From Refugee Camps to Ghettos?

There is this instant feeling of kinship whenever a Kashmiri Muslim comes across a Kashmiri Pandit during a trip outside the Valley, even though the two may otherwise be total strangers. This is something non-Kashmiris cannot understand. When Kashmiri Pandits talk of being separated from their native land, they are not missing a particular piece of land but a whole existence in Kashmir which includes their interaction with local Muslims, neighbours and friends. It is true that a majority of the Kashmiri Pandits left the Valley immediately after the turmoil. Also, it cannot be denied that there were numerous instances of intimidation and even killings of Kashmiri Pandits. But then the local Muslim population also faced a similar situation. Besides the number of local Muslims killed in cross-firing, or in conflict with the armed forces, or in torture chambers, there were definitely targeted killings by gun-wielding elements who remain unclassified, and were, as they continue to be even today, described as ‘unidentified gunmen’. In fact, the local Muslim population had to suffer more, and in silence too.

          Why the Kashmiri Pandits migrated remains a debate today also, with one side at times dismissing it as a ‘conspiracy’ to ensure (the state) a free hand in dealing with the insurgency in Kashmir, and the other side relating harrowing tales of what made it to migrate. The truth lies somewhere in between, and it cannot be denied that, as in all such mass migrations, panic led to a chain reaction which became the ultimate cause for the community’s migration. Since the BJP formed the government at the centre, there has been renewed talk of rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits in their native areas. This would be a welcome step except for how the issue is being approached. The BJP has even used it as a part of its 44+ plan in the state assembly elections, it being a different matter that the strategy did not pay off.

The central government plans to set up separate colonies for the Kashmiri Pandits, and even the area of the land required for this has been worked out and submitted to the state government, but the scheme doesn’t seem to have generated much enthusiasm in the Pandit community except in the usual lobbies for whom it is just an opportunity to gain political mileage.

          A quarter of a century has gone by since the Pandits left the Valley. That is a lot of time. The initial trauma of displacement is long over, and there is a whole new generation of Kashmiri Pandits which has never lived here, among whom there might be very few takers of resettlement in the Valley. Even otherwise, the idea of returning to their native land might not be attractive for all Kashmiri Pandits.  The Valley may be famed for its beauty, and has a salubrious climate to recommend it, but the fact remains that it is hardly a land of opportunity. Of late, migrating outside Kashmir for livelihood has become a pretty common practice even among local Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits inclined to take this opportunity to return only because they haven’t been able to make much headway outside would be looking for more than just a piece of land. They will want jobs and other facilities to go along with the offer of a separate homeland. And then, even if they do manage to secure all of that, frustration is bound to creep in sooner or later because doles have a tendency to inhibit growth rather than promote it. Of course, there will be many who would like to return to the Valley in the sense of returning to their roots. But that is not possible within the confines of an artificially created ‘homeland.’  The state of affairs in the Pandit colonies already established by the government should be proof enough. The plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who had stayed back against all odds contrasts starkly with the lives of those who have returned only to find themselves permanently quarantined.

          The proposed measure will only drive the wedge between the two communities even deeper, and wounds, instead of healing, will become malignant.  In fact it will be the greatest disfavour to the Kashmiri Pandits as they would be pitted against their compatriots in a setting full of suspicion and mutual distrust. It is a given that the vocal Pandit ‘leaders’ who support this idea will not be actually living in these settlements themselves but only use them as fiefdoms to further their own political aspirations. ‘Rehabilitated’ Kashmiri Pandits face the risk of ending up as pawns for the agents of chauvinistic politics, and resettlement could turn out to be just another displacement, this time from refugee camps to ghettos.