Quoting Kashmiri poet Dinanath Kaul Nadim’s famous poem “My Country”, Congress lawmaker Vivek Tankha on Friday introduced a bill seeking minority status for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley from where the community was forced to flee in the late 1980s during an insurgent upsurge.
The bill, ‘Kashmiri Pandit (Recourse, Restitution, Rehabilitation and Resettlement) Act’ also asks the Centre to declare Kashmiri Pandits “victims of genocide” and change their official nomenclature to ‘Internally Displaced Persons’, the globally accepted term for people forced to migrate within their own country.
The bill asks for a separate judicial commission having powers to bring “the perpetrators of violence and genocide to justice”.
The bill quotes extensively from Nadim (1916-1988)—a leftist poet and a close associate of National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah—saying that in his idea of a nation no one is divided on the basis of religion and everyone is identified as human beings.
The poem rings close in the heart of every Kashmiri Pandit as they dream of reuniting with their ‘Myon Vatan’. The poem was also quoted by Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman during her budget speech in 2020.
The bill comes in the backdrop of the release of the movie ‘Kashmir Files’ by right-wing filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri who claims to have documented the plight of Kashmiri Pandits forced out of their homeland by militants.
Tankha said the bill was completely his idea and not influenced by the movie. “If you want to find a solution, it has to be on the lines as suggested in the bill. If you are not looking for resolution, you can go on making films,” he said, terming the bill a blueprint for the settlement of Kashmiri Pandits.
“I didn’t consult anybody in Congress to bring this bill. I have brought this bill only because of the global appeal from Kashmiri Pandits. I am a Kashmiri Pandit myself. We were originally from Kashmir and have migrated from there,” he added.
He said that his family had fought for all Kashmiris—both Muslims and Pandits—and have ensured reservation for them in Madhya Pradesh.
The bill also asks for a separate ‘consolidated land area’ to be identified for allocation to each family of domiciled Kashmiri Pandit, either living in camps or willing to re-settle in Kashmir. The bill further seeks a separate Kashmiri Pandit Security Task Force having executive and judiciary powers to take necessary steps to strengthen law and order and security situation concerning Kashmiri Pandits and issuing arms licences to at least one member of each of the family of domiciled Kashmiri Pandits.
Asked whether separate consolidated land means a separate homeland, he said, “There has to be a secure area for them. Otherwise, how will they go back? Basically, if you send them back you have to ensure they are secure. They have lost their home, their properties, you have to compensate them. Otherwise, what will they do there?.
On the proposed Kashmiri Pandit Security Task Force, he was vague in his reply. “In case I need help where will I go? You want them to go back or not? Do nothing if you don’t want them to go back. Status quo suits everyone then,” he added.
The bill asks the government to issue necessary orders to declare the Kashmiri Pandit community and other religious minorities as an “at-risk population” and make necessary security arrangements from the perspective of risk assessment, monitoring threats, providing the capability to protect life and ability to enjoy liberty in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment.
Tankha has sought a white paper on the community, documenting all events in the Kashmir valley pertaining to the atrocities and plight of Kashmiri Pandits starting from the year 1988.
The bill also asks the Central government to constitute an empowered advisory committee that will assert the right for return, rehabilitation and restitution and advise the government accordingly. The advisory committee is an attempt to give power in the hands of the Kashmiri Pandits themselves, as their opinion of what is best for them matters the most, the bill says. The committee, according to the bill, should comprise twenty-one representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community, including three members from Kashmiri Pandit diaspora.
To enhance employment opportunities for migrant youth who are either living in Jammu and Kashmir or willing to return and resettle, the government will create, within three months of the passage of the bill, ten thousand direct employment opportunities for migrant or domiciled Kashmiri Pandits in J&K, the bill envisages.
In the case of properties, the bill says such properties which were sold after 1989-90, be declared “distress sale”, thus making the sale of these properties null and void and their ownership restored to the respective Kashmiri Pandits.
Takha ends with Nadim’s poem.
“Soun watan, gulzar shalimar hyu
(Our country is like a blossoming Shalimar Bagh)
Dal manz phalwun pamposh hyu
(like a blooming lotus in Dal lake)
Nuwjawnan hun roshan khumar hyu
(like the warm blood of its young)
Myon watan, choun watan, soun watan, nundboon watan
(my country, your country, our country, the beautiful country).”
In contrast to previous packages announced by the Central government, the bill is comprehensive as it talks about a definite plan to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley in separate land within the Valley having separate forces safeguarding and looking after their interests.
Earlier packages announced were aimed at providing jobs to the migrants. Under the Prime Minister’s package of 1998, a person belonging to a Kashmiri Pandit family who has migrated from Kashmir Valley after November 1, 1989, and is registered with the Relief Commissioner is entitled to a job and relief.
In 1997, the then Farooq Abdullah government came up with the Jammu & Kashmir
Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection & Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997 to prevent distress sale of immovable property by migrants.
In 2000 the then Farooq Abdullah government came up with an action plan for the return of Kashmiri migrants involving a total expenditure of Rs 2,589.73 crores. In May 2001, the Central government approved the plan that includes a rehabilitation grant per family.