Over three decades since being driven out of Kashmir valley due to insurgency, displaced members of the Kashmiri Pandit community continue their struggle to return home with many expressing their disapproval of the centre’s inability to fulfil their promises of rehabilitation. The BJP government has made several promises to the community over the years since coming to power and the abrogation of Article 370 was seen by many as a big step by many in the community in facilitating their return to the valley. However, despite two years since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 2019, thousands of migrant Kashmiri pandits remain in camps and ghetto colonies in Jammu and Delhi.
The issue has recently become a hot topic of debate on social media as well as in the nation’s political discourse after filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri’s film ‘The Kashmir Files’ depicted the Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the Valley after the insurgency, ending with the brutal Nadimarg massacre. Lakhs of Kashmiri migrant pandits were reportedly exiled in the insurgency that started toward the end of the 80s and continued till the 90s.
As per the report of the Relief Office setup in 1990 by the J&K government, 44,167 Kashmiri migrant families are registered who had to move from the valley since 1990 due to security concerns. Out of these, the count of registered Hindu Migrant families is 39,782.
The Kashmiri Pandit exodus has long remained a political slugfest with each major party in India blaming the Opposition for the tragedy. While the BJP has blamed the Congress for the tragedy, the Congress has held the former as well the Sangh Parivar led by RSS responsible. Members of the community, however, claim that all parties have milked the issue for their own political gains without actually offering much in terms of rehabilitation or justice to the exiled community, thousands of whom remain refugees in their own homes.
Meanwhile, the demand for Panun Kashmir, a separate homeland for Kashmiri Pandits was forged by exiled Pandits after the exodus and has remained recurrent among many Kashmiri Hindus.
Schemes and provisions for Kashmiri Pandit migrants over the years
Following the exodus in 1989-90, the union government had introduced a Security-Related Expenditure Scheme for Kashmiri Pandit migrants living in J&K and Delhi to help migrant families with financial assistance in sectors such as health, security, socio-economic security and administration. At the time, a compensation of Rs 250 per household was given to migrant families along with rations. The compensation amount has since been increased to Rs 3,250 per household member with each family entitled to an upper limit of Rs 13,000.
The scheme was also to include expenditure toward future government schemes for the rehabilitation of the community in sectors like housing and accommodation facilities, educational scholarships and reservations in jobs or administration.
In 2004, 5,242 two-room tenements (TRTs) were built across several locations In Jammu including Jagti, Purkhu, Muthi and Nagrota under the Prime Minister Package. Congress’s Manmohan Singh was the PM then.
The Government both under Congress and BJP has devised policies for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Migrants, under the Prime Minister’s Packages in 2008 and 2015 for the Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Migrants to Kashmir Valley.
In 2008, the UPA government announced a package for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants in which the assistance offered for reconstruction or construction of houses was capped at Rs 7.5 lakh. The fund was meant to help with the construction of homes and resettlement of all migrant families returning to their homeland.
This assistance was also only applicable to families of Kashmiri Pandits who had sold their properties between 1989 and 1997 when The J&K Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint of Distress Sale) Act was enacted.
Promises Made by BJP
In its 2014 election manifesto before coming to power, the BJP had proclaimed that the return of migrant Pandits ‘to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood will figure high on the BJP's agenda.’ In June, the BJP government at the centre passed the package for Rs 20 lakh for 60-70,000 families, raising it from the Rs 7 lakh proposed by UPA in 2008. The assistance was approved for all families that had migrated from Kashmir after 1989.
In 2015, the government approved the creation of 6,000 transit homes for migrant families. The accommodation was to be created under the Prime Minister’s Development Package, 2015. By 2022, just over a thousand units have been completed. According to the government, the remaining homes are expected to be complete by 2023.
The PM packages have together offered a total of 6,000 job posts announced for Kashmiri migrants. Out of these, nearly 3,800 have been given government employment. However, critics including Kashmiri Pandit members of organisations like Panun Kashmir have countered the BJP’s claim, stating that the scheme was in fact launched by the Manmohan Singh government.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in September claimed members from the migrant Kashmiri Pandit community met him and told him that they had still not received the compensation announced under the PM package in 2008 and later in 2014.
The debate continues
With the government making Kashmir Files tax-free in several states, the film has once again raised questions about the government’s commitment to the cause of migrant Kashmiri pandits. Critics from outside as well as within the community have accused the government of politicising the issue to garner votes.
Since the abrogation of article 370 which was replaced by a domicile law in J&K, questions have been raised by members of the Pandit community about the allotment of 3,000 acres of land for industrial purposes while it failed to allot a few hundred acres for resettlement colonies. Residents of some of the existing migrant camps and colonies in places like Jagti and Pukhru who spoke to Outlook have reported deplorable living conditions, cramping, water shortage and poor quality of construction.
Author Badri Raina, in an interview with The Wire, had claimed that the issue of rehabilitating Kashmiri Pandit families in their homes is a political matter that benefits some parties such as the right-wing more by remaining unsolved. It allows parties to rake up the issue for emotional support and votes from the community at the time of elections. In his memoirs, author Rahul Pandita had written that the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits despite schemes and promises by successive governments reflects a lack of political will.
In June last year, Panun Kashmir, an body of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, wrote to Prime Minister Modi demanding political representation in the J&K Assembly.
Home Minister Amit Shah recently said that the government was working on rehabilitating all displaced families in the valley by 2022. It was also working on creating 25,000 jobs for people from these families and improving train connectivity in remote regions of J&K.