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30 Years On, Return To Homeland Eludes Kashmiri Pandits

Jammu, Jan 11: Seventy-nine-year-old Mohan Lal has a last wish: To live the remainder of his life along with “my community” and die in “my homeland”.

Sitting in his house at Jagti camp on the outskirts of Jammu city, Lal, who is among lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits who migrated from Kashmir in 1989-90, says they are living as “refugees in our own country” for three decades but “nothing” is being done for their return and rehabilitation.
As Lal’s wait for a life “in Kashmir as I used to (live) before 1990” gets longer, his hope gives way to disappointment and anguish. “We have completed 30 years in exile. We still await a call for return from our homeland. I want to live along with my community in Kashmir as I used to before 1990. I want to die in my homeland. Promises made and policies adopted by successive governments for our rehabilitation have fallen flat due to opposition from Kashmir,” Lal, who hails from Kulgam district in South Kashmir, told PTI.

Lal, along with his family of five members, lives in Jagti camp which houses about 20,000 Kashmiri Pandits. The displaced Kashmiri Pandits say the biggest hurdles in their return to their roots were concerns for their “safety and security” and the government’s inability to implement its return and rehabilitation package of 2008 on the ground.

Like Lal, 80-year-old Soomawati too want to return home in the border district of Kupwara. She says, “I want to return and die in my home. But nobody is fulfilling my last wish, neither the government nor my family.”

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The general secretary of the All State Kashmiri Pandit Conference (ASKPC), T K Bhat, said, “Kashmiri Pandits are at the crossroads. There is uncertainty. The return and rehabilitation policy of the government is on paper and there are no takers for it…Our core concern is safety and security for the community in Kashmir Valley.”

In 2008, the then Congress-led government at the Centre announced a package for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants, offering maximum assistance of Rs 7.5 lakh each family for construction of houses.

But the then state government led by Omar Abdullah of the National Conference requested the Centre to enhance the package to Rs 20 lakh per family, following feedback from affected families. The plan has not since moved forward.

In September 2017, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced in Srinagar that the central government had decided to construct 6,000 transit accommodations for Kashmiri Pandits.

But the plan to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in three composite townships in North, South and Central Kashmir was opposed by the National Conference and separatists, BJP MLC Surinder Ambardar said.

“I feel there is a need to carve out separate homeland for the community,” Ambardar said.

Even employment schemes for Kashmiri Pandit youths failed to yield desired results. Over 1,900 educated youths were given employments in Kashmir under the prime minister’s job package and put up in four different transit accommodations.

But they fled after the killing Hizbul Mujahideen division commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.

As families fled the valley, protection of immovable properties of Kashmiri Pandits became an issue that required government intervention within months. “We want the government to remove massive encroachments of lands and properties of displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. But nothing is being done. I have approached the office of the governor in this regard, but to no avail,” Legislator G L Raina said.

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Their hopes for a return to Kashmir was rekindled after the formation of the PDP-BJP government in March 2015 as the two parties had talked about “protecting and fostering ethnic and religious diversity by ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity based on their rights as state subjects and reintegrating as well as absorbing them in the Kashmiri milieu”.

“We had high hopes after the formation of the BJP-PDP government. But that has been dashed now. The growing radicalism in Kashmir and government policies to deal with the situation are the biggest hurdles,” Vinood Pandit said. (PTI)

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