AIKS addressed a letter to all members of the Parliament, while the current Monsoon Session was on. The letter is meant to serve two essential purposes; first, to acquaint the Hon’ble members with the plight of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, and second, to remind them of the Parliament’s responsibility in asserting the Nation’s duty in fulfilling its constitutional obligation toward our community. The letter is reproduced here:
The aborigines of the Kashmir valley, locally called Bhattas, (otherwise known as Kashmiri Pandits the world over), trace their roots back to Kashmir of Neelmatpuranera. As part of the larger Hindu Samaj,they follow a distinct faith based on Kashmiri Shaivism.
It was the Kashmiri Pandits who carried Buddha’s philosophy and Buddhist religious tenets to far away Tibet, centuries ago. It was Pandit Kalhana who wrote one of the most authentic and earliest known historical records of the events in Kashmir, called Rajtarangini.
However, despite these attributes, from 14th century onwards, and for many centuries thereafter, Kashmir has rarely been left alone by invaders and adventurists, who tore apart the fabric of its society. The Pandits, its aborigines, bore the brunt of the ruthless religious persecution that resulted in their mass killings and many exoduses from Kashmir. Between the first quarter of fourteenth century and till the end of Afghan rule in Kashmir (1819), there were six major exoduses of Hindus from Kashmir. Almost all exoduses occurred when cruel Muslim rulers, driven by religious zeal and the spirit of Jihad, carried out ruthless genocide of members belonging to this community.The Pandits were offered three choices; to either convert to Islam, or flee, or be prepared to die. Lakhs got forcibly converted to Islam, many were killed and others fled.
By the time the British left India in 1947, Kashmiri Pandit population in the Valley had reached abysmally low figures. After 1947, persecution of Kashmiri Pandits did not always manifest itself in violence against them; it could be in the form of subtle discrimination on daily basis; be it while seeking a job or admission in higher classes of learning; or a taunt directed against their religion or against India, etc. Nevertheless, Kashmiri Pandits continued to live in the Valley, even though migration in smaller numbers outside the State of Jammu and Kashmir, mainly for seeking livelihood, remained a regular feature of their existence in Kashmir. When the last forced exodus of Hindus of Kashmir took place in 1989-90, there were approximately half a million Pandits left in the Valley.
Prior to this, in 1986, large scale violence broke out against the Pandits in Anantnag district in south Kashmir and some other places. Many temples were desecrated and Kashmiri Pandit houses burnt down. However, their belief in the Indian Government to safeguard their future was so strong that they took no precautions, whatsoever, and continued to live in the Valley.
In 1989, when Pakistan-sponsored insurgency broke out in Kashmir, the State and the Union Governments were totally taken by surprise. Large scale killing of Kashmiri Pandits, coupled with open threats to them to convert or be prepared to die, left no choice with the microscopic minority to leave Kashmir, their home for over 5000 years. The attacks launched by the heavily armed radical elements, supported by local religious parties, to turn Jammu and Kashmir into an Islamic State, to be governed by Sharia’h, left no choice for the Pandits but to either die or convert to Islam or flee to safer locations. This led to their seventh exodus from Kashmir. However, what differentiated this exodus from the earlier exoduses was the fact that this one took place in an independent, democratic secular India.
Even after this exodus, which nearly emptied the Valley of Pandits, the Islamists continued to target even those few who continued to live there. In specific strikes carried out against the community members left behind in the valley, between 1997 and 2003, over 60 Hindus were killed in Sangrampora, Gool, Wandhama, Telwani, Brariangan, Pethibug and Nadimarg.
Ever since their exodus in 1989-90, Kashmiri Hindus have been living in miserable conditions away from their natural habitat. During initial years of internal displacement from Kashmir, many died due to snake bites, sun stroke and diseases like hypertension, diabeties, heart attacks, Arthritis, gastroenteritis, slip-disc, psychological problems, kidney failure, etc.; diseases, which were rare in Kashmir. However, despite many hardships, the community continued to invest in education of next generation and got support from some state governments, such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, etc., who provided some reservations to the displaced Kashmiri Pandit students in the professional colleges of their states.
Some of the landmark decisions and measures taken/ not taken during the last 27 years by various constitutional institutions concerning the displaced community are enumerated below. All these decisions were meant to mitigate their sufferings during their exile from Kashmir, but most remained unimplemented.
Case with NHRC
According to the fact-sheet presented to the National Human Rights Commission by the State of Jammu and Kashmir, 719 Hindus had been killed. The report states, “Due to the targeted attacks by the militants against the innocent civilians in the early years of the ongoing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, coupled with calls by Islamist terrorist groups to Kashmiri Pandits to leave the Valley, the vast majority of them and other minority communities were forced to migrate.” The report further states that 43,364 Hindu families went to Jammu until 1991 and 28713 to Delhi. Informing about the destruction of religious places, the report states that 97 temples were destroyed by militants till the end of 1994.For a community numbering less than half a million prior to their exodus in December 1989, having over 700 of its members killed from the fall of 1989 up till the summer of 1990, was indeed a heavy toll.
