Research Intern, Jindal Centre for the Global South,
O.P. Jindal Global University, India.
Human rights are paramount to citizens and is a vital policy objective of international institutions and central governments. However, despite such importance granted to Human Rights, the world community and central government have failed to uphold the rights of Kashmiri Pandit (“KP”) community living in Kashmir in the 1990s. The year of 1989 marks ‘black year’ in the history of India. The outbreak of militancy, terrorism and extremism throughout the country was manifested in the valley which led to the exodus of KP community from their homelands. KPs were terrorized through violence, loot, rape and destruction and were forced to abandon their land of birth to save their lives and live like refugees in their own country. According to Relief Office’s report, setup in 1990 by J&K Government, 44,167 Kashmiri Migrant families have moved from the valley since 1990. Out of these, 39,782 are Hindu Migrant families (PIB Delhi, 2021). But the number remains controversial and organizations such as Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) claim that around 75,343 pandits left the valley and about 399 have been killed between 1990 and 2011.
Despite the fact that several steps have been taken by the Government of India (GOI) and Government of Jammu and Kashmir (GOJ&K) for the settlement and encouragement of the community in different parts of India, the governments have not been able to take concrete steps for the resettlement of the community back in the valley. With the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and the administration of Kashmir coming directly under the Indian Government, Government has promised and aggregated the process of resettlement by 2022, yet the community faces several problems in settling back in the valley.
The foremost initiative came from Maharashtra’s then CM Balasaheb Thackeray who provided 5 per cent reservation to the community in technical and engineering courses in various academic institutions. Following Balasaheb’s footsteps, the Central Government and states like Punjab came up with reservations, quotas, grace marks for Kashmiri displaced community. (When Balasaheb, March 2022).
Since 2000, several initiatives have been taken by the government for the upliftment and resettlement of Pandits in Kashmir and to provide them education and employment opportunities.
In 2004, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam announced the building of two room tenements at four locations in Jammu that included facilities like Community Halls, Schools, Primary Health Centres, Water Supply, Electric Supply, 40 hospitals, Road & Drainage, STP plant, Parks etc. under Prime Ministers Reconstruction Program (PMRP) (Relief and Rehabilitation, GOJ&K). Around 5,242 tenements were built in Jagti, Purkhoo, Nagrota and Muthi in Jammu.
In 2008, Dr. Manmohan Singh announced INR1,600-crore package and included incentives such as housing grants, jobs and educational opportunities, and waiver of interest on loans for the community (The Wire, 2020). Under the package, government announced an assistance of INR7.5 lakh for repairing fully or partially damaged houses, INR2 lakh for dilapidated and unused houses, and INR7.5 lakh for purchase and construction of houses in group housing societies for those who have sold their properties between 1989 and 1997 (PIB Delhi, 2021). The cash assistance is also provided to the families under the scheme which is revised from time to time. Currently, INR13,000 per month is given to each family. Ministry of Home Affairs under Security Related Expenditure, Return & Rehabilitation (SRE (R&R)) also provides dry ration to families which is distributed by J&K government and revised with time (PIB, 2014).
Under PM’s Special Employment Package, various jobs are provided to migrant youths for their return in the valley. Between 1990 to 2019, around 3,800 Kashmiri migrants returned back to the valley (Bharti Jain, 2021). Since the abrogation, around 520 migrants have returned under the scheme (TOI, 2021). Around 3,000 jobs have been provided to Pandits in 2020-21 (TOI, 2021).
In 2009, GOI issued PM’s Package for return and rehabilitation for migrants and in 2014, then Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley announced package of INR500 crore for the same. In 2015, GOI announced additional state government jobs and ‘heavily-guarded transit accommodations’ for the community for their resettlement (PIB Delhi, 2021). In 2017, Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced the construction of 6,000 transit homes for KPs in composite townships in Kashmir, especially for Migrant employees who have taken jobs in Kashmir (TOI, 2021).
