Col Kanwaljit Singh Talwar: Kashmiri Hindus were the affluent segment of the Jammu and Kashmir populace and historically ruled the Muslim majority state right till independence. Being loyal Indians and proud of their 5000 year old plus culture, they were seen as a thorn in Pakistan’s Kashmir Card of “secession of Kashmir from India”. Post 1947, Sheikh Abdullah covertly started playing divisive politics contrary to our federal structure, which took the shape of Permanent Residency rules under Article 35A being ultra vires to Right to equality under Indian Constitution, biased land reforms, electoral delimitation favoring Kashmir though geographically much smaller than Jammu and Ladakh divisions, higher education and government job vacancies all skewed in favor of Muslims from Kashmir and Jamaat-i-Islami progressively gaining hold on the state administration. The Central government over the years failed to pickup this calibrated trail or chose to ignore these manifestations in the majority community dominated State-legislature-executive-judiciary, possibly for appeasing the Muslim majority at the cost of Kashmiri Hindu minority.
This gross negligence sowed the seeds for radicalization in Kashmir in the early 1980’s, a glimpse of which was seen in 1986 in Anantnag wherein houses, shops, orchards, temples and shrines of Hindus were burnt and later in 1990’s it led to the ethnic cleansing of 3.5 lakh Pandits and made the valley non plural, contrary to the tenets of our constitution. The state government covertly supported the exodus by showing helplessness in protecting the Hindus and in the ensuing 30 years, Kashmir has deteriorated into full fledged insurgency, with the present non secular social fabric acting as a catalyst for Pakistan to exploit. The state authorities also turned a nelson eye to the ongoing vandalization of Hindu properties, fudging of revenue records for illegal takeovers of their land and orchards and desecration of their temples and shrines, so that footprint of the displaced community does not reappear on the canvas of Kashmir.
The marginalization of Pandits can be seen from the fact that today 33 percent seats in J&K college admissions are for the reserved category but surprisingly Kashmiri Hindus do not figure in it. The then Central government for vote bank politics, failed to declare the Pandits as IDPs (internally displaced persons), thus denying them access to international humanitarian relief and aid to uplift their socio economic conditions and left them at the mercy of the state agency responsible for their management. Amongst the displaced community, the rural segment and petty shopkeepers were the worst effected as they were less educated and overage to fit into white collared jobs, compulsively they left their land, orchard, livestock and shops behind unlike the urban and educated Pandits who already possessed properties or purchased houses then across India. Hence these Kashmiri Hindus with no money, job or other economic fall back option, compulsively moved into camps to survive in sub human conditions on the meager food items and financial assistance provided by a corrupt relief organization.
Living 30 years in camps in abject poverty and deplorable habitat, has taken its toll. It poses number of social security challenges like food, water and shelter, health care and receding population, affordability of higher education and unemployment, erosion of religion and culture, social taboo of living in camps, and return and rehabilitation. Facing these hardships daily, the camp residents have borne the brunt since displacement, and are the most desperate and genuine to get back to their roots and fall back on their lost livelihood. Deliberately voices of this segment in camps was not taken on board by the biased state authorities, instead engaging with the well settled creamy layer of the displaced community and multiple Pandit organizations not in mutual sync, to keep the return policy in suspended animation and successfully ensure no workable solution emerges over three decades for return and rehabilitation.
The displaced Pandits in camp are ageing and facing negative population growth, the new generation born in these camps are in disconnect with their culture which is under threat of extinction. Pakistan is successfully radicalizing the non secular social fabric in the valley and continuing in this state can take Kashmir to a point of no return. On 05 Aug 2019, the Central government took a bold and significant step in restoring the long pending federal structure in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Hence in this opportune time, workable steps in sync with aspirations of displaced Kashmiri Hindus in camps need to be taken to rehabilitate them back to their roots and restore the secular social fabric in Kashmir.
The writer is Masters in Business Administration and is an expert on International Law and Human Rights. As a Social Worker and research scholar, he is working on modalities to make return of displaced Pandits from Camps to Kashmir a reality.