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The right to return

J&K assembly resolution on Kashmiri Pandits is a reminder of work yet to be done

By: |
January 23, 2017 2:11:56 am

On the 27th anniversary of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the Valley, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed a resolution, the first of its kind, for their return. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, proposed that the House adopt a resolution calling for the return of the Pandits and others including Sikhs and Muslims who left because of the conflict. All parties agreed, and it was passed unanimously. The resolution calls for creating a “congenial atmosphere for the return of the Kashmiri Pandits and migrants”. Sadly, the ease of its acceptance in the House does not mirror the complexities that surround the issue. Everyone, including the Hurriyat, says they want the Kashmiri Pandits back in the Valley. Education Minister Naeem Akhtar speaks of their departure as a civilisational loss. There is little disagreement, at least in public discourse, that their departure in 1990 has left Kashmir culturally and socially incomplete. Well-intentioned though it is, however, the resolution begs the question: Is it possible to create a “congenial environment” without a settlement of the larger Kashmir question?

A separate plan for the rehabilitation of Pandits in the Valley that has been in the works for a couple of years is beset by fundamental problems: Around 1,00,000 Pandits fled shortly after the violent eruption of militancy in Kashmir. Many do not have homes there anymore, having sold them at the time, or because these were illegally occupied by others, or destroyed. In any case, many seem to think they would not feel as secure as before in their old neighbourhoods. The idea of building segregated “townships” for Pandits on land provided by the state government, as floated by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh — he says Muslims can also live in these colonies — is fiercely opposed by the Hurriyat and other Kashmiri Muslims as a Hindutva plan. They insist that Pandits are safe anywhere in Kashmir and that by planning to segregate them, the government is fuelling their fears, and heightening the communal divide. The Valley already has a few government-built Pandit “enclaves”, but with their high walls, concertina wire, and police security, even those who live in them are not enthused by their ghetto-like surroundings.

The assembly resolution is not going to make these issues go away. For now, at best it can be seen as an acknowledgement by the Kashmiri political class that the Pandits have the right to return, and that it must strive to facilitate this.

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First published on: 23-01-2017 at 02:11:56 am
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