Bringing Kashmiri Pandits Home

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In recent weeks, the question of the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley has returned to media headlines. The focus on the Pandits’ plight also coincided with the completion of thirty years of their flight from Kashmir Valley in the wake of the outbreak of the militancy. Ever since the community has yearned to return to Kashmir but the difficult situation in Kashmir has frustrated any such prospect. Every government scheme made to facilitate the community’s return has come to a nought. This is despite the fact that the people in Kashmir have always wanted Pandits to return.

Will things be any different now? It is difficult to say anything with certainty. But, yes, the BJP government at the centre has been championing the Pandit rehabilitation in the Valley. In a recent meeting with Kashmiri Pandit groups, the home minister Amit Shah revealed that the government will create special townships in all the 10 districts of the Valley for the resettlement of Pandits. He assured the members of the community that a blueprint for the purpose was being given final touches. The plan also involves the renovation and rebuilding of temples destroyed since the outbreak of militancy. The home minister is also reported to have sought help from the Pandit groups to assist the government in compiling a database of all the properties that had either been occupied or encroached upon so that the government could initiate redressal mechanisms to restore the property to the rightful owners.

This is the first time that the union government has been so open about establishing such townships. And surprisingly this has been met by a deafening silence in the Valley. No major local political organization has issued a statement, a welcoming one or otherwise. No civil society group has spoken. In past, any public mention of exclusive townships for Pandits has invariably run up against a massive public backlash in Kashmir. While, people in Kashmir are not opposed to return of the community, they have been against separate enclaves.

Ever since, the situation in Kashmir has altered drastically. Article 370 has also done away with Article 35A, something that barred outsiders from settling down in J&K. Now even people from outside the state can buy land in J&K and become citizens. What is more, outsiders can also apply for jobs. That is, if the centre doesn’t bring in the domicile law and allow only state subjects to apply for the local jobs, as is being proposed.
That said, it is important that Kashmiri Pandits return to Kashmir. And their Muslim brethren should come forward to make it a success. And centre, on its part, should also be sensitive to the complexity of the issue. Its effort should be to ensure the community’s rehabilitation in a way that makes local Muslim community a partner in the exercise rather than deal with it only as a government project.

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