Kashmiri Pandits: Sops alone won't help them return to their hometowns in Kashmir

Eighty-year-old Jagan Nath Khar was the first Kashmiri Pandit (KP) to return to Kashmir and live with Muslims in his hometown of Mattan, Anantnag. Over eight years ago, he and his wife moved back to live in Kashmir, after they had migrated to Jammu in the early 1990s following the militancy. But last year, when Kashmir erupted in protest after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzafar Wani, Khar’s house was pelted with stones and he fled to Jammu, where he now lives with his daughter. He only plans to return after the situation in Kashmir improves.

 Kashmiri Pandits: Sops alone wont help them return to their hometowns in Kashmir

Rubanji Saproo, who lives in Srinagar at the Sheikhpora transit camp. Firstpost/Ishfaq Naseem

Khar originally returned to his home in Mattan after former prime minister Manmohan Singh announced a package of incentives worth Rs 1,618 crore in 2008 for the rehabilitation of migrants in Kashmir. Under the package, he received Rs 7.5 lakh to rebuild his damaged house in Mattan and lived in Srinagar until the recent protests, and moved to Jammu in September. So far, only two families (including that of Khar’s) have returned to their respective hometowns, while the case of another one for compensation, to resettle in Kashmir, is being reviewed by the government. Over 5,600 families have applied to the government — agreeing to return to Kashmir — over the past eight years. But only two families have returned. A top government official said KP families that have agreed to return, have sought higher compensation. He said that due to the "security scenario that has only deteriorated over the years, only two families have returned".

Although the KP families have shown a reluctance to return to their hometowns, there are nearly 1,500 KP youths working in Kashmir. They have also taken their families along to live in the Valley; most of the families are living in high-security transit accommodations. But there are some that also live in rented accommodation. The number is significantly lower than the total number of KPs who migrated in the early 1990s — coming out in droves to live in derelict camps in Jammu and other parts of India. Currently, as per Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data, there are about 60,452 KP families registered with the government, of which, 38,119 families live in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi and 1,995 in other states.

In view of the demand for increasing compensation, the state government recently asked the MHA to increase it from Rs 7.5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh to enable people to rebuild houses. But it has not received any clearance so far. Relief Commissioner YP Suman said higher authorities were reviewing the different possibilities of ensuring return of migrants to Kashmir. "As of now only two families have returned," he said.  Other than the low monetary incentive, it is the continuous militancy that keeps migrants from returning to their homes. Although Kashmiri politicians including the separatists have welcomed the return of the KPs, it is the mode of their return that has drawn opposition.

Separatists have opposed the settlement of Kashmiri Hindus in separate townships, arguing that this would pit two Hindus and Muslims against each other. So far, the government has been pursuing a policy of gradual return of KPs to the Valley. Its proposal to house them in separate colonies also fuelled the six month long agitation in Kashmir, which started with death of Wani. Part of the policy is to employ 4,500 youths, and to create 9,000 jobs by providing migrant youth loans on low rates of interest to enable them set up industrial units in the Valley.

While KP youths initially also lived with Muslims in rented accommodation, the last few months of unrest have ensured that many have skipped duties and returned to Jammu and even shifted to the high-security transit accommodations. Forty-year-old Rakesh Pandita, who got the job of a teacher in December 2010 in Baramulla, said it was difficult for migrants to return to their hometowns. "I have been living at a transit camp in Baramulla after I got a job in Kashmir, but I  believe it is difficult for us to return to our hometowns. We sold some of our land and our house was damaged at Veervan in Baramulla. We wrote to the authorities, but they have not been able to evict those encroaching upon my sister's land in Baramulla — on which a playground has been raised,’’ he said.

Rakesh Pandita, who got the job of a teacher in December 2010 in Baramulla. Firstpost/Ishfaq Naseem

Rakesh Pandita, who got the job of a teacher in December 2010 in Baramulla. Firstpost/Ishfaq Naseem

Families of Khar and another KP — 70-year-old Durga Nath Tickoo are the only exceptions. Tickoo, who returned to Srinagar’s Bag-i-Mehtab area, said he has been supported by the Muslims in Kashmir. "I have been able to live due to the support and help from my Muslim neighbours. My wife has a gall bladder ailment and everyone came to enquire about her health. Kashmiri Muslims are like my family members, but the response of the government has been pathetic. The government left us in the lurch, it didn’t provide an electricity connection and I have not been able to get a ration card,’’ said Tickoo, who retired as a welfare officer in the accountant-general’s (AG) office. Outside his house, during the height of protests last year, a railway bridge was blocked, with youths chanting slogans of freedom and spraying graffiti on its pillars hailing Wani as a martyr. Tickoo said that he was living with his son in Gurugram as his wife was undergoing treatment. "But my Kashmiri friends are taking care of my property. I have left my vehicle in Srinagar," he said.

A KP youth, Rubanji Saproo, said he has to live with difficulty while working in Srinagar. "We sold our land in Anantang, my  ancestral hometown, and now it has become difficult to live without my family in Srinagar at the Sheikhpora transit camp. Accommodation at the camp is cramped and I have to share space with another employee. Instead of an economic package, the government has made the KP job package a rehabilitation package. Migrant youths have faced discrimination. We have not been able to get the jobs in schemes for which recruitment is done at the district-level and jobs are given to us on the condition that we return to Kashmir. This is discriminatory," he said.

Updated Date: Jan 27, 2017 10:23:31 IST