While Razdan describes challenges inhabiting the return of Pandits back to the valley, the majority community should also get concerned about continuous trickling out of residual Pandits from the valley unable to find adequate economic and political space in Kashmir
(Mr. P. N. Razdan, 70, was born and raised in Srinagar. He completed his master’s degree in Statistics from the Patna university and joined the J&K state service. He rose through the ranks to the post of Special Secretary, Department of Planning and Development, Government of Jammu and Kashmir. After his retirement in 1997, he was appointed as Advisor, Planning and Development. He currently lives in the National Capital Region. In his leisure time, Mr. Razdan stays engaged by doing consulting and social work, and by writing occasional commentaries on Kashmir for various newspapers.)
Why Kashmiri Pandits don’t return to Valley?
The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley has again assumed media attention due to the renewed interest of the newly elected government in the state for this subject. The NC led government announced a series of financial incentives both in the budget speech and separately through a mega plan by the Revenue and Rehabilitation Minister for the return of Pandits. The wholesome package covers all the relevant concerns like repairs of houses, orchards, restarting of business, employment and housing.
Despite the attractive terms of package, the response of the migrant Pandits has been lukewarm. Only about 300 families have expressed their interest in the return package so far besides the 934 families that registered last year after the announcement of a package by the Prime Minister. This is just 2% of the 55476 families registered as migrants in Jammu, Delhi and other states. Why is the response of the Pandits so brazenly cool to the package? We try to analyze the reasons for this diffidence of the migrant natives.
The apprehension foremost in the minds of Pandits is that of insecurity. It is not the overall insecurity, like a bomb blast on the roadside or a cross firing that results in death and disability, but the individual targeting that is the prime concern of the migrants. Pandits were targeted on the basis of their religion in 1990 and later, a fear that continues to bother them. Kashmir is an unsettled issue but for the last nineteen years post migration, the issue has not been de-linked from religion. Events of late like Amarnath land agitation, regardless of its genesis, have only aggravated these fears. So long as Kashmir problem is associated with religion and a theocratic state like Pakistan that has a dismal record of minority handling, the worry of the Pandits used to a secular and pluralistic way of life in the valley, is logical. Pandits would not like to return only to be thrown out again. Their heart goes back to Kashmiriyat, and its revival.
A lot of this fear of insecurity could have been lessened had the return plan been backed up the locals. While the individual bonhomie and warmth of the local Muslims with the Pandits continues as before (if not more), there is no collective social or political initiative for the return of Pandits. This is probably because there is a fear that this step may dilute the attention on the Kashmir problem and reduce the pressure on Indian establishment for working out a solution.
The other reason for a lukewarm attitude for return is the lack of housing. About 80% of the Pandit families have disposed off their immovable properties either willingly or under threat of encroachment. There is a small section of people in Srinagar and some major towns whose houses are under the control of para military forces. Despite petty rents followed by delays and insensitive attitude of the State Police for their payment, these people have refused to sell their properties with the hope of an eventual return to their homeland. But even these properties are not available at present due to their continued occupation by the forces and refusal for their vacation. In reality there is therefore no accommodation, transit or permanent, for Pandits to start with. This problem has not been addressed in the return package. It would be helpful if the government makes arrangements for transit accommodation for the returning Pandits both as a welcome gesture and also to have a first feel of the largely safe and secure valley.
The problem of permanent housing can easily be solved if large-scale housing projects are taken up both by the government and private builders of repute. It is however important that housing projects be made available for a mix of population with majority percentage fixed for migrants. Exclusive tenements for Pandits defeat the very argument of security and plurality.
There is also a genuine concern particularly among the youth, about the lack of professional employment in the valley. The state has remained static on development front for the last two decades because of unstable political and security conditions. Industry, IT, tourism, communication, health services etc. have not seen the progress recorded in other states of the country. There is mounting unemployment particularly in professional categories. Government continues to be the sole employer and Pandit youth even if absorbed in the meager professional openings, would have no lateral movement. Already there are scores of Kashmiri Muslim youth working as doctors, engineers and IT professionals in all metropolitan cities of the country pointing to the difficult professional employment situation in the valley. With better openings available outside the valley, offer of employment for return therefore does not seem to be a workable proposition at least for professionally qualified youth. Linking employment to the return is meaningless even otherwise, since anybody who takes up employment in the valley would have to stay there itself.
Then there are tiny little grounds like affinity with the newly created neighborhoods, health services, schooling of kids etc. that may discourage the reverse migration of Pandits. But as the author has observed in one of his earlier articles that, Pandits may have improved both socially as well as economically after migration, but their biggest loss has been the loss of their identity. And a majority of them are prepared to exchange anything for its redemption. However, they can do so only if there is a will to help them. The government seems to have come out openly in this cause. It is now for the civil society to play its part.