Image Courtesy: Reuters
To a Kashmiri Pandit (KP) who refused to migrate out of the Valley atthe onset of the bloody insurgency in the 1990s, the paradox is apparent whenever union ministers reiterate their commitment to safe and honourable return of KPs to the Valley. The Non-Migrant KP has seen it all; his lot remains ignored. Adversity has taught him to sift sincerity from the political bluster. When Pravesh Sahib Singh Verma exhorts Delhi to vote for BJP to avoid the fate that befell KPs in Kashmir, non-migrant KP doesn’t missexploitation of his tribe in the electoral rhetoric. Having gone through the rough and tumble of hate and appeasement, the Valley-based KP finds himself to be the butt of pathetic neglect and ridicule by his own.
Post-migration, a plethora of KP outfits mushroomed. While some among them genuinely worked for the welfare of the community during the humungous humanitarian crisis; most were proxies of political outfits. Unfortunately, these zealous cadres turned antagonistic to those who chose to stay back. Vocal activists not only abused the left-over members; they even labelled them ‘traitors’ who had ‘abandoned their religious faith’. Nothing is farther from the truth.
A majority of this ‘leadership’ were those who had long back severed connections with the Valley and established themselves well either in the mainland or abroad. Amaturishly, they were overwhelmed not by reason but by hate- a leadership deficit. Abandoning the welfare of the community as a wholethey dabbled in politics, failing miserably on both the counts.Today, the non-migrant stands disillusioned, an outcast.
In the early 1990s, almost entire KP community fled to the safety of plains, leaving behind a minuscule number. With political executive in the state ( now a UT) abdicating its responsibility and New Delhi lost in the woods, the exodus of KPs continued unabated. While in 1992, their number in the Valley had reduced to just 32,000 souls, 1998 recorded a sharp fall to 19,865. As per a surveyconducted by Valley-based KPs in August 2019, their numbers have shrunk to 808 households adding up to just 3445 souls, scattered over 242 places. The district-wise breakdown is here.
Note: For security reasons, most families have abandoned their homes to relocate in respective district headquarters. Seventy-two families have shifted to Srinagar.
The Reasons for their dwindling numbers are evident. Besides the denial of economic rights and dignity by successive governments, vote bank politics by all political parties, including the BJP, and the venom spewed by their own on electronic media have rendered their stay in the Valley, untenable. Rather than relapsing into fits of intemperate displays in TV frames, one wishes these ‘spokespersons’ did something concrete on the ground. There is a lot they can do. It is time they followed an age-old adage-to regain what is lost; it is essential to retain one foot on the ground. Outshouting others on air has never won a ‘war’.
Closing Ranks for Survival.
Living within a fragile security paradigm and an intensely polarised neighbourhood, non-migrant KPs displayed immense grit and maturity to close their ranks to voice their grievances. In the early 1990s, they organised themselves into a “Hindu Forum’ headed by likes of Late Shri H. N. Wanchoo, Late Dr T. N. Gangoo, Late Dr B. M. Bhan and others. Thereafter, the ‘Hindu Welfare Society, Kashmir’, an NGO, replaced the Forum. Given severe constraints, both these organisations performed their roles admirably. In 2005, the ‘Kashmiri Pandit SangarshSamity’ (KPSS) was set up as the political voice of KPs in the Valley. Dr Vijay Sazawal (USA), Late Shri Shiban Duda and Late Shri M. K. Kaw lent unstinted support to KPSS and voiced their grievances in New Delhi’s power corridors. Presently, Sanjay Tickoo and a determined group of youngsters head the struggle in the Valley
Besides bread and shelter issues, KPSS agitated other significant Community concerns, like usurpation of KP religious assets by the terrorist-landmafia- bureaucrat- politician nexus, inefficaciousness of ‘The Jammu & Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997’ and many more. In 2009, KPSS had the gumption to stage a photo-exhibition, in the heart of Srinagar, highlighting the wanton destruction and desecration of temples by Islamists. The visitors included separatists of all hues. It is to the credit of KPSS that long-forgotten religious festivities, like Janam Ashtami Procession, Dusshera etc., were revived in the Valley. Much that the exiles may denigrate the non-migrant for not migrating; the truth is whatever revival of KP/Hindu religious traditions has taken place in the Valley is because of daring KPSS.
