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The Kashmiri Pandit Question

Lord Rama was in exile for 14 years on behest of his father King Dashrath but his followers hailing from Kashmir continue to remain in forced exile from more than two decades. On January 19, 2012 Kashmiri Pandits complete 22 years in exile.

After India's partition, the largest internal displacement of around four to five lakh people (marked with ethnic cleansing and genocide) was of Kashmiri Pandits which began from January 19, 1990. On that day, Kashmir lost its soul.

The exiled Pandits still remember the gory night when they left for an unknown land without their belongings. They still remember the horror of the decade during which they were forced to leave their home. Terror and horror ruled the streets of the valley in 1990s.

Twenty-two years have passed, but the questions about exodus, killings, justice, human rights and return of Kashmiri Hindus remain unanswered. I hear muted responses to the 'Pandit Question' from both the state and Central governments. Even human rights organisations have not raised their voice on the issue.

There hasn't been a single investigation into the reasons for the exodus and killings of Kashmiri Pandits. There has not been any conviction for the murders and rapes of Pandits except that of human rights activist late Hriday Nath Wanchoo. The 'Pandit Question' doesn't seem to dent the conscious of our politicians and their ilk.

In these years, both the state and Central governments have come up with several proposals for return and rehabilitation of the exiled Pandits though not concrete ones. Had they done that, the return would have happened. Many a time, linking return with economic packages. Minister of State for Home, Jitendra Singh informed Lok Sabha on 13th December, 2011 that even after the government had announced an Rs 1,618.40 crore package for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants to the Valley in 2008 but so far no family has returned.

Did Pandits leave the valley due to economic/financial reasons? Certainly not; they left due to attack on their existence from terrorists. Economics cannot define the return of Pandits. Further, there are several reports of encroachments of Pandit properties and their religious shrines by some miscreants. Many temples were broken when the insurgency was at its peak. Barring a few, the temples are in a dilapidated condition. There is not any strong move from the J&K state government till date to deal with this menace. Even the Kashmiri Hindu Shrines Bill is pending in the J&K assembly for years.

Besides, lies and false notions have been created regarding the exodus of Pandits from the Kashmir valley. The 'myth factory' still works in propagating such myths in and outside the Valley. I still get to hear that Jagmohan, then the governor of J&K State, is responsible for the exodus of Pandits. No, it wasn't Jagmohan but Islamist fanaticism and terrorism covertly supported by Pakistani militant groups, which resulted in displacement of Pandits.

Armed insurgency was a movement to secede the state of Jammu and Kashmir from India and Pandits were seen as living symbols representing India in Kashmir. It is worthy to mention that there were some good neighbours (belonging to the majority of Kashmir) of Pandits who advised them to leave as they also knew that the Valley wasn't safe for Pandits anymore.

Kashmiri Pandits will return when the conditions are conducive. The prime concern is safety (both in physical as well psychological sense). When the fanatics roam freely on the streets of the Valley, the return of Kashmiri Pandits is not possible. Their "return" means returning to the same home where they lived before the exodus. It should be done with dignity and honour. The return is feasible when issues concerning the entire community are addressed.

It is likely to happen only when there is full guarantee of no foul play with the community. Remember, the Kashmiri Pandit is as much a stakeholder in the larger debate of Jammu and Kashmir as anyone else. As J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his government completed three years in office on January 5 this year, Kashmiri Pandits will enter in 23rd year in exile on January 19.

Maybe the reason behind not answering the 'Pandit Question' is implicit in Sudarshan Faakir's famous couplet - "Mera Qaatil Hi Mera Munsif Hai, Kya Mere Haq Mei Faisla Dega?" 

Varad Varenya is a Delhi-based writer and tweets at @VaradVarenya

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