Anaahat Naad

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Long walk home

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The state as well as Central government is focussing on ‘normalising’ the Kashmir valley, and rightly so. In this connection, three interlocutors appointed by the Central government – Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari – toured the entire Jammu & Kashmir state extensively. Following their meetings with people in the state, the interlocutor panel’s report was finally released in the public domain a few days back.

Today, tourists throng the valley. During summer, there is a huge inflow and outflow of people who come to see the beautiful vale as Kashmir is magnificent in summer. In fact, the valley glows in every season – summer, autumn, winter, or spring. Last year, more than 1.3 million tourists visited Kashmir (excluding 6.33 lakh pilgrims who visited the holy Amarnath cave shrine). Kashmir is expecting a very good tourist season this year as well. And the projected number of tourists who will be visiting this year is around 2 million. (Sources: DNA report – April 25, 2012 and Hindustan Times – May 22, 2012)

The state has been relatively peaceful in 2011 compared to the violent summer of 2010. There has been a substantial decline in terrorist violence. In 2011, 189 terrorist incidents were reported, compared to 368 cases in 2010. Jammu witnessed 37 militancy-related incidents while 152 cases were reported in Kashmir. This is the lowest number of incidents in the last 22 years of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is pressing hard for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some districts of the state. The tussle over AFPSA revocation continues till date. There is indeed a significant change in the situation in Kashmir valley as compared to when insurgency was at its peak. (Source: Outlook Dec 31, 2011)

For a section of Kashmiri people though, the minority Hindus – who became homeless due to the insurgency – nothing seems to have changed in last more than two decades. It is a paradox that Kashmir is relatively peaceful, but the exiled Kashmiris are not at peace.

What has changed for the exiled Kashmiris? Have those responsible for making Kashmiri Pandits homeless been arraigned in these years? Are the killers of minority Hindus punished for their barbaric acts? Not only are they roaming around freely, they are welcomed and garlanded by many people in Kashmir as ‘heroes’. A terrorist who has confessed in a television interview that he murdered more than 20 Kashmiri Hindus is a free man. Another terrorist, against whom more than 20 cases are booked including under TADA and POTA, is freely championing the so-called Kashmir cause. At present, both of them lead separatist organisations along with their ilk and are preaching ‘peace’. What can be more agonising?

Be it any political party (National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, or Congress) who came to power in the state, nobody cared about bringing culprits of the largest ethnic cleansing (since Partition) to book. How long will it take the political class to wake from its deep slumber?

There is mere lip service from our political class which won’t resolve the issues. The only pertinent distinction is that those Kashmiri refugees who were living in inhumane camps in Jammu are provided tenements this year.

The issue of homelessness and the return of minority Hindus linger. There are no easy answers on the question of permanent return of Kashmiri Pandits. “Where will the Pandits go? What will the Pandits return to? Where are the houses and the homes? The only forms of return in the current scenario are pilgrimages to temples and tourism and holidaying. The exiles go to Kashmir for a few days and return to their homes outside Kashmir. Permanent return is not possible till the time rebuilding of the lost ethos happens in every sense – trust, security, homeland, livelihood, culture…”, says Siddhartha Gigoo whose novel, The Garden of Solitude narrates the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits and their life in exile.

On May 15, 2012 Mullappally Ramchandran, the Minister of State for Home, in a written reply to a question told the Lok Sabha that there are 58,697 Kashmiri migrant families registered with respective relief authorities which includes 38,119 families in Jammu, 19,338 families in Delhi and 1,240 families in other places in India. It is a pity that the Indian state could not prevent the homelessness of its people. (Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=83913)

Under the Prime Minister’s Return and Rehabilitation package for Kashmiri migrants a few thousand Pandits joined government services in the valley, but only on condition that they have to serve within the valley. Whatsoever be the circumstances in Kashmir, they cannot leave the valley. That cannot be termed as a ‘return’. It is like caging them. The government has erred in linking ‘economics’ with ‘return’. Or maybe it is a deliberate miscalculation.

How correct is journalist Vir Sanghvi when he wrote in his article on the 22nd anniversary of the exile of Kashmiri Pandits, “…when this anniversary passes, when bloggers have moved on to other subjects and something else is trending on twitter, that the Kashmiri Pandits will be exactly where they have been for the last two decades: nowhere people with no homeland to call their own.”

What has changed in these 22 years for the exiled Kashmiri Pandits? The homelessness of homeless Kashmiris persists.

(Originally published in Newslaundry)

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Written by Varad Sharma

May 28, 2012 at 11:00 pm