Srinagar: The idea of a separate Pandit Homeland within Kashmir was conceptualised 24 years ago by Panun Kashmir (our own Kashmir), an extremist organization representing a section of radicalized migrant Pandits with close ties to the ruling BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
On December 28, 1991, a year after the Kashmiri Pandits left Kashmir in circumstances the reasons of which remain contested, Panun Kashmir, passed a resolution during its convention named Margdarshan in Jammu, Tawi, demanding a separate homeland for the “political survival of over 700,000 Kashmiri Pandits in their birth land”.
The Panun Kashmir, which describes itself as a movement to “save Kashmiri Pandits to save India”, had always demanded a separate homeland, but it could not be met due to absence of the required political clout even though the organisation had found sympathy within Indian establishment and the media.
The dream, may be in its crude form, seems to now be turning into a reality with the advent of the new BJP-PDP coalition. The saffron party, during its election campaign, always demanded the “dignified return” of the Pandits.
Even though the plan of separate safe zone is old, it took 24 years to change the nomenclature from separate “homeland” to “composite townships” to make it saleable to the Muslim-dominated Valley.
“The concept of separate townships for Pandits by government is as similar as given by the Panun Kashmir minus political and administrative powers it had demanded,” said a senior journalist.
“The government is slowly playing its card on the issue. Let us wait to see whether such zones would be vested with constitutional and political powers.”
According to Panun Kashmir website (panunkashmir.org), the “Historic Homeland Resolution” demands the establishment of a “homeland for the Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley, comprising the regions of the Valley to the East and North of river Jehlum”
“That the Constitution of India be made applicable in letter and spirit in this Homeland, in order to ensure right to life, liberty, freedom of expression and faith, equality and rule of law,” it states.
The organization had demanded that the Homeland be placed under the Central administration with a Union territory Status, so that it evolves its own “economic and political infrastructure.”
“That all the seven hundred thousand Kashmiri Pandits, which includes those who have been driven out of Kashmir in the past and yearn to return to their homeland and those who were forced to leave on account of the terrorist violence in Kashmir, be settled in the homeland on equitable basis with dignity and honor,” the home land resolution adds.
The Panun Kashmir, referring to Muslim majority community, states that Pandits had deep and firm commitment to social unity, religious coexistence, democracy and secularism.
“They (Pandits) will not accept a society which is communalistic, obscurantist, intolerant and medieval,” it states.
The organization claims that Pandits will not submit to any authority in the State that does not recognize their right to life, equality, faith and protection against discrimination.
“They will not be a party to the present struggle launched against secular and democratic India. They (Pandits) cannot accept the pre-eminence and predominance of any single religious community at their cost.
Terming themselves (Pandits) as the original inhabitants of Kashmir from “ancient times and being the inheritors of a glorious cultural tradition of more than five thousand years”, it states that Kashmiri Pandits have as, much right to live in Kashmir as any other religious group.
“Preservation of this community in its natural and historical habitat is a political necessity,” it states.
Pandit Organisations Speak
Ashwani Charangoo of Panun Kashmir told Kashmir reader that they stand by their demand for separate homeland within Kashmir.
“We have territorial right on Kashmir. For 500 years Kashmiri Pandits were persecuted by the rulers,” he said. “Now there exists different kind of persecution with Kashmiri Pandits. It has both official and unofficial dimensions besides internal and external ones. The dimension of being Muslim majority valley is one. Then Pakistan and radicals within Kashmir are others.”
He, however, said the government announcement for creating new townships for migrant Pandits could not be construed as separate homeland conceptualized by the government within Kashmir.
“We have demanded homeland with political and constitutional power. But these townships do not guarantee us those demands which we have kept paramount to our return. So, townships do not completely fit with the demand of homeland as demanded by us,” he said.
Asked whether it was possible that Pandits could have a state within the state and do they think the townships were the modified form of their homeland concept, Charangoo said that keeping in view the historical experiences and recent experiences which led to “mass exodus” of Kashmiri Pandits, it is vital that separate homeland should be laced with political and administrative powers other then providing general facilities for living.
“We would continue to fight for such homeland in Kashmir. Our heart lies in Kashmir,” he added. “The mere townships won’t work. We want security and constitutional empowerment. There is political dominance of Muslims. There are Muslim fundamentalists and Pakistan factor. So we need political guarantees which would enable us to take decision and provide a sense of relief to our community”.
The head of All Parties Migrant Coordination Committee (APMCC), Vinod Pandit maintained silence over the Panun Kashmir demand of separate homeland.
He, however, supported the government plans for separate townships for the migrant Pandit families.
“Many of the Pandit families have sold their property in Kashmir at throwaway prices. How can they now reclaim the property so as they return and get settled here? We do not want to fight with our Muslim brethren over property dispute and earn enemies,” Pandit said.
“In this scenario government should help us in rehabilitating by allotting us land and houses,” he added.