‘Fear Forced Kashmiri Pandits To Move Out Of Valley’30 September 2011
Srinagar: After their circumstantial migration in 1989, the return of Pandits has been at the centre of political debate. Bearing witness to the confusion and fear that prevailed in the initial years of militancy is the former Chief Secretary, Vijay Bakaya. Now an MLC from ruling party National Conference, Bakaya is the head of Minority Cell. In an interview with Rising Kashmir reporter, Mansoor Altaf, the former chief secretary talks about the circumstances which led to exodus of Pandits from valley and the government efforts for rehabilitating them. Is it through employment packages that government is able to make the Kashmiri Pandit to return to the Valley? This is a vital issue for those who want to return to the Valley. Prime Minister’s Package offers not only jobs but also offers an incentive of Rs 7.5 lakh to anyone who wants to rebuild his house. It also offers a lump sum grant of Rs 2 lakh to those who want to revive their orchards and businesses. We are not forcing anybody to come back. But some Pandit groups allege that such schemes are coercive and directionless? They were some Pandit youth who were educated but not competitive at economic level, they remained aspiring for jobs within the state. For that purpose the government evolved a scheme called, ‘Prime Minister’s Package’ offering job to Pandit youth in valley. There are certain elements in Pandit community who felt that this was a deliberate attempt to bring them back to Valley. But that is not true. We have three administrative divisions in the state and for recruitment there is district cadre and divisional cadre. So whoever belongs to a particular district or division can apply for government job in his-her district or division only. We have to make them understand that they cannot get job outside Kashmir as their original domicile is Kashmir, which prove that the package is not a coercive effort at all but an offer. Most of the applicants applied voluntarily as they want to return to their roots. Around 2000 youths were appointed on various posts as teachers, medical assistants, accountants and junior engineers. This is one way of rehabilitating them. Young Kashmiri Pandits believe that they don’t have a future in Kashmir. Yet the older generation is nostalgic about their return. What as per you should be done to motivate them to return to the Valley? This is a very complex problem those Kashmiri Pandits who are born in last 22 years don’t feel about Kashmir the same way as their older generations do. They are born and brought in an environment which is not their own. Their interaction with their homeland was limited. So the problem with them is they don’t understand what Kashmir is all about. Similarly the Muslim youth who are born after 1990 don’t know who Pandits are. There exists a communication gap and mistrust as well. However in recent times we have witnessed Kashmiri Pandits returning to their roots, interacting with their neighbours and friends, so things are moving and hopefully the mistrust and suspicion that exists between the two communities will fade away. What about those who have sold off their properties and now want to come back to the Valley? If they want to come back they have to buy their property from the money we are offering them. There is a recommendation from a commission of MPs that those who have sold off their property and land should be returned to them. The hyped Prime Minister’s Package only has provided 3000 jobs. Most of the in-service Pandits are living in poor conditions and are congested. These are temporary accommodations. It has been brought to government’s notice that accommodations provided to the Kashmiri Pandits are congested and need to be improved and expanded. However the facilities, by and large, are good. There are some problems at Sheikhpora that needs to be addressed. The response of the Pandits residing in Jammu to the Minority Cell set up by the government is overwhelming. Is there a plan to set up a similar cell in the valley also? There is no such binding. Whatever the problems faced by Pandits living here are known to us and we try to redress them quickly. In future we might think to have an office here as well. But problems of those living here are particularly related to employment. Around 50 Pandits who didn’t migrate were provided jobs under the Prime Minister’s job package. Apart from providing employment package, what else is government doing to bring the Pandits back to the Valley? Besides releasing the salary of 3000 appointees appointed earlier, we have requested the central government to appoint 3000 more. The recommendation has been sent to Delhi. Furthermore Rs 7.5 lakh allotted for rebuilding the house should be increased to Rs 20 lakh and Rs 2 lakh meant for renovation should be increased to Rs 4 lakh. Do you buy the arguments put forth by radical Hindu groups which include RSS and VHP that Pandits were driven out by Muslims? As the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, I had seen the process of migration of Kashmiri Pandits more closely than anybody else. Among those who left after January 1990 nobody told me that they were forced by Muslims to leave Kashmir. It was only due to the fear psychosis that ruled the streets of Kashmir forced the Pandits to opt out of the valley. But after that when exodus gained moment, a particular group among the freedom fighters started killing Pandits in the name of informers and traitors. That so-called phase of ethnic cleansing has caused largest damage to psyche of Kashmiri Pandits and has left a deep scar. Majority of Kashmiri Muslims abhor violence and never endorsed killing. The civil society and administration were not in a position to stop the migration because they were benumbed by extraordinary circumstances. Both communities suffered equally. Is reconciliation between two communities possible given the current political circumstances in the state? Notwithstanding the initial impact of circumstances that created mistrust, the sense of brotherhood between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits has never disappeared. The process of reconciliation has already begun. The rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits has been highly politicised. There are several Pandit organisations like Panun Kashmir that wants something more than rehabilitation. Panun Kashmir played a role in early 90s. Then it played a role of a tranquilizer to relieve the Pandits the pain they have suffered. But now they are creating an issue out of it and making inroads in the process of rehabilitation. What about the difference in ideologies between majority community living in Kashmir and those migrated to Jammu? The Kashmiri Pandits have been successful in establishing themselves as party to the problem. But Pandits along with the majority of the people in India want resolution of K issue through dialogue within the framework of Indian Constitution. Do you think the conditions that prevailed during the last three consecutive summers will have an impact on the return of Pandits to Valley? In last 5 to 6 years we have witness an enormous increase in the number of Kashmir Pandits visiting valley during Mela Kheer Bhawani in May. The unrest hasn’t created any setback to the arrival of Pandits back to valley.