News that the Government of India is planning to re-settle Kashmiri Pandits in separate enclaves within the Valley should come as no surprise. Not only is this government a tool of the Hindu right wing, but it is in letter and spirit a ‘Hindu’ government that will look at the Kashmir issue as a ‘Hindu-Muslim’ issue, and naturally favour its own people.
The story of the Kashmiri Pandits is a sad and painful one. Despite the good will of a majority of Kashmiri Muslims towards the Pandits, attempts at re-settling the community in their previous homeland have gone nowhere.
So far, no clarity has emerged as to the nuances of the proposal. Suffice to say that three identified ‘settlements’ will be carved out of existing populated areas of Kashmir, displacing the already traumatised people of Kashmir further, and creating ‘Bantustans’ within Kashmir for the inhabitants who will be KPs. A total of 17,000 kanals of land will be given for this purpose. It goes against the grain of Kashmiri culture, and is a proposal that is fraught with danger. These attempts at forcible ‘settlement’ have seen the destruction of complete nations and the disintegration of societies.
Since the current Prime Minister of India is enamoured of China, it will be instructive for his administration to study carefully the plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang, who are now a minority, having been outnumbered by the Han Chinese. Devastating riots have broken out, and there have been bomb blasts, mass stabbings, summary executions, forced deportations, rape and loot. Xinjiang has been torn apart, violently, and permanently. Does the government want a similar fate to befall Kashmir? If the Pandits are asked to settle on land that will be taken away from the Muslims, does the government know what ill-feelings will be generated? Does the government not realise that this spark will ignite a blaze that cannot be put out?
The current PM also has a special relationship with Israel, having visited the Jewish State as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Maybe he can also learn from the fact that despite having all the intelligence and brute military power in the world, despite concrete walls and numerous checkpoints, despite having torn Palestinian lands to shreds, Israel is still unable to exert full control over the Occupied Territories. Does the administration think that constructing Pandit enclaves, on the pattern of Jewish settlements, will be a solution to their problems? It will only further compound them by creating a wall between the elements of Kashmiri society that have always co-existed peacefully. Even the fateful days of 1990 did not see a ‘communal riot,’ there were targeted ‘murders’ of the Pandits at a time when there were more targeted murders of Kashmiri Muslims.
If the PM is so interested in the ‘security’ and ‘settlement’ of Kashmiri Pandits, and since the matter is only of bringing them physically to Kashmir, and not re-integrating them in Kashmiri society, why not ‘settle’ the community on some of the land the Army has leased? (Not the land the Army has occupied for counter-terrorism operations). Since the Army is deployed in numbers far higher than really needed, and some of it can be easily withdrawn, why not use its pristine property and fully-furnished and equipped camps as homes for the Pandits. The Army can provide the much needed ‘security’ cover as well. The Badami Bagh Cantonment is an example, as also are the Baramulla, Shalteng, Drugmulla, and Anantnag Garrisons. All of them have enough space to accommodate all Pandit families willing to return to Kashmir.
All of this presuming that the Pandits are unwilling to return to their own old houses and properties that have been occupied by the Army in the first place in order to ‘secure’ the Valley. There are many such ‘camps’ in Kashmir – old Pandit houses converted into Army bases. Why doesn’t the administration first offer these properties to the returnees? When all of these properties, of which even the unobservant eye can count hundreds in Sopore, Mattan, Tral, and downtown Srinagar, are emptied and settled, then only should the point about resettlement colonies arise.
Until then, the administration were better off not further destabilising Kashmir by openly favouring a particular community, since that is in no one’s interest. The recent history of 2008 should forewarn anyone about imposing decisions against the will of Kashmiris. It is unlikely that a project such as this will go down peacefully in Kashmir.