By Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
Under the prevailing conditions, the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their native land cannot be conceived without exposing their life and honour to grave risk. The fact is that the Pandits were always discriminated, economically squeezed, socially excluded and politically marginalised, and above all, subjected to communal violence in 1967 and 1986. The Muslim majoritarianism and the Muslim precedence pervaded all walks of life after 1947. The Pandits had, therefore, no option and were forced to come out of the Valley slowly and steadily between 1947 and 1989 due to their insecure conditions. The successive governments failed to protect life, honour and property of the remaining Pandits in Kashmir who somehow managed to continue to live there. These Pandits in 1989-90 had to suffer genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kashmir and had to thereafter live as refugees outside the Valley from 1989-90 onwards.
Instead of reversing the Muslim majoritarianism that became more powerful after the rise of Muslim terrorism in the Valley, and has been the cause of ruin of the Pandits, the J&K state government is asking the Pandits to return on the basis of ?plans? made by the former for their so-called rehabilitation in the Valley. These ?plans? do not recognise the genocide and ethnic cleansing as the causes of their ruin, but deal with the whole Pandit tragedy as if it has occurred as a consequence of a natural disaster caused to them by flood, famine, earthquake or fire, etc. In this context, it is worthwhile to mention that the governments at the Centre and in the state have conveniently ignored the findings of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that reveal that acts akin to genocide were committed against the Pandit community and a genocide-type design may exist against them in the minds and utterances of the terrorists and militants in the Valley. The Government of India also tends to forget its own deposition before the International Council of Jurists that the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits had taken place in Kashmir Valley.
The Kashmiri Pandits are well aware about the importance of their return to Kashmir in their own interest and also in the national interest. But neither of these interests can be served through the ?return plans? framed by the governments. These plans contain nothing which can retain Pandits in the Valley on a lasting basis. If some of them choose to return, their return will be for facing yet another exodus, sooner than later. It is pertinent to state that after the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90, the number of the left-out Kashmiri Pandits was approximately 20,000. The recently published and publicised number of Pandits living in the Valley, by the Census Commissioner of India as well as by the government of Jammu and Kashmir, is 7,000 only. This is self-explanatory of the situation prevailing in the Valley which needs no further comment.
The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has posed a challenge to the Pandit community and the Indian nation in respect of their approach to the issue of resettlement of the community in Kashmir Valley.
The Kashmiri Pandits have rejected outright the plan of return made by the previous and the present governments. The Pandits? return to the Valley needs a new constitutional dispensation with ingredients which will retain them in the Valley on a lasting basis. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the indigenous people of Kashmir?the Kashmiri Pandits and their cultural tradition. The State of India is a signatory to a number of international agreements which are aimed to protect the indigenous people along with their cultural tradition. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has posed a challenge to the Pandit community and the Indian nation in respect of their approach to the issue of resettlement of the community in Kashmir Valley.
The resettlement of the Pandit community issue cannot be confused with the issue of rehabilitation of a community or a group of people who are victims of a natural disaster. The Pandits are victims of a man-made catastrophe. The genocide, ethnic cleansing and exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits have raised important human rights and political questions for the Indian State to deal with. Any misadventure in the name of ?return and rehabilitation? can prove counter-productive and eliminate all chances of the resettlement of the Pandits in the Valley for ever. They cannot be sacrificed at the altar of sham secularism in Kashmir. They are not prepared, henceforth, to live in the Valley at the mercy, or the so-called goodwill, of the majority community. Therefore, it has become imperative to deal with the issue of resettlement of the Pandits in the Valley from a political angle which, besides serving national interests, should visibly take into account the territorial, constitutional and political concerns of the indigenous people of Kashmir?the Kashmiri Pandits?into consideration.
The Pandits have already formulated their return plan through the Margadarshan resolution of 1991 and should be given due consideration by the Government of India. In the meantime, it is also imperative for the State of India to keep the Pandit refugees alive by providing them further measures of relief, employment and accommodation, etc., keeping in view the assurances that the Prime Minister of India gave them when he visited them recently in Jammu. The resettlement of the Pandit community, as envisaged in the historic resolution of Margadarshan, opens new vistas for the State of India to reconstruct its policy on Kashmir.
(The author is president of the Panun Kashmir Movement).