May 2016 News

Why Return Of Kashmiri Pandit Migrants Is An Issue

29 May 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arun Joshi

Jammu: Let me put it straight, Kashmir's values will be judged on the proposed return of migrant Kashmiri Pandits. The way out is not to offer them jobs or transit accommodation or composite zones to enable them to return. This has to come from the willingness of the majority Muslims to accept them and minority Kashmiri Pandits to restore their trust in each other. The resistance to proposal of townships is both physical and psychological. The very expression of townships, exclusive or composite, gives a sense of unease to many Muslims in the Valley, who feel that their values are being questioned. And, when separatists pedal their favourite theme of infusing scare among them with the thesis that such a methodology of return of Kashmiri Pandits is a ploy to settle the non-locals to undermine their majority, the human angle is submerged into politics. The common Kashmiri Muslim further veers round to this idea when the supposed mainstream also joins the locals versus non-locals chorus. Politics devours humanitarian considerations. Simultaneously, the space for trust is lost. Their return of migrants to their native Valley is not a matter of technical details. The whole concept has been reduced to politics of fear-infusing statistics. It should not have come to this. The proposal of their return should not have come as a surprise. The pitch to have some kind of accommodation in the Valley for them to return is hardly a panacea. That will still leave many of them in the places where they are currently living because a permanent fear has gripped certain sections of theirs. They spell it out like this, 'We don't want to return to a place in an atmosphere to be uprooted again.' Adopting this relatively modest plan of action is essential not only for self-evident humanitarian reasons, but also to reverse the threat to the very survival of the original idea of Kashmir of mutual co-existence. This represents an approach which should be given a chance with the necessary engagement between communities, something that was first mooted during Farooq Abdullah rule in 1997. Much has changed since they started fleeing the Valley in December 1989. Kashmiri Muslims bore the brunt of violence all these years. There still is some resonance of the thought of the 1990s, 'If they were Kashmiris, they should have stayed on with us, and if they were Indians, then also they should not have migrated.' But the minority's fears multiply when select killings of the community members take place. That's what was happening to Kashmiri Pandits in the start of the dark times in Kashmir. Now, the discourse of the religious identity on both sides has peaked. Many Muslims in the Valley have started identifying themselves more with the new interpretation of Islam. Being more Muslim than Muslims is a counter to what they see as Hindus becoming more Hindu in the other parts of the country. A place reeling under extreme unemployment resents those getting jobs under packages. Manmohan Singh had announced a package of 6,000 jobs for Kashmiri migrants (it meant all migrant communities, but only Kashmiri Pandits were considered for this) in April 2008. The migrants have not been given all the promised jobs. It is becoming difficult for the state governments to justify this quota system for migrants while the alienation is touching extremes. When Kashmiri Muslims get anxious about the recurring encounters, attacks on police, grenade explosions, and edgy about the violence that may be a sequel to street protests, TV screen images are bound to further affect Pandits living in Jammu, Delhi and elsewhere. The migrant community is still where it was. Its return was within ability and reach of all. But, no one took the call. The clock will not strike for the migrants' return anytime soon. Sounds pessimistic. The reality cannot be changed by rhetoric or wait and watch approach, which we have seen governments adopting for over decades now. If this grim reality is to be reversed, let the communities engage and work on building mutual trust. Governments and separatist should encourage this, if they really wish Pandits to be restored to the land of their forefathers. It is true that no movement or result can wait till the last gun falls silent, but an atmosphere of trust is a prerequisite to achieving something. Nothing else will work, today, tomorrow or the day after.