Central, State governments betrayed us on return to valley

Vassu:- In an isolated setting far from the local population, Vassu—a village in this south Kashmir district, one of the transitory accommodation facilities for migrant Pandits stretches out close to the Srinagar-Jammu Highway.

Barely 8 km from the main Anantnag town the colony looks like an encampment that has some two hundred fabricated huts. 

Built on two sides of an Army camp and guarded by the J&K police round- the-clock, the residents of the colony feel caged and regret having returned to the valley. The fence enclosing the accommodation is about ten feet high and the sight of it seemingly gives the impression of imprisonment and separation.

“We feel like we are in a prison and it is unjust,” said Sunil Kumar Pandith, who has migrated with his wife from Jammu in 2010. “Although, there was fear among us before coming here, but after getting a good support from locals, we feel it is inappropriate to put us in this situation.” 

Kumar got married in2010. He left his high salaried job in Jammu, his parents and two daughters behind to come back to his homeland. His native home is in Shergund, Anantnag. He and his wife are currently working as teacher and get 6000 rupees a month. “We get our salaries after six months and if God’s grace wasn’t on our side, we wouldn’t survive here. Our friends and relatives give us to survive.”

Although they are living a trouble free life, they are rarely allowed to venture out of the colony. 

Many of them left their salaried jobs before coming back to Kashmir but they feel exploited. More than 50 individuals got married inside these camps over the last five-and-a-half years but the newly-weds find very little privacy due to congestion.

“It’s like living in a jail. Our freedom has been snatched. If we want to live side by side with our old neighbours, we are told that there is a threat to our lives. The real threats are the governments which have played politics over our condition,” Kumar added.

The feeling of insecurity and loss is deeply embedded among Kashmiri Pandits, who preferred to stay put in their homes, braving the threats and political uncertainty, at the height of political unrest in the Valley. According to many Kashmiri Pandits, the Centre’s package, which has divided the community as ‘migrants’ and ‘non-migrants’ is amounts to “rubbing salt on wounds”.

Soon after the package was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many Kashmiri Pandits termed the package as ‘mere eye wash’ and protested at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. 

Pandit RK Bhat, president of Youth All India Kashmir Samaj (YAIKS), which organised the protest, said the government, by announcing the package for rehabilitating 75,000 migrant families, has ignored the Pandits who stayed back in Kashmir Valley.

There are 350 employees in Vassu transit camp. The accommodation is quite unbalanced as four families have been allotted one quarter. Few employees have succeeded to bring their families back, but others are living apart from their parents, spouse and children.

“Government has divided us from our families. Our parents and children live outside state,” Priya, a social welfare worker, said. “For five years we are suffering living away from our loved ones. If government really want to rehabilitate us, then should bring back our families.”

Sunny Raina, President of Vassu transit camp, feels that the government has deceived them as none of their demands were met. 

He further said that this camp lacks the basic amenities like proper water supply, medical aid and no ration is supplied to them. “Modi said we will build small city for Pandits in his speech last year. But none of it was fulfilled. CM of our state announced model school in our colony, but nothing has been done on ground.”

The Centre recently granted a Rs 2,000-crore package for Kashmiri migrants. It contains 3,000 state government jobs and transit accommodations for the displaced members of Kashmiri Pandit community, the financial implication of which would be borne by the Government of India. 

According to official estimates, there are about 62,000 registered Kashmiri migrant families residing in Jammu, Delhi, NCR and other parts of country. All of them are categorised as migrants.

“Out of 3000 state jobs, only 1200 were filled. For five years, SSB has been taking the interview to fill the remaining post, but no further action has been taken,” Raina said.

Sunny Raina further said we were introduced as happy after coming back to our homeland, but we feel deceived by government and no promises were fulfilled to properly rehabilitate us.

Sanjay Tickoo, convenor of Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a group spearheading the cause of resident Kashmiri Pandits, regrets their community has been divided into ‘migrated’ and ‘non migrated’ classes.

 “All the focus of the government and the political parties is concentrated on the Kashmiri Pandit community which left the Valley in early 90’s. Those who did not leave the majority community and suffered with them, their problems are not being considered,” Sanjay said.

 Anil Pandita, a pharmacist fears that due to this package around 30% of couples are about to get divorce as husband works here and his wife is outside the state which will eventually create problem in their relationship. Anil too lives away from his parents.

“I have wasted five years of my life living apart from my parents in this camp,” he said.

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