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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2963

Will Kashmiri Hindu Pandits Ever Return To Their Homeland

By J.N. Raina - Syndicate Features

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call for the return of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits to their ancestral abode is ludicrous. The community has almost been exterminated from the Elysian valley, through the planned process of ethnic cleansing, sporadically, especially since independence, when India became a secular and democratic nation.

Over five lakh Kashmiri Hindus live like refugees in their own country. Now their number might have proportionately increased during 18 years of their "exile." They were forced to flee like pigeons from their home and hearth at the point of gun, when Pakistan-sponsored terrorism erupted during 1989-90. Their houses were repeatedly plundered by the Muslim fundamentalists, assisted by gun-wielding militants in the nefarious "operation." Several hundred temples and places of worship were either desecrated or destroyed during militancy, which is still on.

Geelani’s call is mischievous. He is not honest in saying that the Kashmiri Pandits should only return to their ‘native places’ where their “old Muslim neighbours would receive them with open arms”; and that they should not ‘opt’ for living in the ‘security zones’, because that according to him is “impractical and rather fraught with dangers”.

Perhaps Geelani and his cohorts are treating the proposed ‘home-coming’ as a return of the prodigals. It is apparent from the tone and tenor adopted by the diehard Geelani and many others of his ilk.

Geelani’s call came on the heels of the Jammu and Kashmir Government’s announcement of a ‘grand’ rehabilitation plan for the Kashmiri Hindu migrants, under which a cluster of houses and flats are being constructed, under a comprehensive package. These will be ready within this year, or may be earlier, to coincide with the elections to the state Assembly.

But one would like to ask Geelani, where are the so-called ‘old houses’ of these Kashmiri Pandits? Where are their landed properties? Where are their apple and almond orchards; temples and religious places, palatial buildings, paddy fields, business establishments et al. Their dwellings were pulled down after their mass exodus in early 1990.

No one dared to go back and see these damaged properties or even to file an FIR. Police proved helpless. Many houses were grabbed. Roughly, over 80 per cent of the migrants disposed of their properties under pressure and unforeseen circumstances, and that too at throwaway prices. Surprisingly, after the sale deeds were conducted, prices went up significantly so that the migrants do not return to the valley. It was all manipulated.

Where from the money came to purchase these properties at one go? It is generally believed that Kashmiris are poor. The Pandits are in wilderness. When I visited the then Hindu-dominated locality of Habbakadal in 2005, it wore an eerie and deserted look. Even dogs would not struggle to bark.

It may sound hypothetical, but one would like to understand that after Geelani and his folks receive the Pandits with ‘open arms’, where shall they go? Geelani, who is leading a faction of the Hurriyat Conference, is in fact denigrating the Pandits’ community. The like-minded political leaders, preferring to act as a "devil’s advocate," are in support of Geelani’s view that the migrants should return only to their ‘old houses’ and not to Government flats under construction. It is untenable. The Kashmiri Pandits are now a fragmented lot. They have settled in different parts of the country, mostly in Jammu and Delhi. Thousands of them live in shattered tenements and dingy apartments, in unhygienic conditions.

If Geelani and his compeers had been honest enough about the return of the Pandits, they should have first condemned militancy in no uncertain terms, and the barbarous acts the community was subjected to before they were hounded out. Geelani and his ‘comrades’ should have volunteered to reconstruct the burned down houses of the migrants and restored their places of worship to their original shape and not waited thus far. But alas; they were never serious, for the fact that they regarded the Pandits as persona non grata in the valley. Geelani is against the permanent stay of outsiders in the valley, including Biharis, but those who were the permanent settlers were thrown out.

The radicals by and large achieved their goal of establishing what is known as "Nizam-e-Mustafa" (Islamic way of life). This concept is against the general will of the majority of the Muslims. They have opted for modernity rather than for Afghanistan-type Talibanisation of the Islamic society. What the Muslim fundamentalists are aiming at is against the concept of secular democracy, adopted by India. The radicals’ ideology has not only ruined Kashmiris but the people of Pakistan as well.

The Hurriyat leader is shedding crocodile tears that "Kashmir is incomplete without the Hindu Pandit community." The population of Hindus in Kashmir was reduced to just two per cent (from 15 per cent in 1947) before 1990 exodus. Now less than 15,000 to 20,000 Hindus live in the valley.

Panun Kashmir Chairman Dr Ajay Chrungoo is averse to Geelani’s idea about the return of the Pandits. "By insisting that the migrants should return only to their old homes and intermingle with their old Muslim neighbours, Geelani in fact wants them to ignore their security concerns. He does not want the Pandits to have relationship with the Government or the security forces."

Naturally, it could be interpreted to mean that the Kashmiri Hindus should identify themselves with the politics of the radicals, which is uncalled for. Panun Kashmir, an organization representing the Kashmiri Pandits, has demanded to carve out a separate homeland for the Kashmiri Hindus in the valley, within the Indian union.

Geelani and other separatist leaders should say peccavi (we have sinned) and apologize to the Pandits before making such overtures. They should abjure violence and realize that separatism is disastrous. Separation of Kashmir from the Indian union is impossible. It simply means disintegration of India as well as Pakistan. It can never happen. The radicals are a curse upon the people of Kashmir. Geelani’s mea culpa for supporting and engineering terrorism in the valley will go a long way in the restoration of normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir. What they want to achieve is unachievable, for if Kashmir is unstable, both India and Pakistan will remain so.

The fundamentals in the valley have no locus standi to decide about people residing in the other two regions of the Buddhist-dominated Ladakh region and the Hindu-dominated Jammu. Ugly happenings in Kashmir will have an adverse impact in both the countries. The Kashmiri Muslim fundamentalists are holding people in the entire subcontinent at ransom. This is why Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari wants Kashmir issue to be kept on the backburner, to develop economic relationship between India and Pakistan.

- Syndicate Features -

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