[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.]
On August 5, 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.
Then On August 8, 2020, the Prime Minister Sh. Narinder Modi reached out to the Nation, explaining the rationale of scrapping the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir and splitting of the state into two union territories. The move, as he referred to, will “liberate the people of the region and bring them closer to the rest of the country “and further emphasised the developmental and political benefits that are expected to flow from these arrangements. This set the Stage for Modi’s “Naya Kashmir Vision”, based on Development, Prosperity & New Leadership. Even after two years Kashmir Pandits are still figuring out as to what is in store for them.
It would be prudent to note that no action was taken in the matter about the return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits even during the last 5-years rule of NDA 1.0.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 a firm policy. We are committed to overcome 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 displaced Kashmiri Pandits and rehabilitate them in the valley, 86 % of the votes polled by the migrants in this election were polled in favor of BJP.
The BJP Government has made considerable progress on the removal of article 370 & 35 A and reorganization of state and fully integrated Jammu Kashmir with rest of India . However, the exiled community had hoped, in NDA 2.0, to see a blueprint of our return. The hope is belied as it is seen that no funds are allocated for our rehabilitation in the current budget. Return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley shall be possible only if the Govt. of India takes concrete steps in this direction and the Government in power since last 7 years ( NDA 1.0 and NDA 2.0) has not formally engaged with the Kashmiri Pandit community and has been involved in confusing our Return & Rehabilitation with employment package alone.
We will return with dignity & honor and therefore, once again, urge the Government of India to make progress in the following areas, which are essential for our return, and not merely make promises at the time of elections, which are not implemented after the elections.
- Smart City / Satellite Township – To develop a “Satellite Township preferably based on the concept of “New Smart City”, where the settlement of Kashmiri Pandits 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 Pandits living in Valley & all employees working in Valley, under the PM package, 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 sense of ownership and attachment. In case this model is successful, it will encourage the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley in large numbers.
- 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 then 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 seen that even after so many years of announcement of the scheme by the former PM for the creation of 6000 jobs, only a part of youth have been employed .
- Provision of Economic Assistance to the Migrated Kashmiri’s: Hard work, dedication, commitment and the right type of education are the main ingredients of Kashmiri Pandits, who were exiled from the valley in 1990. Presently they are working in the frontiers of practically all fields, be it Medicine, IT, Tourism, Corporate World, Media, Social Sectors, Healthcare, education, etc across the World. It would be more fruitful if their services are utilized in the building of ‘Naya Kashmir’ to kick start economic activity. This strategy would also enable them to re-establish their broken links with the valley.
- Removing Encroachments: – The UT/Union 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.
Govt of the day has given more teeth to Migrants Distress Sales Act recently after 24 years . In order to enforce the J&K Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997 in letter and spirit the Government issued an order enjoining upon all the District Magistrates in Kashmir valley in their capacity as competent authority and directed them to undertake survey, field verification of migrant left over properties and update all registers within a period of 15 days.The order issued by the Revenue Department also enjoined upon the District Magistrates to submit a compliance report to the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir within a stipulated time.
It may be pertinent to mention here that the Union home ministry told Parliament recently that , since the nullification of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, only nine properties in Jammu & Kashmir have been given back to Kashmiri Hindus who had to flee the Valley due to terrorist violence in the early 1990s.
- Passage of Temples and Shrines Bill: – After the exodus of the community from Kashmir in 1989-90, the temples, shrines, pilgrimage centers, Matts, etc., which represent 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 bill) pending in the Legislative Assembly should be passed at the earliest, after taking all stakeholders on board. The UT/Union Government should come out with the factual position regarding the state of lands and estates attached with the temples and shrines, as these existed in 1990.
The BJP General Secretary (Organization), Sh Ashok Koul in one of his statements committed that “Our stand on the passage of the Temples and Shrines Bill remains firm. We have supported it in the past and we will continue to support it,” BJP now that they are in power for the past 7 years , nothing has been delivered.
- Census, Delimitation Process & Political Empowerment of Kashmiri Pandits :- In the 2011 Census, no door-to-door survey was conducted, however, the records reveal that the population of Hindus in Kashmir stood at 1.64 lakhs, with a sex ratio as 10:1. This sex ratio, compared to national figure of 1000:940, is a complete farce. According to 2001 census, Kashmir Hindus formed 1.84 % of Kashmir population. It further states that 1.5 lakh to 3 lakhs Kashmiri Pandits were displaced to Jammu and other parts of India due to militancy. It is pertinent to mention that after Hindu exodus in 1989-90, two censuses were conducted, i.e., in 2001 and 2011 both have been eyewash & pure fabrication.
For over 70 years 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 mid-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 community being marginalized over time. It is imperative that the displaced Kashmiri Pandits be empowered politically.
To rectify the non-representation, through the process of Delimitation ,we urge Union of India to create a legitimate electoral space at all the conceivable areas of electoral activity of UT . Implicit in it is to exercise the power of the Commission to settle the politically unsettled concern of Kashmiri Pandits which means their rightful participation in mainstream political life of the place through a guaranteed electoral mechanism. Like 32-Sangha Assembly constituency Buddhist monks registered with 51 monasteries in the State are the only ones who can contest and cast their votes for the unique virtual Assembly seat.
Return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley is essential in order to make Narinder Modi’s VISION of ”Naya Kashmir” a reality and therefore concrete steps need to be taken, in order to provide a safe and dignified environment for their return. It is true that 31 years down the line the divide between the two communities has increased. It is therefore important that both communities realize the fact that in case “Naya Kashmir” has to become a reality (based on Development, Prosperity and New Leadership) both sides have to collaborate with each other and regain each other’s lost trust. Nonetheless, the larger onus falls on the Muslim Civil Society of Kashmir that has to come forward beyond words, accept the minority Hindu Community with open hearts and not just welcome their return (by words only), but facilitate the return process without any road blocks and also help the authorities in shunning violence.
In the last 7 Years of BJP government people responsible for our genocide and subsequent exodus have not been booked and punished as per the law of the land. One of the surveys by Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti reports that around 650 Kashmiri Hindus have been killed since 1990 whereas only 219 FIR’s have been lodged and even in these 219 cases there have been no convictions to date.
It is earnestly hoped that the Government of the day shall take some concrete and meaningful steps to facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors with dignity and not make it just an election slogan again, for 2024 elections.