In 2020, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) made provisions of relaxation in cut-off to 10 percent and the increase of seats to 5 percent in all institutions affiliated with it. It also reserved one seat in merit quota in technical institutions and waived off the requirement of domicile for Kashmiri migrants (Kashmiri Pandits, 2020). For the Pandits already living in the valley, the government has allowed their inclusion in the job package for Pandit migrants along with all the other benefits.
In 1997, the GOJ&K passed Jammu and Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, which empowers district magistrates (DMs) of concerned districts to preserve and protect properties of migrant community. But the act lacked proper implementation. With the abrogation, the centre has direct control over the cases and the law has been enforced properly. In 2021, GOJ&K under Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha launched an online portal for the registration of complaints by Kashmiri migrants about distress sale, encroachment or other grievances regarding property in the territory which will be addressed in fixed timeframe (Naseer Ganai, 2021).
In 2021, the government has also transferred 122-kanal land at Kupwara, Budgam and Baramulla for the construction of accommodation for migrant employees in the valley (Republic World, 2021).
With the abrogation and current government’s promise and initiatives to transfer pandits back by 2022, the hopes and the pace for resettlement have increased. However, there are various concerns towards the resettlement issue. Most KPs opine that ‘one place settlements’ would ensure security and encourage members to return without any fear. But others feel the ‘ghetto-like structures ringed by concertina wire amidst heavy security’ would never lead to return of normal life for KPs in the valley. These people feel that the Valley would never become same like the one they left amidst the violence.
Separate places for Hindus and Muslims would also divide Kashmir. Some have been equated the settlements to Jewish settlements in Palestine. These separate places may easily become targets of extremists’ groups. Despite security, there is a threat of violence in the valley. In 2016, Burhan Wani’s death also stoked violence in the valley that led the return of many KPs employed under PM’s employment scheme. The killings of Pandits in 2021 has further aggravated that fear (Naseer Ganai, 2021).
Even the non-migrant Kashmiri feel the resettlement issue could stoke anger in Kashmir and they will be the ones suffering the dire consequences.
The government must address these concerns and the world community must intervene in helping the government in proper implementation of the plan. Peacebuilding measures need to be adopted between different communities for the settlement of the community back in the valley.
It’s high time that we settle the Pandits back in the valley. But the situation on ground needs to be analysed properly and proper measures need to be adopted for peaceful and safe return of the community. There cannot be return of the terrified community and there should not be a repeat of marred history in India again. Measures need to be adopted for Kashmir where KPs can live without fear and with full rights as citizens.
Bharti Jain. 3,800 Kashmiri migrants return to Kashmir to take up jobs under PM package. Times of India. March 2021. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/3800-kashmiri-migrants-return-to-kashmir-to-take-up-jobs-under-pms-package/articleshow/81551828.cms
Government’s 2022 J&K plan: Resettlement of Kashmiri Plan. Times of India. February 2021. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/governments-2022-jk-plan-resettlement-of-kashmiri-pandits-25k-jobs-train-link/articleshow/80899281.cms
Naseer Ganai. J&K Govt Launches Website for Migrant Properties; To Help Kashmiri Pandits. Outlook. September 2021. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-jk-govt-launches-website-for-migrant-properties-will-it-help-return-of-kashmiri-pandits/393877
Naseer Ganai. Continuous Killing Spree In Kashmir, Pandit Leader Feels Situation Akin To 90’s. Outlook. October 2021. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-continuous-killing-spree-in-kashmir-pandit-leader-feels-situation-akin-to-90s/396965
Kashmiri pandits to get quota, cut-off relaxations in college admissions. Indian Express. October 2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/education/kashmiri-pandits-hindus-to-get-quota-cut-off-relaxations-education-ministry-6715843/
PIB Delhi. Return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir Valley. Ministry of Home Affairs. March 2021. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1705569
Relief and Rehabilitation. Government of Jammu & Kashmir. http://www.jkmigrantrelief.nic.in/
When Balasaheb Thackeray safeguarded the future of a displaced community. Business Standards. March 2022. https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/when-balasaheb-thackeray-safeguarded-the-future-of-a-displaced-community-122031900392_1.html
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.