After a meeting Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had in Delhi on Tuesday April 7, 2015, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, official statements from the Indian government indicate that the CM had assured Modi that the state government intends to acquire and provide land for creating composite townships for displaced Kashmiri Pandits.
The Government of India has earmarked in the budget for 2015-16 Rs 580 crore ($100 million ) to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandit migrants. A plan apparently being discussed is to create a separate “homeland” for Pandits. It is described as a “composite township,” a technical term, apparently whose meaning still needs clarification.
However, on Thursday, April 9, Sayeed seemingly did a 180-degree about-face, clarifying his government's stand. He said, "I have told the Union Home Minister that they (KPs) cannot live separately (in Kashmir Valley) and they will have to live together.” A “homeland,” he said, is not possible in Kashmir and added that rumors are being spread to create controversies in the state.
So what is it? Why the initial press release indicating that such a township or townships were in the works, if that was not Mufti’s plan? It is apparent that the immediate public outcry over such a plan may have caused the government to wind it back a little. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front see in it “an attempt on part of the Centre to create a state within the state and a ploy to make Kashmir next Palestine after robbing people of their land and driving a wedge between different communities.”
Sunil Shakhdar, former president of Kashmir Samiti Delhi and chairman S K Foundation, rejected the composite township proposal. He blamed the Central Government for “embarrassing the community by arbitrarily deciding about their fate and the manner in which they would like to go back to claim their homes and hearths in Kashmir.”
“The decision to create a separate township for Pandits has no seriousness. The issue has been deliberately tossed up within a month of the coalition government coming to power in J&K merely to cover up their political contradictions and administrative failures,” he said. “All attempts by the BJP and PDP leadership to arbitrarily decide on issues related to the community and particularly on their legitimate right to go back to Kashmir will be fought back tooth and nail.”
“We treat the proposal for separate townships with same disdain while reserving our right to return to the Valley with honor and dignity and with our heads high,” he said.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that the BJP agenda is now known. The government ran up a flag to see who would wave, and the response was somewhat less than expected. However, it behooves those of us who oppose such a plan to be aware that further steps may be taken to implement it and further steps need to be taken to insure that it isn’t.
What would it mean for the culture of Kashmir - Kashmiriat? The Valley of Kashmir has remained the symbol of communal harmony for centuries. It has a sustained tradition of tolerance and amity between the members of various religious groups. Kashmiriat does not generate extremism or fundamentalism.
Then why separate them from the majority community at this time? It seems a sinister design to bring an end to this century-old bond of the people of Kashmir, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds.
Kashmiri Pandits have their religious monuments and symbols situated in the midst of the areas of majority community. If they want their separate homeland outside majority community areas, how are they going to have access to these monuments and how are they going to protect them?
I totally agree with Mr. Sanjay Tickoo, Chairman of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, who said that “the separate zones will set a dangerous precedent.” He added, "Wherever there is minority (community) it should live with the majority.”
Mr. Tickoo truly represents the sentiments of all Kashmiris when he emphasized that “Separate settlements will go against the basic ethos of Kashmir and Sufi tradition.”
Joginder Singh Raina of the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC) said “Kashmir is about Kashmiriyat which means brotherhood…Sikhs settled in city during the turmoil but never went away but now KPs should also come and live together like us.”
Mr. M. Ashraf Malik, asked: “What is composite township – is it a form of ghettoisation or balkanisation. I think it is better understood as the murder of a brotherhood of Kashmiri culture which has made its example throughout the world. Kashmir is the only place in India where till date no incident of riots between the two communities happened, even in those days when Babri Masjid was demolished or during the Gujarat riots. It is obvious that all those Pandit brothers who know the significance of living in brotherhood with their Muslim community, will never favor the government’s decision of constructing composite blocks. They are also aware of divisive politics. That is why they are protesting against such type of “colonies”. By dividing Kashmir on religion basis is conspiracy to give a way to riots and to make it another Gujrat or Muzafnagar. But nobody will allow this to happen whether he belongs to any religion or community of Kashmir. Let the people J&K live their life. We are Kashmiris and we know how to live with our brothers.”
It is fact that over 2,000 Pandit employees have worked in different government offices, including education, police, revenue and other in different towns, like Kupwara, Handwara, Trehgam, and Islamabad for many years. They have not faced any harassment from the majority community.
It is also a fact that over a thousand Pandit families have remained in the Valley since 1989. No one was touched by the majority community. The Muslim community has helped them to build their religious temples and supported their loved ones during their religious rites, such as cremation.
There are hundreds of families who returned to the Valley within the past three to four years simply because of the good will of the majority community.
It is known to everybody that 20,000 to 30,000 Pandit students joined colleges such as Kupwara, Sopre, Uri, Bandipora,and Budgam, to earn their Bachelor of Education degree between 2000 and 2009. They stayed with Muslim families. Some of them rented houses and lived side by side with majority community. Not a single case of harassment of Kashmiri Pandit students was reported.
In 2005 and 2006, the Government of India allocated land to give separate houses to Pandits in clusters of 200 in Mattan, Islamabad; Sheikhpora, Budgam near District Police Lines and adjacent to the airport. And one hundred percent security guarantee was to be given to Pandits, but they did not return because they did not want to be isolated from their majority community.
It is common understanding that these separate homelands are to be designed to change the demography of Kashmir. The design is to invite people from other parts of India and in particular belonging to RSS. No one will know who resides there. The identity of residents cannot be verified by anyone except the government which has the design and the capability of changing the demographics in any manner they choose.
BJP administration is doing it because they want to show the symbol of India in every nook and corner of the Valley. The scheme is also to weaken the Kashmiri political resistance movement.
The best solution of this dilemma is that the Pandit brethren should return to the Valley and the majority community must open their hearts and minds in order to give them moral support and sense of security. The rights and culture of Kashmiri Pandits must be respected and protected at all costs.
History is replete with examples of how segregated groups develop numerous conflicts over their differences which are overblown and exaggerated into real threats to the lives and safety of residents of each group. A very notable modern-day example is seen in the problems that African Americans face in their segregated ghettos in the U.S. with police, with education, with jobs and self esteem. The hatred some feel toward each other has become volatile, and it is due largely because each lives in his separate little world, never really seeing or experiencing the humanity of the other or having any obligation to interact in common everyday matters. Racism should never be allowed to reach such a pitch, and when people talk about isolating one group of people based upon race, culture and religion, with separate services, facilities and infrastructure, they are setting a perfect stage ripe with all the conditions needed to create a huge disaster. Community development and good social planning go hand in hand, and political priorities, which are always one-sided, should never be allowed to trump the health and safety and strength of communal order and a healthy level of integration.
A group of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley joined JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik in the protest at Maisuma early this week. Reportedly, “The procession marched towards Lal Chowk chanting slogan Sang Sang Jiyain Gay, Sang Sang Marain Gay (we will live together and die together). The Kashmiri Pandits said that there was no need and no use of making separate colonies. ‘These colonies may benefit somebody’s politics, but can never benefit Pandits,’” Pandit Vishin Jee said.
All Pandit brethren need to know that the entire Kashmir is theirs as much as it belongs to majority community. The Pandits should live side by side with their majority community to re-create the environment that used to be a “pluralistic society.” Let us begin by create that environment one more time.
Long live communal harmony in Kashmir!
Dr. Fai can be reached at; email@example.com