The basic human rights of Pandits, as of every other Indian, are guaranteed by Indian Constitution and the provisions of international law.These provisions were clearly violated and their abuse should have straightway attracted the invoking of such provisions to defend the basis human rights of Kashmiri Pandits. For getting justice, under such provisions, they did not have to belong to a minority community. It was only because Indian government and international organizations turned a blind eye to their plight, that they had to present their case in front of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).Various Kashmiri Pandit organizations presented a comprehensive case, in which they pleaded with the NHRC to declare the events preceding the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, and those that continued till much after they had evacuated the Valley, as ‘genocide’, as defined by the International Convention, to which India is a signatory .
In order to preserve its secular façade, the political establishment sacrificed the Kashmiri Pandits at the altar of political expediency and vote-bank politics. Truth became a casualty and Pandits once again became the victims of unjust and unjustified stand taken by the State and Central governments. Nevertheless, it is apparent from the stand taken by the NHRC that they were hard put to justify their eventual stand as they appeared to have been convinced of the Pandits’ argument that genocide did actually take place. The NHRC resorted to the jugglery of semantics and played with the words to conclude that ‘genocide-type of situation had got created’. Actually, what they said was this, “Killing and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Kashmiri Pandits must be seen in the deeper intent to secure the secession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The crimes committed against the Kashmiri Pandits are, by any yard -stick, deserving of the strongest condemnations………..but against the stern definition of the ‘Genocide Convention’ the Commission is constrained to observe that while acts akin to genocide have occurred in respect of Kashmiri Pandits, and that, indeed, in the minds and utterances of some of the militants, genocide type design may exist…… the crimes, grave as they undoubtedly are, fall short of ultimate crime of genocide.” (NHRC Case No. 938/94-95 7 1181/94-95, 11 June 1999). It is apparent from above that NHRC couched its conclusion in a language that suited the political climate/ establishment at that time.
Minority Commission Views
Whereas, at the All India level there is a statutory provision that empowers the centre to declare certain sections of the society as ‘minorities’, which entitles them to crucial benefits, the same does not apply to minorities within a state. In the Indian context, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis and now Jains, have been recognized as minorities by the National Commission of Minorities Act, 1992. As per the census of 2011, minorities, as defined by this Act constitute 18.5% of the country’s population. Nevertheless the rigidity of interpretation ensured that Pandits could not claim any such minority status.
Under the Indian Constitution, States enjoy all the requisite powers to re-categorise minorities to cater for their local needs. For example, in Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims, obviously, are not a minority. But at the same time Kashmiri Pandits, forming a microscopic percentage of the State’s population, cannot be declared a minority, as the State Government has not enacted any law to that effect, despite having all the powers to do so. This was commented upon by no less than the Chairman of National Commission for Minorities (NCM), Wajahat Habibullah, who said, “The declaration of Kashmiri Pandits as a minority in Jammu and Kashmir was a ‘crying need of the hour’ and he would actively pursue the matter with the State government”. Expressining helplessness in the matter, the Chairman further added, “The writ of the National Commission for Minorities does not run in Jammu and Kashmir because it enjoys a special status. But we have come across several cases of suffering involving the families of Kashmiri Pandits, who chose to stay back in the Valley, despite repeated threats from terrorists. Not much is being done for these families and their wards. It’s time the State government notified Kashmiri Hindus as a minority in Jammu and Kashmir. They must pass their own Act, set up their own minority commission and re-categorize the minorities, depending on the actual population in the state”. However, the State Government has done nothing till now to rectify the situation.
IDP (Internally Displaced People) Status
Whereas the rules governing the treatment of trans-border displacements are adequately covered by various conventions on refugees, the IDPs enjoy no such protection. Being refugees within their own country, it is the country’s own specific laws that become applicable to them. Such displacements attract provisions of Art 3 and additional Protocol II of Geneva Conventions, which lays down the principles of treatment of such civilians. Guiding principles on internal displacement lay down specific rights of IDPs, so far as their rights of protection and humanitarian assistance and the obligations of the governments during displacement are concerned. But in actual fact, it only serves as a frame-work, because the provisions are not legally binding. In India, the problem of IDPs becomes grave as the country does not recognize IDPs and, therefore, applies no legal provision to ameliorate their lot.
