[Burning Issue] Kashmiri Pandit Exodus

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Union Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the progress of the rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants, including Kashmiri Pandits, during a meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha in Jammu.  According to the Home Ministry, only 17% of the proposed accommodation for Kashmiri Pandits has been completed in the past seven years under the Prime Minister’s Development Package announced in 2015. The Government stated that the construction of all transit accommodation units will be completed by 2023.

About Kashmiri Pandits

  • The Kashmiri Pandits (also known as Kashmiri Brahmins) are Kashmiri Hindus and a part of the larger Saraswat Brahmin community.
  • They belong to the Pancha (five) Gauda Brahmana groups from the Kashmir Valley. They are the only remaining Kashmiri Hindu community native to Kashmir.
  • The Kashmiri Pandits originally lived in the Kashmir Valley before the growth of Islamic militancy in the valley and had been a favoured section of the population of the valley during Dogra rule (1846–1947)
  • 20 percent of them left the valley as a consequence of the 1950 land reforms,and by 1981 the Pandit population amounted to 5 percent of the total population.
  • Many of the refugee Kashmiri Pandits have been living in abject conditions in refugee camps of Jammu. The government has reported on the terrorist threats to Pandits still living in the Kashmir region.

Row over the movie

  • Hype of oppression: The thrust of the movie is how the intensity of the oppression or killing of the Pandits in the Kashmir Valley was totally underplayed in the media and how insensitive the political and intellectual elites of the country were.
  • Accusation of being far ‘Right’: The narrative has been challenged by professional film reviewers and India’s so-called liberal/secular elites, who dominate leading educational institutions and national media.
  • Fiction being sensationalized: For them, the movie is doctored, staged and faked.

Why liberals objecting to the film?

  • Ignorance of minorities: They say that films has shown a limited side; it has ignored how many more Muslims have died too and how the insurrection – movement or insurgency has been due to mis-governance and wrong decisions.
  • ‘Human Rights’ of the terrorists: These liberals have always projected the Indian military as aggressor and Kashmiris as underdogs fighting for their human rights.
  • Decline in empathy: In fact, under the influence of these liberals, some important national dailies have now even stopped using the term “terrorists” altogether; instead, they now prefer to use the word “militants”.

Plight of the Pandits

  • Political correctness of the genocide: The movie puts paramount importance in being politically correct at the cost of obfuscating truth, conveying indifference, and showing a lack of empathy. 
  • Long deserved sensationalization of the issue: It brings plight that Kashmir Hindus also didn’t share their experiences as much, sometimes in a bid to move on, and other times expecting ridicule or indifference by the liberals.
  • Movie revitalized the wounds of past: The movie is perceived as a watershed moment whereby having provided a powerful visual glimpse of the actual genocide in most truthful form.
  • Spark for mainstream discussion: The subject that was taboo is now in the mainstream and people are comfortable with hearing and reconciling with the truth when the world considered India as a villain in Kashmir.

The run-up: 1980s to 1990

  • Political instability: Sheikh Abdullah had died in 1982, and the leadership of the National Conference passed on to his son Farooq Abdullah, who won the 1983 election.
    • But within two years, the Centre broke up the NC, and installed dissident Ghulam Mohammed Shah as Chief Minister. This led to huge disaffection and political instability.
  • Militancy: The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) stepped up its activities, and the hanging of the militant leader Maqbool Bhat in 1984 added to the sense of foreboding.
  • Religious interventions: In 1986, after the Rajiv Gandhi government opened the Babri Masjid locks to enable Hindus to offer prayers there, ripples were felt in Kashmir too.
    • In Anantnag, there was a series of attacks on Hindu temples, and shops and properties of Kashmiri Pandits, blamed on separatist and secessionists.
  • The rigged election of 1987 after which Abdullah formed the government was a turning point at which militants took the upper hand.
    • The 1989 submission to the JKLF set the stage for the next decade.
    • Pandits had begun to be targeted. Eminent persons of the community were being shot dead.

What happened on January 19, 1990?

  • Governor’s rule imposed: Matters came to a head on January 19. By then, the Farooq Abdullah government had been dismissed and Governor’s Rule imposed.
  • No option but to leave the valley: According to accounts published by many Kashmiri Pandits, there were threatening slogans over loudspeakers from mosques, and on the streets.
  • Speeches were made extolling Pakistan and the supremacy of Islam, and against Hinduism. The Kashmiri Pandit community decided to leave.

The Gawkadal Massacre

  • The flight – In January 20, the first stream began leaving the Valley with hastily packed belongings in whatever transport they could find.
  • The massacre – In January 21, the CRPF gunned down 160 Kashmiri Muslim protesters at the Gawkadal Bridge, the worst massacre in the long history of the conflict in Kashmir.
  • Effect – The two events (the flight of the Pandits and the Gawkadal massacre) took place within 48 hours, but for years, neither community could accept the pain of the other, and in some ways, still cannot.

