Kashmiri Pandits: Is an Assembly resolution sufficient to bring the displaced community home?

Jammu: Sitting in his wholesale spices shop in Gummat Bazar of Jammu, 52-year-old Suresh Shah heard about the 27th anniversary of his migration only from the radio. Before the insurgency broke out Shah owned SR Gunj, a famous wholesale spices outlet in Maharaj Gunj and lived in Habbakadal area of Srinagar. After migration, Shah set up his shop in Jammu, raising a family and helping his brothers establish their business.

 Kashmiri Pandits: Is an Assembly resolution sufficient to bring the displaced community home?

Suresh Shah in his wholesale spices shop in Gummat Bazar of Jammu. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

It has been 27 years since Shah and many others migrated to Jammu. While the radio reminded him of migration, the opposition National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah, was asking for a resolution to be passed in legislative assembly for the return of Kashmiri Pandits and other migrants.

Abdullah said that today it has been 27 years since they (Kashmiri Pandits, some Sikhs, and Muslims) left the Valley and "we should rise above politics and pass a resolution in the house for their comeback."

There are 37,128 Kashmiri Pandit migrant families living in Jammu. Besides, there are 19,338 families living mostly in Delhi and other parts of India, according to the state government's revenue and rehabilitation ministry. In the Valley, the Hindu minority in Muslim-majority Kashmir shrunk from an estimated 140,000 in the late 1980s to a paltry 19,865 in 1998. Today, there are fewer than 3,400 Pandits in Kashmir.

"Home is missed, particularly during summers," Shah says. "But then what is the alternative, none. The Central government doesn’t want to take us back and the state government doesn’t need us."

Shah was among more than 24,000 families to flee from the valley starting 1989, after repeated threats from different militant groups, who blamed Kashmiri Pandits for being “informers or Indian Agents.”

“Kashmiris used to say batt'ie (Kashmiri Pandit) is a mukhbir (informer). We were suspected of being informers but Muslims became informers. Who killed Burhan Wani, his own people, who destroyed the separatist movement, Kashmiris. No batt'ie (Pandit) came to destroy it,” Shah points out.

When we go to the Valley during Kheer Bhawani people welcome us with open arms, Shah adds, but unfortunately they come and say do you know where Dhar sahib lives, do you know were Triloknath lives (I am telling you examples), "he has a Kanal of land, I want to buy it for my daughter."

"In these 27 years, everything has changed," Shah says. "The blood was first red, now it is white. The only thing being, we lost peace of mind and property, we earned enough money because there is peace of mind in Kashmir. Life is paralysed,” he says.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in April 2008, had announced a Rs 1,618-crore package for offering jobs to Kashmiri Pandits, in addition to other assistance. The government immediately spent Rs 218.46 crores to create transit accommodation but failed to attract people to the Kashmir Valley.

Sanjay Raina outside his shop in Jammu.  Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

Sanjay Raina outside his shop in Jammu. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

“They tell us to get settled in our own homes,” Sanjay Raina, another Kashmiri Pandit, who runs a shop near Shah’s, says. "but 80 percent of the houses have either been sold by Pandits or burnt down. Then how can we go back."

"Ninety percent of the property was sold at throwaway prices in the early nineties," Raina adds. "We are ready to go back and get back our prosperity, but who will buy that property back, if in 1990’s someone sold his house for 10 lakhs today it costs more than Rs 2 crore. Let the government of India pay for that.”

Most of the Pandits complain that the BJP, during elections promised that the day they will come to power, they would immediately start the process for the return of Pandits. "Separate colonies and jobs under the rehabilitation process but nothing has happened till now," Shah says.

As part of the renewed efforts to bring back displaced Kashmiri Pandits, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the state government of Jammu and Kashmir 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 late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became chief minister of the PDP-BJP coalition government in the state, the return of Pandits was listed in their "Agenda of Alliance."

To provide better facilities to the migrants, the state government had initially come up with temporary accommodation in Jagti township and other areas of Jammu. The PDP-BJP government in the state had told the Assembly in 2015 that it had spent Rs 349.86 crore out of its total allocation of 728.07 crores to help rehabilitation efforts.

The bottom line has been that Kashmiri society has moved on; so have its Hindu residents.

“Children understand Kashmiri but they don’t speak it," says Raina. "Now if we force someone to speak Kashmiri he speaks like Kishtwari Kashmiri. We try to speak to our children in Kashmiri but most of his time goes in schools and he/she doesn’t learn his/her own language. There is no Kashmiri but Hindi. Children those who were born here have their language and culture, and even thinking like a Dogra or a mainland Indian."

The Jammu and Kashmir assembly passed the resolution but will it help in bringing back Kashmiri Pandits like Shah and Raina — who are still longing for a lost home — remains an unanswered question for everyone.

Education Minister and PDP leader, Naeem Akhter, said Kashmiris need Pandits more than Pandits need Kashmiris, and that the migration was a horrific part of the history.

“There is an ethnic imbalance in the place where only one type of people lives. There is an instantaneous need for the return of Kashmiri pandits otherwise, it can be an “end of a civilisation,” he said while talking to reporters outside the assembly house in Jammu.

“Pandits need to be made part of economic stake and development,” Akhter said, “it will help bringing them back.”

Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 19:33:23 IST