The Pandit community suffered the 7th Mass Exodus in January 1990, when the majority community of the valley became victims of politics from across the border and started demanding a Muslim State or an Independent State away from Indian rule. In the early hours of 19th January 1990, the Majority Community of the valley gathered in local mosques and carried out processions from there raising Islamic Slogans and asking Pandits to leave Kashmir. Scared Pandits, to save their dignity and honor left Kashmir, their motherland, on the 19th of January 1990, leaving behind their properties both movable and immovable.
Approximately after 30 years later 5th August 2019, the Government of India revoked the special status, or limited autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. The President of India issued an order under the power of Article 370, overriding the prevailing 1954 Presidential order and nullifying all the provisions of autonomy granted to the state. The Home Minister introduced a Reorganisation Bill in the Indian Parliament, seeking to divide the state into two Union Territories to be governed by a lieutenant governor and a unicameral legislature. The resolution seeking the revocation of the special status under Article 370 and the bill for the state’s reorganization was debated and passed by the Rajya Sabha- India’s upper house of parliament – on 5th August 2019. On 6th August, the Lok Sabha – India’s lower house of parliament – debated and passed the Reorganization Bill along with the resolution recommending the revocation.
On August 8, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to the Nation, explaining the rationale of scrapping the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir. The move, as he referred to, will “liberate” the people of the region and bring them closer to the rest of the country. He further emphasized the developmental and political benefits that are expected to flow from these arrangements.
This set the stage for Mr. Modi’s ‘Naya Kashmir Vision’ based on Development, Prosperity & New Leadership. However, nine months down the line, Kashmiri Pandits are yet to figure out the priorities and promises for them.
Further government of India issued the Gazette Notification in regard to the Domicile matters in the UT of J&K, on 31st March 2020, 8 months after the Reorganisation Bill. However, in the late-night of April 3rd, 2020, the Central government amended its earlier order on a new domicile law in Jammu and Kashmir that reserved upto level-4 jobs for the residents of the Union territory and left the rest open for all. After the amendment, all jobs levels one to eight are now reserved for the domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir. Domicile act in its present form has further dented the Kashmiri Pandit migrant Community and distance them from their Roots and Identity, impede their return to the land of ancestors (Kashmir ) that they have been dreaming post-migration of 1990 as the Process is so complicated.
It would be prudent to note no action was taken in the matter about return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits during the last 5-year rule of NDA 1.0 even. The NATION FIRST, 2019 election manifesto of BJP contained a reference to Jammu and Kashmir which read.
· In the last five years, we have made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir through decisive actions and firm policy. We are committed to overcoming all obstacles that come in the way of development and provide adequate financial recourses to all the regions of the state. We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370.
· We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state.
We will make all efforts to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits and we will provide financial assistance for the resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb.
With the hope that the BJP may perhaps now settle the issue of Kashmiri Pandit Migrants and rehabilitate them in the valley, 86 % of the votes polled by the migrants in this election were polled in favor of BJP.
While BJP has made considerable progress on the removal of article 370 and 35 A and reorganized of state on August 5, 2019, fully integrated Jammu Kashmir with the rest of India. However, the exiled community had hoped in NDA 2.0, we would see a blueprint of our return, we are sorry to state that even no fund is allocated in the current budget, for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley in inevitable considering Govt Of India takes concrete steps. We will return with dignity & honor urge the Government to make progress in the following areas and not merely make false promises at the time of the election.
1. Satellite Township Built on Smart City Concepts – The only justifiable module for our return is a “Satellite Township” where a concentrated settlement of KPs along with other communities can take place. The Township should be self-sufficient in terms of security, infrastructure, economic avenues, decent housing, educational institutions, health care facilities, recreation centers, commercial complexes, etc. As a first step Kashmiri Pandit living in the valley & all employees working in the valley, under the PM package, should be settled in such township. Instead of giving a housing flat, the KP residents should be given the ownership of land along with a time-bound interest-free loan to build their houses on the allocated land. This will help in creating a sense of ownership and attachment. In case this model is successful, it will encourage the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley in larger numbers.
2. Temples and Shrines Bill:- After the exodus of the community from Kashmir in 1989-90, the temples, shrines, pilgrimage centers, Matts, etc., which represents our age-old heritage, handed down through hundreds of years of continuing tradition, have suffered enormously due to desecration, neglect, and poor management. What has added to their present sorry state is the widespread encroachment of their lands and estates by unscrupulous elements, sometimes with official connivance. To protect and preserve these institutions of heritage, the draft bill (Temples and Shrines preservation) pending in the Legislative Assembly should be passed at the earliest after taking people of other regions of the State on board. The State Government should come out with the factual position regarding the state of lands and estates attached to the temples and shrines, as these existed in 1990 and as of now.
3. Provision of Economic Assistance to the Displaced being Rehabilitated in Kashmir:- Important is the UT/Union govt needs to consider is the fact that Kashmiri Pandit youth, after displacement from Kashmir in 1989-90, has spread across the world. With education as their USP, they are working in the frontiers of medicine, IT, tourism, corporate world, media, social sectors, health care, education, etc. It would be in the fitness of things if their services are utilized in building Naya Kashmir to kick start economic activity and enable them to re-establish their broken links with Kashmir.
4. Employment Package: – The employment package announced earlier for the displaced unemployed persons of the exiled community needs a relook in view of the enormous hardships faced by our youth, who had taken up employment in the valley, as part of the Prime Minister’s package. Briefly, these concern the draconian pre-conditions laid down by the State Government and the inhuman living conditions provided to them by the Government. To illustrate the institutional apathy existing at the state level towards the displaced community, it is to be appreciated that even after so many years of the announcement of the scheme by the former PM for the creation of 6000 jobs only a part of youth have been employed.
5. Political Empowerment of Kashmiri Pandits:- For over half a century now, Kashmiri Pandits have remained politically disempowered. Earlier, some of the constituencies in Kashmir which had substantial numbers of them could elect one of their own to the State legislature. However, all this changed when gerrymandering of these constituencies was carried out in the middle sixties. This resulted in Kashmiri Pandits losing their political relevance in the State. In fact, this was one of the many reasons which contributed to our being marginalized over time. It is felt that the displaced Kashmiri Pandits need to be empowered politically.
6. Removing Encroachments: – The State Government must evolve a mechanism to have the illegal occupation and encroachments of lands and properties belonging to displaced Kashmiri Pandits vacated at the earliest.
Return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the valley shall only be possible if concrete steps, as enumerated above, are taken, such as to secure a safe and dignified environment for them. Central Government has taken any concrete step in this direction. Although there have been some halfhearted attempts by the Central Government in the matter.
[The author Sanjay Sapru is a technocrat with over 20 years of experience in the marketplace having proficiency in development, management, and business skills. As a son of the soil, Jammu & Kashmir is close to his heart and therefore he is very keen on setting up symbols of development in Jammu & Kashmir in order to reduce unemployment. The views expressed are his own.]