When will we finally return home, ask displaced Kashmiri Pandits

Scores of Kashmiri Pandit protesters blocked the road leading towards the governor's house in the winter capital Jammu on Tuesday. The protesters held demonstrations outside Raj Bhavan demanding their immediate return to their homeland: Kashmir Valley.

Terming 19 January as “Holocaust Day” for Pandit community, who were forced in a mass exodus from the Valley when the insurgency began in 1990, the displaced minority community submitted a memorandum to Governor NN Vohra and demanded a time-bound judicial probe “naming the names” involved in their exodus from the Valley.

Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits or (Hindus) were forced to flee from the Valley on 19 January, 1990, after repeated threats from different militant groups, who blamed the Pandits for being “informers or Indian Agents.”

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“The BJP, during elections promised us that the day they will come to power, they would start immediate process of our return. Separate colonies and jobs under the rehabilitation process, nothing has happened till now,” Agni Shekhar, a Kashmiri Pandit writer and political activist, who was part of the protests, told FirstPost.

“To restore our dignity those responsible for the genocide should be held accountable and their names should be made public. That is the reason we have been protesting. If nothing the Parliament of India should immediately pass a resolution naming the events as religious genocide. For how much time do you think should we suffer?” Shekhar added.

Presently, 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 Kashmir 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.

Ajay Chrangu, chairman, Panun Kashmir, says previous policies of the governments — both at the Centre and the State — have failed his community because they were “cosmetic and symbolic". "That could be the reason they failed to attract people to the Kashmir Valley.”

“All those who have returned are primarily doing government jobs. You basically need a compact policy and political will, not just by the Centre but also by the State government. We have been suffering for so many years. We hope the Prime Minister will show some courage to address this issue,” Chrangu told Firstpost.

As part of the renewed efforts to bring back displaced Kashmiri Pandits, PM 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 PDP-BJP coalition government in the state, the return of Pandits was listed in their "Agenda for the Alliance".

Waheed ur Rehman Para, Peoples Democratic Party spokesperson, told Firstpost that the late Sayeed, the leader of his party, had been before his demise pursuing on “almost everyday basis” the progress made on the return of the Kashmiri Pandit community.

“They are part of us. We are incomplete without them. They have to come back and their honour and dignity have to be restored. We can’t call our society progressive and secular until and unless, the minority community in the state is back,” Para told Firstpost.

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.

In April 2008, a Rs 1,618 crore package was announced by then PM Manmohan Singh for offering jobs and other assistance to Kashmiri Pandits. The state government spent Rs 218.46 crores to create transit accommodation, such as the one in which Pandita presently lives, while Rs 169 crore was set aside for salaries. The programme worked. The government says no Kashmiri Pandit youth who was given a job has left it.

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, said that another year has passed but there was hardly any progress in bringing back the Kashmiri Pandit community.

State government estimates say that more than 50,000 Kashmiri Pandit families left the Valley in the early nineties, with most of them settling at Jammu and other parts of the country, while a few thousand families stayed back.

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2016 20:06:39 IST

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