Kashmiris Want Lost Homes Back
22 April 2005
Srinagar: This government school in Srinagar was once the home of Fareeda Ghani, who wants to reclaim it. After she alighted from the first bus to cross divided Kashmir in a half-century, Fareeda Ghani had two goals to pursue - celebrating with long-unseen relatives, and then getting a lawsuit under way to reclaim her ancestral home. Although the bus service that this month started linking the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir brought optimism that the dispute over the region could be resolved peacefully, it also raised the likelihood of emotionally intense legal wrangling such as Ghani's suit. In 1949, when Ghani was 3, her affluent family was forced by rising political enmity to leave Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, for Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistani side. The family left behind several houses and substantial land. The Evacuee Department now holds some 195,000 acres of land vacated by Kashmiris on the Indian side. 'I have returned after 56 years and am claiming what is rightly mine and has always been so,' said Ghani. 'No one ever thought that the properties would ever be reclaimed,' said her lawyer, Abdul Khaliq Sheikh. 'And with the bus there could be claimants arriving every fortnight. 'The law is clear that the government is simply a caretaker. It states that once the rightful owner claims and establishes his or her title, he or she is entitled to all the property rights as if the property has not been declared as evacuee property.' Reclaiming property could pose problems by uprooting thousands of locals from homes they have occupied for decades. Many government offices are in such buildings. Ghani's old home is now a government school, another of her father's houses is the official residence of Kashmir University's vice-chancellor, and state-run Indian Telephone Industries has set up a factory on family land. Sheikh said that the Evacuee Department had the details of Ghani's property and 'hopefully it will be handed over to the family.' But officials in the Evacuee Department declined to comment.