Some Kashmiri Pandit organizations had requested the NHRC to declare the displaced Pandits as ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ as per the International Conventions and usage. Central Government contested the claim on the ground that it does not recognize IDPs, and that the exodus took place essentially because of terrorist actions, abetted by Pakistan, to secure secession of Jammu and Kashmir from the Union of India. Besides, the Government of India declared that ‘Kashmiri Pandits needed only rehabilitation and the laws of the land were adequate to take care of that and the solution was required to be found at the political level. Based on these arguments, the NHRC neither intervened nor gave any relief. The Commission, though, empathized with the Kashmiri Pandits and felt that the community was not getting the degree of relief that it deserved. But, beyond that, there was nothing much they could do. Hypocrisy and the dishonesty of the government were quite clear from the contents of its letter dated May 6, 1996 (Case No 802 on NHRC file):
By all accounts, Kashmiri Pandit community is an internally displaced community and it expected that the Central Government whould declare them as such. But the Government of India took shelter behind some rules which do not permit it to declare even forcibly displaced people as IDPs. To add insult to the injury, the Government took the stand that Kashmiri Pandits had left the valley of their ‘own accord’, as if they had decided to gofor a picnic at the height of winter in temperatures below freezing point, leaving everything behind. It is a matter of abiding shame for the government of the day to have sacrificed the whole community at the altar of the political exigency.
Case with the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
All India Kashmiri Samaj filed a petition under Article 32 of our Constitution in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in 2006. The petition raised fundamental issues of a citizen’s rights and dignity, with particular reference to the displaced Kashmiri Pandits. The petition included nearly every issue that concerns the Kashmiri Pandits’ rights as citizens of India, which were grossly violated in 1989-90. After many hearings, when the case was nearing its conclusion, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India transferred it to the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir recently for further disposal.
Religious Shrines and Temples Bill
Due to the constant threat posed to our temples, shrines, religious endowments, seats of saints and sages, the community feels that Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley must be given the responsibility of managing these. Accordingly, a private member’s bill was introduced in the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly in…… However, Due to various political exigencies, the bill has not been passed till now.
Prime Minister’s Package.
The Prime Ministers’ package for mitigating the sufferings of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits was announced by Shri Manmohan Singh in 2008. The package involved creation of 6000 jobs for displaced Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir, besides initiating other measures which would have ameliorated the conditions of the displaced people. However, except creating approximately 1650 jobs, other issues mostly remained on paper and were either partially implemented or not implemented at all.
Law Concerning Distress Sale of Property by the Displaced Pandits
Between 1989 and 1997 a large number of properties left behind by the fleeing Pandis were either vandalized or burnt down or illegally occupied by the radical elements in Kashmir. Consequently, a large number of properties were sold in distress by the displaced Pandits at prices far lower than the market value of the property. In 1997, “The Jammu and Kashmir Migrant Immoveable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sale) Bill, 1997”, was enacted by the State Government which banned the distress sale of properties.
However, the law mostly remained on paper as the local administration failed to implement the law on ground.
Exodus Threatens the Extinction of the Community
In its exile, the community’s distinct culture has suffered the greatest damage as all the religious icons, seats of saints, sages and pilgrimage ancestral are located in Kashmir. Our Genext have been rendered rootless. 27 years after the exodus, there is a deep yearning among the community to go back to Kashmir, their ancestral home. However, the continued strikes by the Jihadis,the opposition by the separatists to the community’s rehabilitation in Kashmir and the attitude of some of the mainstream political parties towards this issue, has filled the community with pessimism. The events during the last few days have further reinforced this hostile attitude of the separatists to our return to Kashmir.
The above background has been provided in order to give a brief account of the problem concerning the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir, to the Hon’ble members of the Indian Parliament. Kashmiri Pandits seek the security, dignity and freedom granted by Constitution of India to all its citizens. We, therefore, appeal to Hon’ble Members of Parliament to take up the matters concerning our community with specific reference to the following.
To persuade the Union Government to end the on-going speculation about rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits and take the community into confidence before taking any further decisions on this important issue.
To support the protection and reconstruction of temples and heritage sites in Kashmir which are lying in shambles. Government could consider financial aid and use part of property for earning rent from financial institutions for establishing ATMS, and centers for department of Post and other Central Government offices. This will allow long term maintenance and help connect community back with its roots.
Persuade the Government to employ Kashmiri Pandits in Central Government offices in Kashmir in order to increase our presence in Kashmir.
Persuade Government of India and State government of Jammu & Kashmir to announce a self-employment and entrepreneurship package for Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. This will enable the young men/women of the community to become economically self-sufficient.
Of late, it has been reported by the media that the State Government is acquiring the land of displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley to construct transit accommodation for the returning displaced Kashmiri Pandits. This is a very regressive step as it will render Kashmiri Pandits totally landless, because the ownership of the land will be transferred from private ownership by Kashmiri Pandits to the State government.
We request the Hon’ble Members of the Parliament of India to forcefully raise our issuesin Parliament and with the Government, as also at their individual level, to help the exiled Kashmiri Pandit community by ensuring their return to their homeland with honour and dignity.