“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Charu notes the plight of displaced Pandits and sees a glimmer of hope in improved security and political scene in the valley

(Dr. Charu Sawhney, 32, was born in Jammu. She completed her matriculation from Sacred Heart School, Dalhousie. She went to Welham Giris School Dehradun for her higher secondary studies. After that she pursued her B.A. (hons). in sociology from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. She completed her Masters, M.Phil. and Ph.D. in sociology from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Her M.Phil and Ph.D. areas of research are on Internally Displaced Kashmiri People. She continues to pursue her research and writings on Kashmir.)

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The return of the Kashmiri Hindus to their homeland, Kashmir remains uncertain. The panchayat election win of Asha Bhat in May 2011 from Wusan village in Baramulla district of North Kashmir indicates a bright sign towards normalcy in Kashmir. Asha Bhat, a 52 year old Kashmiri Pandit woman, became the first non-Muslim sarpanch in Kashmir after defeating her Muslim rival by a margin of 11 votes. This election win revives the debate about the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir. The Kashmiri Pandits did not flee with the intention of resettling in the new territories within India. They wish to return when the condition in Kashmir is safe. The de- linkage from home or homeland has an impact on the social lives of the displaced persons and their consequent return to the valley does not have a quick- fix solution.

The local Kashmiri Muslims in Kashmir in general were not instrumental in the displacement of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. While the role of Jagmohan in the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus remains contested, a host of other factors were responsible for the eventual exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir such as the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the valley, the majority- minority dynamics and the prevalence of weak democracy in the state. The exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley had an effect on how relationships between Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Hindu communities got reshaped. It has led to a change in the perception of identity of the Kashmiri Hindus with regard to themselves and also with regard to the Muslims back in Kashmir.

Resettlement in the new locales impacted the way in which the Kashmiri Hindus identify themselves. Individuals draw upon their experiences of migration to generate alternative reckoning of their identity based on new political circumstances. Before displacement took place the notion of ‘Kashmiriyat’, which is symbolic of Hindu-Muslim unity, was very strong. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the exodus of the minority community Kashmiri Hindus faced an identity crisis as the ‘we feeling’ of belonging to the Kashmiri community composite of both Hindus and Muslims is not that strong. The Kashmiri Hindus as an ‘imagined community’ believe in claiming their Hindu identity more than their Kashmiri identity which is symbolic of Hindu- Muslim unity. Social identity and power relations are reformulated in the new territories after displacement. The majority of the Kashmiri Hindu children have no knowledge of the Muslims back in Kashmir as they were born and brought up in the host communities and unlike their elders have never interacted with the various communities of Kashmir on a major scale. The sense of solidarity and trust that a community shares with groups back in the homeland is disrupted in situations of conflict- induced displacement as the communities are de- linked not only from their home territories but also with the various communities with whom they interacted back home.

In the current scenario there has been a decrease in the rate of militancy in Kashmir. There has been a substantial decrease in the number of local militants in Kashmir. Not many foreign militants are there now, militancy has generally declined. There has been an increase in the number of tourists from other regions of India in Kashmir. During the KheerBhawani festival many Kashmiri Hindus visit Kashmir now and many Kashmiri Hindu temples are being renovated. Still a sense of insecurity concerning the return to Kashmir exists among the displaced people.

On a one to one basis the Kashmiri Hindus still relate to the Kashmiri Muslim community. Even after displacement the Kashmiri Hindus have kept contact with their Kashmiri Muslim friends and neighbors back in Kashmir. There are also cases where the Muslims back in Kashmir looked after the agricultural lands of the displaced Kashmiri Hindus and provided them with the economic returns from the land. After displacement interaction of the displaced persons with the local population of Kashmir whether Hindus or Muslims exists especially in matters when information is to be given by the Muslims in Kashmir about the property of the displaced people.
Not to discount the fact that many of the Kashmiri Hindus sold their properties to Kashmiri Muslims at throwaway prices. A handful of Muslims still work as tenants on the lands of the Kashmiri Hindus. After displacement, a clear cut severing of contacts between the Hindus and the Muslims is not there.

In terms of economic opportunities the return to the homeland also implies that the cost and benefits are to be further weighed. The Kashmiri Hindus who are confined to the camps in Jammu were mainly from the rural areas of Kashmir. They possessed immovable property in the form of land or houses which got left behind in Kashmir at the time of migration. Camp life meant that the individuals had to live in sub-standard conditions. The educated middle class among the Kashmiri Hindus avoided the sub- human camp conditions. The possession of education enabled them to acquire jobs and rebuild their lives in the new territories. The Kashmiri Hindus who resettled in big cities of India have greater access to job opportunities in the new locales which is lacking in Kashmir. There is apprehension felt by the displaced persons about the availability of job opportunities and return of their properties in Kashmir which may be forcibly occupied, damaged or destroyed by natural calamities.

In March 2011 a satellite township Jagti, 14 kilometers from Jammu city was inaugurated by the Prime minister for the displaced Kashmiri persons living in the camps in Jammu region. This much awaited positive initiative by the government in the form of provision of a township for the migrant Kashmiri population comprising of two bedroom apartments is met after the Kashmiri Hindus mainly the working class among them lived in one- room tenements in the camp regions in Jammu for nearly two- decades. This further puts the return of the Kashmiri Hindus to their homeland into question as it implies that an effort is made by the government to permanently resettle them in a safe distance from Jammu in a township with all basic amenities. It questions the stance of the government of India, whether it is to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Hindus to Kashmir or to resettle them in the new territories.

To facilitate the return of the Kashmiri Hindus community level initiatives are to be taken and local actors are to be involved. The return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Hindus back to their homeland will depend on the strengthening the notion of kashmiriyat a symbol of composite Kashmiri culture. In order to ensure the return of the displaced people back to Valley, the government must try and build confidence and harmony between the two majority and minority communities. Return and rehabilitation of the displaced people also requires the allocation of the original properties of displaced persons in their homeland and establishment of a safe atmosphere for return in Kashmir. Establishment of a strong democracy in the state will also have a positive consequence for the restoration of peace in the valley.

Therefore efforts have to be made in the social, economic and political spheres.