Pandit community has suffered the wrath of being a Minority in a Muslim Majority Kashmir for centuries now. Kashmir used to be a fully Hindu state with no Muslims. With the advent of Islam in Kashmir the Islamic rulers used tyrant ways to convert the Hindus. According to W.R. Lawrence the Kashmiri Hindus, during the rule of Sikander-Butshikan (1389-1413), were given three choices- death, conversion or exile. Many fled, some were converted and some killed, and it is said that the Sikander-Butshikan, burnt seven mounds of the sacred threads of the converted / murdered Kashmiri Brahmins. With the rising influence of Islam, Kashmir witnessed a demographic change. During the rules of Afghans and Moguls the rulers gave long rope to Muslims to get Pandits converted forcibly. Pandit community suffered exodus 6 times during these historical unfoldings. As a matter of fact the Muslims living in Kashmir are either from the Pandit background (converted) or the migrated Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits lived without religious suppression during the Dogra Rule and were a favoured section of population (1846-1947). However Kashmiri society became increasingly politically Islamized in the late 80s.
The Pandit community suffered the 7th Mass Exodus in January 1990 when majority community of the Valley became victims of politics from across the border and started demanding a Muslim State or an Independent State away from Indian rule. In the early hours of 19th January 1990, Muslims of the valley gathered in local mosques and carried out processions from there raising Islamic Slogans and asking Pandits to leave Kashmir. Scared Pandits, to save their dignity and honour left Kashmir, their motherland, on the 19th of January 1990, leaving behind their properties both movable and immovable.
I do not want my countrymen reading this write up to think that all Kashmiri Muslims are inhuman or hateful people or that they are not suffering in the ensuing conflict. Many young lives have been lost and many families shattered. However the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits were ethnically cleaned remains a stark reality. Truth remains that the majority of Kashmiri Muslim society remained mute spectators when the minorities were hounded out. There was no backlash by the Muslim Civil Society of Kashmir, no famed Kashmiriyat was on display as the debate was completely high jacked by the right wing Islamist elements, who have become stronger and widespread over the years.
Pandit population in Kashmir dwindled from 10 % in 1947 to a fewer than 5 % in 1989 and less than 1 % today. In the year 2010the Government of Jammu and Kashmir noted that 808 Pandit families comprising 3,445 people were still living in the Valley. As of 2016, a total of 1,800 Kashmiri Pandit youths have returned to the valley after the announcement of a financial package to the Community by the UPA government.
However at the time of the 7th exodus (January 1990), the exiled community had hoped to return after the situation improved. This has not been possible till date because the situation in the Valley remains unstable and they fear a risk to their lives. Return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley in inevitable. We will return with dignity & honour provided we see the Government making progress in the following areas and not merely making false promises.
Satellite Township – The only justifiable module for our return is a “Satellite Township” where a concentrated settlement of KPs along with other communities can take place. The Township shouldbe self-sufficient in terms of security, infrastructure, economic avenues, decent housing, educational Institutions, health care facilities, recreation centers, commercial complexes, etc. As a first step Kashmari Pandit Living in Valley & all employees working in Valley, under the PM package, should be settled in such township . Instead of giving a housing flat, the KP residents should be given the ownership of land along with a time bound interest free loan to built their houses on the allocated land. This will help in creating sense of ownership and attachment. In case this model is successful, it will encourage the return of Kashmari Pandits to the Valley in larger numbers.
Creation of Centralized Fund: – Government of India should create a Centrally Monitored Fund which will cater to the needs of the exiled community. This should include provision of enhanced relief compensation, health care, scholarships to deserving/destitute students, Grants to entrepreneurs and members of the trading community, hit hard by displacement, financial assistance to unemployed youth for setting up of small scale industrial units and for carrying out repairs and restoration of desecrated and damaged Temples and Shrines.
