Take me home
With Narendra Modi as the new prime minister, the Kashmiri Pandits are expecting a concrete road map charting their return and rehabilitation in Kashmir valley, which they had to leave behind after the rise of militancy in the late 1980s. On 19 January 2014, members of this much-persecuted community completed 25 years of their exile and being homeless, forced to live like refugees within their own country. The Pandits have been trying to seek answers about the exodus, the killings, the human rights violations, the injustice and the prospect of return to their ancestral home in the valley by their own terms.
However, ever since the BJP, for the first time, got full mandate in this election, there is ray of hope for this isolated community. Interestingly, Kashmir played a significant role in Modi's political career, who rose to prominence within the party after organising the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi's Ekta Yatra (Journey for Unity) from Kanyakumari to Srinagar in 1991. According to the some media reports, Ministry of Home affairs has put together its plan for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, many of whom are still living in ghettos in Jammu and other parts of the country.
Sandeep Kaul, an architect, who works with a Delhi-based firm and lines in Gurgaon, had seen the horrifying face of terror when he was just a teenager. While taking to Millennium Post, Kaul recalls the dark days of Kashmir’s history: ‘I was in eighth standard when I saw the rise of militancy in Kashmir. We were a family of five and had had an ancestral home in Srinagar. But all of a sudden we had to leave our home to save our lives from the militants who were targeting us. Since then we have been shifting our base from Srinagar to Jammu and then Delhi-NCR. We had to leave our three-storied-house and stay in rented accommodations. Even my father was kidnapped once and somehow he managed to escape. However, the militants soon attempted to kidnap him again, but luckily, the plan failed. We were left with no options but to run away from the valley.’
Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits were killed by terrorists in 1989 and afterwards until they left the valley. Prominent persons who were killed included Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo, poet Sarwanand Koul 'Premi' and his son, advocate Prem Nath Bhat, Lassa Koul (former director, Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar). Though the official figure of killed Kashmiri Pandits stands at 219, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a valley-based organisation, suggests at least 399 Pandits were killed and the list is still incomplete. A survey was done in 2008 and 2009 to find the precise number of Pandits killed. The survey revealed that 302 members of the community were killed in 1990 alone. Such selective killing of minority Hindus of Kashmir amounts to genocide, according to some commentators, but governments, union and state, have been reluctant to label it thus.
When asked what he is expecting from the Modi government, Kaul said, 'We don't need any reservation or any special treatment. We just want this government to remove article 370 and ensure safety and security for us. Just that would be sufficient for us. We are capable enough of making our own destiny. Despite having all the problems we have faced for last 25 years, majority of the Kashmiri Pandits are doing well in their respective fields. We don't believe in projecting ourselves as victims.’
The Pandits see Modi as a saviour who will ensure a tangible and secure roadmap to resettle them in their ancestral place. Harkishan Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit who settled in Delhi and a retired J&K government official, says: 'We don't want any politics intervening in this matter. Hope Modi government will make a difference. Earlier ones failed. Eight prime minsters have come and gone since 1989, but our situation remained the same. There should not be any appeasement policy. We all are Indians. I believe in making Kashmir an integral part of India. Article 370 must be removed, which will automatically change the equation in favour of India. There are number of pro-Pakistani elements existing in Kashmir, a concern which needs to be countered. Modi government should take strict action against terrorism in Kashmir. Earlier, our last hope was late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, who did lot of work for our community, including taking care of education and providing scholarship to our children. Shiv Sena also helped our community to get the shelters in Maharashtra. BJP, despite being in the power during the year 1998-2004, could not do anything concrete for us. However, they performed better when they were in opposition.’
Dhar added, 'I had a five-story house which had 15 rooms in Safa Kadal area and two shops as well, in the Kashmir Valley. But soon after the rise of militancy, I had to sell it and run away from there to save my family. Life was miserable for us there at that point of time. Forget about India, even if there was a cricket or hockey match that Pakistan lost to say Australia, then the first target of stone pelting was the houses of Kashmir Pandits. We were left at the mercy of the militants. It was the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir (1984–89) Jagmohan who was our saviour in 1990 and provided us escape routes from the militants', said Dhar.
However, there’s a silver lining. Modi, during his election campaign in December 2013, in Jammu, said BJP's plans for J&K would be based on former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's principles of 'Insaniyat (humanity), Jamhuriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (composite secular Kashmiri culture).' According to some media reports, his government is going to propose resettlement of Kashmiri pundits in coming days and they are going to announce compensation packages for members of the community. They will get Rs 10 lakh and four years’ ration free to resettle in the Kashmir valley.