How many Pandits left?

  • According to some estimates, notably by the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), of 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families in January 1990, more than 70,000 fled between 1990 and 1992 and continued until 2000.
  • The KPSS has placed the number of Kashmiri Pandits killed by militants from 1990 to 2011 at 399, the majority during 1989-90.
  • Some 800 families have remained in the Valley through these three decades.

Role of the administration

  • Role of Governor: The other contentious question about the exodus is the role played by the administration, and more specifically that of the J&K Governor, Jagmohan.
  • The Kashmiri Muslim view of the exodus is that he encouraged the Pandits to leave the Valley and thus gave a communal colour to what was until then a non-religious Kashmiri cause.
  • The Kashmiri Hindu view is that the Kashmiri Muslims, with whom they had lived amicably for centuries,  drove them out with a vengeance in a frenzy of Islamism that they could not have imagined even months earlier.
  • The truth, many commentators have concluded, may have been somewhere in the middle.

Present Status of Kashmiri Pandits

  • Home Ministry data: Several Kashmiri migrants reside at existing transit accommodation at Vessu (Kulgam), Mattan (Anantnag), Hawl (Pulwama), Natnusa (Kupwara), Sheikhpora (Budgam) and Veerwan (Baramulla) in the Kashmir Valley other than the camps in Jammu.
  • Various organizations came forward: Following the migration of the Kashmiri Pandit community, various socio-political organizations have sprung up to represent the cause of the displaced community.
    • These organizations are involved in rehabilitation of the community in the valley through peace negotiations, mobilization of human rights groups and job creation for the Pandits.
  • More than 60,000 families are registered as Kashmiri migrants including some Sikh and Muslim families.Most families were resettled in Jammu, NCR and other neighbouring states.
  • 2020 parliamentary panel report: There are 64,827 registered migrant families in J&K — 60,489 Hindu families, 2,609 Muslim families and 1,729 Sikh families.
    • Out of the 64,827 families, 43,494 are registered in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi and 1,995 families are settled in other States and Union Territories.
  • Many of those who did return under a government job scheme, they live in migrant colonies and do not have basic amenities like a ration card or even a voter ID card.

The question of return

  • Those who had means rebuilt their lives elsewhere in the country — Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad have Pandit populations, also Jaipur and Lucknow — or went abroad.
  • The fleeing Pandits did not think they would never return to the Valley. But as the situation in Kashmir spiraled into a full-blown militancy, return began to look remote if not impossible.
  • Successive governments have promised that they will help this process, but the situation on the ground in Kashmir has meant this remains only an intention.
  • There is an acute realization in the community that the Valley is no longer the same that they left behind in 1990.
  • In many cases, their properties were either immediately vandalised or sold quickly by the owners to Kashmiri Muslims. Many fell into disrepair.
  • Now, Kashmiri Muslims see the return of Pandits as essential, but reject the idea of their settlement in secured camps as a replication of Israel-like Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Steps taken by Government

  • The Jammu And Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection And Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997’
    • It provides that any person who is an unauthorized occupant or recipient of any usufruct of any immovable property of the migrant shall pay to the migrant the compensation in such a manner as may be determined by the District Magistrate.
  • Announcement of various relief packages by respective governments
    • As of 2016, a total of 1,800 Kashmiri Pandit youths have returned to the valley since the announcement of Rs. 1,168-crore package in 2008 by the UPA government.
  • Prime Minister’s Development Package announced in 2015, had approved the creation of 3,000 government jobs for Kashmiri migrants.
  • So far, 1,739 migrants have been appointed and 1,098 others selected for the jobs.
  • A similar package for migrants was announced by the UPA government in 2008 under which 2,905 jobs had been filled out of the 3,000 jobs approved.
  • 6,000 transit accommodation units were announced in 2015 for the members who were to be provided jobs by the J&K administration at a cost of Rs 920 crore.

Way forward

  • Punitive actions on terror: The first thing that would deliver justice to exiled Hindus would be to try and punish terrorists’ organizations for the crimes they committed against humanity.
  • Rehabilitation and re-settlement: The second and longer-term should be the effort of reconciliation, rehabilitation and inclusion.
  • Vajpayee doctrine:  The doctrine, ‘Insaniyat, (humanity), Jamhuriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat (identity of the Kashmir people). This largely came to be known as the Vajpayee doctrine.
  • Cosmopolitan inclusive smart city: The way forward for achieving that is to set up a cosmopolitan inclusive smart city where Indians of all origins including the evicted Kashmiri Hindus can build their lives and homes.
  • Learning from the past: This will put the chapter of annihilation and extermination behind us. It is a humongous undertaking but we can take inspiration from the past, when the Mauryans established the city of Srinagar two thousand years ago.

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