land, the young generation of Kashmiri Pandits too would like to redevelop that connect,” Maharaj Pajnu, general secretary, All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS), told Firstpost over phone from New Delhi.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, said on Tuesday that the Centre has requested the Jammu and Kashmir government for identifying suitable land in Kashmir Valley, where the displaced Kashmiri Pandits could be ‘suitably’ rehabilitated and further action would be taken once the land is identified.

Chaudhary said this in a written reply to a question by Rajan Vichare in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, according to an official statement. There are about 62,000 registered Kashmiri migrant families in the country, who migrated from the Kashmir valley due to the onset of militancy in the early 1990s.

Maharaj Pajnu said if the resettlement doesn’t happen on time his community would meet the fate of Sindhi community in the country. He says, "Kashmiri Pandit community has a culture that is fast dying among the young generation and the return to valley is also to ensure that culture doesn’t cease to exist.


“I don’t think creating ghettos is an answer. They can’t put us in a place like Badami Bagh (army cantonment). We are not army. This settlement has to be ‘composite culture,’ not ‘composite township,’ where both Hindus and people from other religions can live.”

Others, however, feel the Centre should initiate some kind of dialogue process for a political solution so that those people who return would feel safe.

“The media continues to show IS flags every Friday as if the entire Kashmir was taken over by the terror group and incidents like Handwara also point out the peace is yet to return to valley. Do you think we would feel safe in this environment,” Ashok Kaul, a displaced Kashmiri Pandit, who lives in Dilshad Garden in Delhi, told Firstpost.

“A tremendous gap and animosity had developed between two communities since the last two decades and it needs to be bridged. The return would be easier then. Both sides have indulged in propaganda against each other,” Kaul says.

As part of the renewed efforts to bring back displaced Kashmiri Pandits, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had asked the state government to identify and earmark 16,800 kanals of land in three districts of the Valley - Anantnag, Baramulla and Budgam - where migrant families could be resettled. After the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became chief minister of PDP-BJP coalition government in 2015, the return of Pandits was listed in their "Agenda for the Alliance".

The formulation of 'composite townships' for the settlement of Kashmiri Pandits in separate colonies in valley was first floated in a Union home ministry release on 7 April 2015. The release said the ministry was assured by the then chief minister Sayeed that the state government will acquire land at the earliest for 'composite townships' in the Valley.


On the next day protests broke out in Kashmir as the Muslim residents of valley opposed the settling of Pandits in separate colonies, fearing the idea is to emulate the “Israeli policy of building settlements in West Bank.” The proposed move snowballed into a major controversy with majority of the mainstream and separatist leaders opposing the idea of 'composite township' on the grounds that it would create Palestine like situation.

Sanjay Tickoo, chairman of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, who chose to stay back in Kashmir in valley despite migration of his community in 1989, told Firstpost that the idea of ‘composite townships’ is a ‘half-baked plan’, which would never work in Kashmir, when the entire population is against the idea.

“Segregation is not the solution to anything. Do you think a minority community living in a separate colony, even if its gates are guarded by forces will feel safe inside,” Tickoo said. “Instead of this the governments should work for the sense of security and encourage people to come back and start living in the areas were people from other religions live together.”

Tickoo says if that fails why doesn’t the government give a smart city to people who want to get resettled in Kashmir, and the composition of this could well be 60 Hindus and 40 population from other religions.

“This needs to be worked on ground. The representatives of Kashmiri people should come forward and come up with an amicable solution,” he said.

Almost all the separatists groups welcome the move to resettle the Pandit community back in Kashmir valley but are against the idea of settling them in separate colonies, as they argue it would attack the composite ethos of Kashmir and divide people in Kashmir on the religious lines.

Independent legislator Engineer Rashid told Firstpost on Tuesday that every Kashmiri will oppose the move of settling the Pandits in these ‘composite colonies,’ which he said was a ploy to change the Kashmir’s ‘demography.’

“We have been opposing this from the beginning and will continue to do so. They want to create an Israeli style settlements in Kashmir which won’t be allowed. If the situation has become better and government thinks that this is the time Pandits should return, why don’t they also think about reducing footprints of army too in Kashmir,” Rashid said.

About three lakh Kashmiri Pandits had left the Valley when the first wave of militancy began 25 years ago. Although successive governments have committed themselves to the return of Pandits but nothing has changed yet for this minority community in the Muslim majority state.


Published Date: May 04, 2016 05:04 pm | Updated Date: May 04, 2016 05:39 pm



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