Neglect and Discrimination.
Non-migrants KPs have devised a novel way to express their despair. All their petitions commence with a prayer ‘If you can’t save us, then it is better to execute us under any Euthanasia Law rather than slaughtering us (Non-Migrant Kashmiri Pandits/Kashmiri Hindus living in Kashmir) for some hideous political revenge.’
Two different Parliamentary Standing Committees on Home Affairs in their reports, in 2009 and 2014, explicitly observed ‘pathetic’ conditions in which non-migrant KPs are staying in the Valley. Both committees recommended ‘special budgetary (and other) provisions for KPs left behind in the Valley for fulfilling genuine needs of housing, employment and improving their living conditions’. Politicians and bureaucrats have consigned these reports to archives.
In India, politics is a coveted profession. Across the political spectrum, numbers count. True, even migrant-KPs don’t constitute a votebank but retaining sections of them in sub-human conditions and degradation adds to the electoral fortunes of some parties. Dumping a handful of KPs in the Vally is of no political consequence to anyone. Hence, they continue to live abandoned.
Irrespective of ideology, all parties when in power siphoned off the funds meant for Kashmiri migrants to build their cadres in the Valley. Sanjay Tickoo acknowledges ‘New Delhi is quick to recognise and act on our concerns. But, it is the state political functionaries who obstruct benefits from reaching us’. Neglect of non-migrants KPs is writ all over their plight.
Quoting an EarlyTimes expose, Sanjay Tickoo says “Political parties have swindled Rs.2,340 Cr,from funds, meant toprovide financial assistance to Kashmiri Migrants, to build their cadres in the Valley. Now that they have been caught with their hands in the till none has reacted to this expose”. A large number of non-migrant Muslims and Sikhs are registered as migrants and are enjoying Government doles. Even during PDP-BJP Government, thousands of political foot soldiers in the Valley have registered for cash relief under this category. All these ‘political migrants’ stay in the comforts of their homes in the Valley under exclusive security cover.
Despite numerous representations, the Government is callously indifferent to the pleas for cash relief by needy non-migrant KPs who have relocated to safer places within the Valley. When thousands of ‘political workers’ of other communities receive cash relief under false pretexts, denying same to a few needy non-migrant KPs smacks of discrimination; communally and politically expedient.
Besides cash relief, thousands of ‘political workers’ have been allotted government accommodation in the Valley. In comparison, all those non-migrant KPs who have relocated in distress to district headquarters live in rented accommodation, a luxury they can’t afford. Several appeals and petitions to the Government for allotting accommodation to the small number of non-migrant KPs find no favour. Isn’t it a travesty of justice and fair play?
Conceding to their genuine demand, in 2013 the Centre extended benefits under Manmohan Singh led UPA Government’s ‘PM Employment Package’ to non-migrant KPs also. Some KP ‘leaders’ tried to prevent this benefit from reaching these needy people by miring the issue in a legal dispute. After a protracted legal battle, KPSS’ claim was upheld by the Hon’ble High Court in 2016. It is bewildering that ever since the court ruling, their file has gone into a ‘bureaucratic orbit’, a term coined by George Fernandes for politico-bureaucratic inertia. Exasperated, KPSS following-up the case was curtly told by the concerned officer that there were instructions to bury the file deep.
In the backdrop of politico-bureaucratic neglect, these are but a few travails that non-migrant KPs undergo in the Valley. Unless the ‘left-over’ KP is taken care of, rebuilding Bharat in Kashmir would remain a hollow slogan. New Delhi would be well advised to address the genuine grievances of these aboriginals for they are the foundation of Kashmir BJP wishes to build. The ruling party must ensure that it does not sacrifice their right to a dignified life at the altar of its political greed. KP TV ‘warriors’, too, need to tone down their belligerent rhetoric. Instead, they must work for the betterment of the community and the nation at large.
Don’t abandon the non-migrant KP as a pariah. Otherwise, he will pack up and leave. That would be the final migration of KPs from the Valley.
The article has also been published in NAAD June 2020 edition and in Daily Excelsior and is being published with permission