J&K’s fresh migration register: Cure or curse?

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More than 100 Kashmiri Muslims have registered themselves as migrants in Jammu in the past one month. They claim that they were under the threat of militants in the Valley. A sequel to the October 5, 2016 order, kept under wraps until last month, it has re-opened the registration of migrants halted in 2008. Implications for Kashmir’s internal situation are unfolding, leading to a trust deficit.
IF the Muslims in Kashmir are under militants’ threat and need to flee from the Valley, then it begets a question: Why? The PDP-BJP government thought it prudent to enable them to register themselves as migrants without making an assessment of the level of threat. It is seen as a safety valve for them. The Executive order said, “Sanction is hereby accorded to the reconstitution of the committee for screening the applications for registration of bona fide Kashmiri migrants.” 

The migration from the Valley started in 1990, with the eruption of militancy. Kashmiri Pandits fled the Valley. This renewed registration is essentially meant for Muslims as there are hardly any Hindus left in the Valley. Do Kashmiri Muslims need the protective cover of “migrants” to settle in a safe place like Jammu to escape the  militants’ guns? No one can deny them the right to life. It is the duty of the government to protect them but this has re-opened the chapter of   migration with a single executive order, without taking the cabinet into confidence. The registration was frozen in 2008 by the State Administrative Council, equivalent to the cabinet when the state is under Central rule.

It doesn’t matter whether they are Hindus or Muslims. During all these years of militancy in Kashmir, the Muslims in the Valley have felt the heat of militants’ fury. They shifted to Jammu and constructed homes. As state subjects, they are within their right to settle in any part of the state. But there was no official migrant tag. Such a tag makes it mandatory for the government to provide them with accommodation, cash relief, free ration and facilities the Kashmiri Pandit migrants get. 

It doesn’t matter whether they are Hindus or Muslims. During all these years of militancy in Kashmir, the Muslims in the Valley have felt the heat of militants’ fury. They shifted to Jammu and constructed homes. As state subjects, they are within their right to settle in any part of the state. But there was no official migrant tag. Such a tag makes it mandatory for the government to provide them with accommodation, cash relief, free ration and facilities the Kashmiri Pandit migrants get. 

This also draws attention to several uncomfortable truths, with implications for the state and the rest of the country. Firstly, it is a big rebuke to the claim by Delhi and Srinagar that the Valley has witnessed vast improvement in the situation since 1990. Then, more than 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Hindus fled the Valley under the fear of persecution by militants. Conversely, it also is  an admission that the situation has further deteriorated. This goes on to prove that the campaign to ensure the return and restoration of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors is devoid of any substance.  This would send a message  to the rest of  India that after 27 years, Kashmir has been distanced, physically and psychologically, from  the country. Again, if the Muslims are encouraged to migrate, what about some 2,000 Kashmiri Pandits who are still living in the Valley? With their Muslim neighbours moving out, their existence becomes untenable in this “government-encouraged” atmosphere of fear. If Muslims are looking for a bright future for themselves and their families out of the disturbed Valley, surely non-migrant Pandits cannot be expected to stay back.

An announcement  of the opening of fresh migration of the threatened Muslims  has  created  more space for radical elements supporting militancy and  guns they believe would deliver them “freedom from the Indian occupation”. The responsibility to check their free run, in which an Islamic State-type enclave  falls within the realm of reality, will fall on the Army. More gunfights and killings cannot be ruled out, howsoever dreadful the thought. 

Already, there  have been glimpses of that in the past few months. The two sides have had formidable fights, drawing national and global attention. Politically, it suits separatists and their mainstream supporters. It will evoke international attention and undermine the possibility of resolution through  dialogue. 

Is the government’s defreezing of migration a genuine move to save lives or a design? Either of this could be true. The security situation in the Valley is palpably very bad. Fear is rampant and all-pervasive. Family members suspect each other and neighbours have perfected art of doublespeak. No one knows who would be dubbed as a police “informer” and eliminated by militants.   Perhaps, the government found a convenient  way to help  its own people. South Kashmir, the bastion of the ruling PDP, was the epicentre of trouble and violence in 2016. The design is to overwhelm Jammu, the Hindu-majority area until now,  to get overwhelmed by the  Muslim population. That, in the long term could validate claims of Pakistan and separatists that the aspirations of the people of Jammu  and Kashmir are for “freedom.”At a deeper level, this belies the very idea of the return of the  migrant Kashmiri Pandits to their homes in the Valley. Almost all have been saying that the Valley is  “incomplete without them,” but the “incomplete” Valley has become a meaningless cliché. 

In the first place, the executive order runs against the spirit of the resolution passed by the state legislature that circumstances should be created for an early return of migrants to the Valley. This resolution gets reduced to just a paper when more migration is encouraged. The question, “If Muslims in the exclusively Muslim Valley are not safe, how could the Kashmiri Hindus be”? stares at the government.  The other side is that the government would breathe easy as it would escape the pressure of  facilitating the return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants to the Valley. Once that happens, there would be no need for a transition camp for the migrants in the Valley. The separatists would have their say that there would be no separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits. 

This scenario is fraught with danger. The Centre cannot remain indifferent. If today, it is a problem to restore Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors, tomorrow it may be a similar problem for Kashmiri Muslims. If this is allowed, Kashmir will  be a very different and a very dangerous place. The promised land of Jammu is having serious thoughts about its identity.  The only way out is to involve Jammu and Kashmir politically and lift it out of fear through sustained dialogue and measures that spell hope and promise. 

For argument’s sake, even if it is believed that Muslim families registering themselves  as migrants  are under the threat of militants, then who occupies the space left by them? Obviously, the answer is the radicals and the militants.That may throw a challenge to the government at the Centre as well as give an excuse to go in for military action against the armed radicalised elements in  Kashmir. 
This scenario is fraught with danger. The Centre cannot remain indifferent. If today, it is a problem to restore Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors, tomorrow it may be a similar problem for Kashmiri Muslims. If this is allowed, Kashmir will  be a very different and a very dangerous place. The promised land of Jammu is having serious thoughts about its identity.  The only way out is to involve Jammu and Kashmir politically and lift it out of fear through sustained dialogue and measures that spell hope and promise.  

The Article First Appeared In The Tribune

 

 

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