Srinagar: Nearly 450 families of former militants hoping to rebuild their lives after they returned to the Kashmir Valley through the Nepal route are facing a relentless struggle to make both ends meet in the absence of a proper rehabilitation policy, according to available accounts.
The hapless condition of the returnees has also heightened the risk that some of them may return to militancy as instances of suicide, bouts of depression and attempts to return to Pakistan-administered-Kashmir (PaK) involving these families have been reported regularly with neither the Jammu and Kashmir government nor the central authorities having a clear cut policy on how to bring them into the national mainstream.
Security agencies have been constantly raising the issue about their rehabilitation at the earliest, fearing what they said were “active time bombs” that can explode anytime.
Security officials feel that some workable solution should be redrawn for the Nepal returnees, who could also become an easy fodder for militant groups in the Valley.
The state government officials have been trying to convince the Government of India for formulating a policy on return of youths from Nepal but have not been able to cut ice with them. “After all this route was started by the previous state government with concurrence of the Centre. We are also trying,” a state government official said.
The opening of Nepal route was started by the previous government led by Omar Abdullah in which residents of Kashmir, who were not involved in heinous crimes, were allowed to enter India via Nepal. Under this scheme, a resident of Kashmir who had exfilitrated to Pakistan-administered-Kashmir (PaK) in the early 1990s could return after someone from the family gave an application.
The plea was duly vetted by the state and GoI officials before a go-ahead was given to the family members, officials said, adding around 450 families availed this option and entered via Nepal from 2011 to 2014. The male members were given a minimum loan to start a small job and school admissions for their children were also ensured.
The Omar Abdullah government had announced a rehabilitation policy in 2010 for former Kashmiri militants, who had crossed over to Pakistan from 1989 to 2009 and had designated four points Wagah-Attari, Salambad, Chakan Da Bagh and the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi– for return of militants. However, the Nepal route was approved unofficially.
As per the state government records, as many as 4,587 youth had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) for arms training and among them only 489 youths, due to change of heart, along with their families have returned through the Nepal border which included some during the present PDP-BJP tenure till 2016.
However, after this the policy was discontinued as the GoI felt that it could be misused by militants to sneak into the hinterland of the country.
The state government is also facing criticism from the Nepal returnees who have formed an association — Nepal Returnee Forum — whose members now claim that they want to highlight that there is no alternative to peace “but provided our life was made a bit peaceful”.
“We were arrested upon our arrival in the Kashmir Valley and till date we are fighting our cases in the court. We were promised the sky but we have to virtually beg in order to make both our ends meet. Our womenfolk have been slapped with stringent Foreigners Act,” claimed some of the members. “India should now accept that we are Indians,” they said.
Today, many of the families are living in rented accommodations on the outskirts of Srinagar city with some of their children working as daily wagers while pursuing their studies in school. “We have conveyed to the government that at least travel documents should be issued to our families so that we can send them back. This way only we will suffer and not our families,” they say.
“We were a scared lot across the border and we are scared on this side of the border too,” says the wife of a militant, who availed the surrender policy.
Many of those who returned claimed their names are registered in the revenue records but the state government was not issuing ration cards or state subjects to their family members. “Why are we being treated as an outsider,” ask some of the members who did not wish to be identified for fear of their lives.