3. Employment Package: – The employment package announced earlier for the displaced unemployed persons of the exiled community needs a relook in view of the enormous hardships faced by our youth, who had taken up employment in the Valley, as part of the Prime Minister’s package. Briefly, these concern the draconian pre-conditions laid down by the State Government and the inhuman living conditions provided to them by the Government. To illustrate the institutional apathy existing at the state level towards the displaced community, it is to be appreciated that even after so many years of announcement of the scheme by the former PM for the creation of 6000 jobs only a part of youth have been employed .
Grant of Minority Status and Political Empowerment:- The State of Jammu and Kashmir enjoys fairly large degree of legislative autonomy because of the powers it enjoys as a result of the applicability of Art 370 to it. Since political empowerment is the bedrock of any democracy that wants to protect its minorities, KPs must get the minority status and their rightful representation in the State legislatures and other representative institutions. Such provision will not only empower the community politically, but will also go a long way in allaying their genuine fears about their future well-being.
Temples and Shrines Bill:- After the exodus of the community from Kashmir in 1989-90, the temples, shrines, pilgrimage centres, Matts, etc., which represents our age-old heritage, handed down through hundreds of years of continuing tradition, have suffered enormously due to desecration, neglect and poor management. What has added to their present sorry state is the wide spread encroachment of their lands and estates by unscrupulous elements, sometimes with official connivance. To protect and preserve these institutions of heritage, the draft bill (Temples and Shrines preservation) pending in the Legislative Assembly should be passed at the earliest after taking people of other regions of the State on board. The State Government should come out with the factual position regarding the state of lands and estates attached with the temples and shrines, as these existed in 1990 and as of now.
Removing Encroachments:- The State Government must evolve a mechanism to have the illegal occupation and encroachments of lands and properties belonging to displaced Kashmiri Pandits vacated at the earliest.
7. Institution of an Enquiry Commission:- Most people in the country are neither aware of the forced displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in 1989-90, nor are they aware of the circumstances that led to this displacement. As a matter of fact, the successive governments deliberately gave credence to the disinformation campaign launched by both the separatists as also by the main stream political parties of the state, in order to appease their vote banks. The biggest casualty of this policy was the truth behind the exodus of minorities. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Central Government constitutes a Commission, headed by a serving/retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, to probe into the circumstances that led to the ethnic cleansing of the entire Kashmiri Hindu religious minority from Kashmir in 1989-1990.
The Commission must have the following terms of reference:-
Fix responsibility for the exodus.
Carry out thorough estimate of the moveable/immoveable assets left behind by fleeing Pandits/others, including the distress sale and its present status.
Give concrete recommendations (having statutory backing) about steps to be taken, both at State level as also at the Union level, to ensure that a microscopic minority like Kashmiri Pandits, does not face similar situation in the Valley in future.
Carry out assessment of damage suffered by religious places, pilgrimage centers, Matts, etc., belonging to Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, as also the encroachment/ illegal sale of land and estate belonging to these. Institutions, by various people. The Commission must also recommend
steps to be taken by the State Government to have these illegal occupations/sale vacated/ nullified.
To give iron-clad statutory guarantees to Pandits which will allow them to live as equal citizens of the State with full freedom to practice their religion and also follow the age-old socio-cultural traditions without fear or discrimination. Kashmiri Pandits must also have the full liberty to
administer their own religious institutions.
Return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the valley shall only be possible if concrete steps, as enumerated above, are taken, such as to secure a safe and dignified environment for them. Neither the State nor the Central Government has taken any concrete step in this direction. Although there have been some half hearted attempts by the Central Government in the matter but , what one sees as an outcome of these steps, is that either the State Government and/or the Civil society of Kashmir oppose the move. It also is amply clear now, that the problem of Kashmiri pundits is being addressed only to satisfy the vote bank of different political parties at the National and State Level, as the issue gets raked up only around election times. Furthermore, the ground situation in the valley is going from bad to worse and no plausible solution seems to be in site in the near future. Under such circumstances the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley may remain to be a myth, for times to come.