Migrant Kashmiri Pandit voter number halved in 12 years

2 May 2009
The Hindustan Times

New Delhi: The number of voters among Kashmiri Pandit migrants has dropped 'considerably', from nearly 150,000 in 1996 to just 71,000 presently - a 52 percent dip. In 1996, there were 147,000 voters among the migrants all over the country, in 2002 the number went down to 117,000 and during the assembly elections last year it was only 71,000, according to the Roots in Kashmir (RIK), a migrant Kashmiri Pandits' organisation. Kashmiri Hindus were forced to flee their homeland when Muslim militancy erupted two decades ago in Jammu and Kashmir. Some 300,000 Pandits fled the Kashmir Valley from 1989 as Muslim militancy peaked, at times targeting members of the community. Today, most of them live in Jammu, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Mumbai. Only about 3,000 still reside in the valley. Angry over the 'considerable drop' in the number of Pandit voters, the RIK accused the Election Commission of discriminating against them 'in connivance with the Jammu and Kashmir government'. 'At a time when voter registration is just a click away, the Election Commission in connivance with the state (government) is making the processes tedious for us so as to ensure that we don't get a basic human right,' said Ranish Hangloo, a young activist of the RIK. He said polling facilities for the exiled Pandits were only available in two cities and the migrants living in towns other than Delhi and Jammu 'don't get to vote'. The Election Commission 'expects us to fly to Delhi or Jammu to vote' he said. The RIK is organising a silent sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar in the capital Sunday against the 'discrimination'. 'It is to erase us from geographical horizon of Kashmir, from mind-spaces, voter lists, ration cards so that one day we can no longer claim to be Kashmiris,' said an angry Sanjay Peshin, the chief coordinator of the RIK. The RIK is demanding that voting procedure for the migrants be simplified to ensure their 100 percent participation in the democratic process. The exiled Pandits are required to fill what is called an M-form (migration form) to be included in the voters' list. 'When photo identity cards could be made for the Pandit voters, the M-form system should be deleted to make the process simpler,' Peshin said.