The State Needs To Do More To Protect The Pandits

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The State Needs To Do More To Protect The Pandits

Sanjay Sapru

Patron Member & Former Treasurer

All India Kashmiri Samaj

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After the killing of Rahul Bhat, there has been unprecedented Pandit mobilization in the valley, and expression of anger against the state. I have observed that this has raised several questions within Kashmir and the mainland.

One, how does the Pandit mobilization impact the conflict dynamics of Kashmir. Second, how does it impact the positioning of the state vis-à-vis the Pandits. Third, does the Pandit mobilization impact the majority community in any way? There are other questions too.

The Kashmiri Pandit community has been through one upheaval or another even after their forced dislocation. A recent phenomenon we started to experience after Article 370 was removed was that the Pandit community got further marginalized in Kashmir.

It is extremely sad that 30 years after our dislocation, the divide between the two communities has increased. But can one flourish without the other? Kashmir’s development, prosperity and new leadership vision shall be realized only through our mutual brotherhood, compassion, collaboration and trust. Building these is our shared responsibility. The larger onus falls on the Kashmiri Muslim community to facilitate reconciliation and build trust.

Kashmir Files Is An Incomplete Story – Kashmir’s Agony Cuts Across All Religions

There needs to be greater sensitivity on both sides. The recent movie Kashmir Files shows the truth, but it is an incomplete story. Perhaps the makers chose to make it this way for higher viewership, for cinematic or dramatic considerations.

The movie should also have shown the pain and trauma suffered by the Kashmiri Muslim community. They too were victims of terrorist violence.

Then there was anger in Kashmir against the Pandits following the Jammu and Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997. The complaint portal was launched by the LG recently. The Pandits started applying under this Act, but the vested section among the majority community did not like it. All these developments have squeezed the space for the Pandit community in Kashmir.

We didn’t get our ancestral lands or our houses back. We didn’t get anything from the annulment of Article 370. We only find our space reducing more and more in our beloved Kashmir.

Pandits Are The Bulwark Against The Radicalization Of Kashmir

The Pandits feel very strongly about one thing. They know that if the Kashmiri Pandit will not stay in Kashmir, then Kashmir will not stay as a part of India. We are not sure whether BJP realizes this. If they did, perhaps the BJP leadership would have handled KP security differently after the removal of Article 370.

KP security was and even now remains an equally big challenge in the valley. But if the safety and security of the Pandits is not ensured in Kashmir, gradually the jihadis will keep increasing their space. It is the Pandits – born of the soil and water of Kashmir – who are the bulwark against the radicalization of Kashmir.

It is not just the Pandits who say this. Many of our fellow Kashmiri Muslims, who we grew up with, say that they are immensely disturbed by the homogenization of Kashmir and also of the rest of India.

Homogenization has never been good for any society globally. Only the Pandits – the sons and daughters of the soil – shall stand against the homogenization of Kashmir. To meet the long-term security interests of India, the Pandits must be empowered by the state and not taken for granted.

Pandits Working As Part Of PM Package Need Proper Security

The Pandits working in Kashmir as part of the PM Package must be given proper security. They must be given assurance by the government that their living conditions and security infrastructure shall be improved. As of now, some of them are living in one or two-room quarters provided by the government. Many are living in rented accommodation. The quarters provided by the government are in a bad shape.

These Pandits are all educated and qualified people. They are living in Kashmir because they want to be in their motherland. The love of their motherland is keeping them in Kashmir. The PM Package employees have been working and living in Kashmir 2012 onwards. Due to vested and obdurate bureaucracy, everything possible is being done to slow down the return of the Pandits. This seems shocking, but it is true!

Otherwise there is no reason that even though ten years have passed, the construction of housing facilities for all migrant employees is still pending. If there was the right degree of government interest in it, the project would have been completed long back .

Kashmir’s Civil Society Is Supporting The Pandits

The change we are observing this time is that Kashmir’s civil society is supporting the Pandits. They are vocal in their criticism of the terror ecosystem which killed Rahul Bhat.

Kashmiri Pandits are a peace-loving community. They would not have resorted to stone-pelting or any violence during their protest. But the police used tear gas and lathi charge to disperse them. I am thankful that the police did not use pellets. It is shocking that the police used those methods to disperse the Kashmiri Pandits that are used for anti-nationals.

Information was in circulation that electric wire had been put up at the Pandit camp in Baramulla so that they would not be able to come out of their camp to protest.

All of this is so bizarre. If the Pandits are shouting “UT Administration murdabad, BJP murdabad”, their distress is genuine. It is their democratic right to protest. Effigies are burnt at democratic protests across the nation. Then why was the democratic and genuine protest of the Pandits crushed by the police and the Administration?

Pandits jaan hatheli par rakh ke Kashmir mein jee rahe hain. They are saying that give us guarantee of safety in the valley, or transfer us to safe zones in Jammu. What is wrong in this?

If the government wants to ensure the future of the Pandits in Kashmir, it must give them confidence. They may even have to spoon-feed them to some extent. What is wrong in this when the stakes are so high?

If India wants a hold on Kashmir, then the Kashmiri Pandit has a big role. If the Pandit will not be there, what is the ladayi? The way Pakistan has POK, they may fight for the occupation of Kashmir too. The government must create an environment where the Pandits shall feel secure. Millions are being spent on the majority community in Kashmir. Surely the minority community also has rights which must be protected.

Pandits Are Soft Targets For Attack

It is tragic that even now, Kashmiri Pandits are being killed in the valley like sitting ducks. They are soft targets for attack. The killing of Rahul Bhat has hurt the sentiments and shaken the confidence of the people who are our angels in Kashmir. They represent the hope of the entire community to return to the valley. If they are betrayed – agar vo dagmaga gaye – the entire community shall feel betrayed once again.

The conditions specified by the government in their contract as part of the PM package are one-sided. Their contract says that they shall be employed only in their home district. Their position is not transferable outside their home district. It is unfair to force them to work at places where the government cannot ensure their security. The betrayal of the Kashmiri Pandits is the betrayal of the idea of India in Kashmir.

DEMAND FOR SATELLITE TOWNSHIP FOR PANDITS 

The government must develop a ‘Satellite Township’ based on the concept of ‘New Smart City’. The Kashmiri Pandits and also other communities can live in this township.

Building such a township is not such a big thing. Private builders are building such townships in various parts of the country over a few hundred acres. In order to secure the interest of the nation, the government can build a similar township in Kashmir.

The township should be self-sufficient in terms of security, infrastructure, economic avenues, decent housing, educational institutions, health care facilities, recreation centers, commercial complexes, etc. The township can have a small university, good schools, industrial park. This shall make it self-sustaining. It is the best way to come out of the situation that the Pandits face in the valley today.

The Pandits who are working and living in Kashmir as part of employment provided in the PM package can be settled in these townships. Not in flats or apartments. They should be given plots in the township and time-bound interest-free loan to build their houses there. This will create a sense of ownership and attachment with the houses. If the government finds that this model is successful, it will encourage the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley in large numbers.

This Smart City Project must be taken up by GOI with a proper implementation plan and a specific timeline to which the state must adhere. The government must fast-track its execution.

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