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A cry in wilderness

By Shyam Kaul

As one of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, the past for me is not merely the “ old, unhappy, far off things, and battles long ago.” It is a reality which lives with me, and which in many essential respects, is a prolongation of the past. It is a gnawing pain in the soul, that comes more agonizingly alive when one comes across things written down years ago, like the letter that appeared in Kashmir Times, way back on October 30, 1997.

The letter, written by late Tariq Abdullah, son of the redoutable leader of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, and younger brother of Dr Farooq Abdullah, who happened to be the chief minister of the state in 1997, is reproduced here verbatim:

“Dear Editor, A veritable racket is going on in Srinagar in regard to houses belonging to the migrant Kashmiri Pandit community. An instance in point is about the House No 414 at Jawahar Nagar, belonging to Ramesh Kaul, who is a migrant. Last month the house was forcibly occupied by some locals who threw out the lawful tenants residing in the house. The matter was referred to the DG of Police, the state minister for Home, the revenue Minister and the DIG Range. However nothing was done to restore the house to its owner. Upon painstaking inquiry it was found that the house was occupied under the patronage and protection of the local SHO of the Raj Bagh police station. Furthermore, it was found that money changes hands from the illegal occupiers to the protectionist racketeers. On behalf of the hapless owner I wrote to the above named persons but a deaf ear was turned by them. I have now written to the state Governor.

“It is great shame that while on the one hand the government is committed to restoring forcibly occupied migrant property to the migrants, yet, on the other, protectionists’ racket in migrant properties is going on under the patronage of authorities and nobody is doing anything about it. It becomes pertinent to ask here as to how it is expected of the migrant Kashmiri Pandit community to return to the Valley if their very homes are illegally occupied under the protection and patronage of the authorities? It is time this racket was exposed and forcibly occupied houses restored to the owners. Only then can the migrant community hope to return to the valley. Tariq Abdullah, Gupkar Road, Srinagar.”

The letter is a quintessential essence of what happened to Pandit properties in Kashmir between 1990 and 1996, when terror ran berserk in Kashmir. The letter could also be described as a prophetic piece of writing about what has been happening to such properties from 1996 onwards, till date, when democratically elected governments are in power. The subject matter of Tariq Abdullah’s letter is equally true today, but, of course, in larger, starker and more distressing dimensions. There are thousands of Ramesh Kauls, running from pillar to post today, to reclaim their lawfully owned houses, lands, orchards, and religious properties, illegally occupied by land and property grabbers, with the “protection and patronage of authorities”, but they do not find redressal anywhere.

In a democratic setup, it is normally expected of the representtive governments that they shall be answerable and accountable to the people they represent and rule over. Kashmiri Pandits, driven out of their land of ancestors by oppressive and intolerant circumstances and living now in exile, are the largest religious minority of Kashmir. As such and as citizens of this state, it is their fundamental and inviolable right to demand the protection of their properties and also its restoration to rightful owners. Normally any representative, responsible, accountable and conscientious government would have, on its own, honoured the right of the displaced community and acted accordingly. But the successive governments in this state have miserably failed to do so, more out of calculated unconcern and unresponsiveness, than innate incompetence.
Both, prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, are on record having assured the Pandit community that measures, like building of some lodgings in Jammu, were make shift arrangements, and the ultimate objective was to create conditions for return of displaced Pandits to their homes in Kashmir.

But to quote, Tariq Abdullah’s eleven year old letter, “ It become pertinent to ask here as to how is it expected of the migrant Kashmiri Pandit community to return to the valley if their very homes (and to add, their other properties) are illegally occupied under the protection and patronage of the authorities?”

Go to any part of Kashmir today where Pandits used to live and you will come across scores of instances of forced occupations of their houses, agricultural lands, orchards, religious places and properties. The successive governments of the state have never even as much as moved their little finger to correct and undo this criminal defiance and violation of the law of the land. Some assurances given by the government in this regard have always turned out to be half-hearted and ineffective, obviously due to the lack of will, initiative and determination on the part of the people at the helm of the government.

There could be no better instance of the government’s lackadaisical attitude regarding important issues concerning the displaced community than the one about the urgency of the enactment of legislation for the protection of the religious properties of Hindus in Kashmir. A bill in this regard has long been pending before the state legislature, but the government appears to have chosen, seemingly by design, to drag its feet on the issue. Meanwhile the Hindu religious properties in the valley are increasingly becoming a happy hunting ground for property racketeers and professional land grabbers, like some characters of doubtful credentials, masquerading as religious figures.

Sometimes we hear much talk of the return of Pandits to Kashmir, and the refrain always is that “ Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits.” Almost all separatist leaders are now joining in the chorus too. But we have yet to hear anything from these leaders, both mainstream and separatist, by way of elaboration of how to convert the “incomplete” into “complete”. We have long been waiting for this elaboration, which would indeed be like music to our ears, and would perhaps help in paving way for the reclamation of our grabbed homes and properties, and for our return journey to our homes. Please come out with it.

Many years back, Khushwant Singh wrote in his highly popular column, With Malice Towards One and All: “Not many of us are aware of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who have fled from the Valley for fear of their lives, leaving their homes and properties behind them. People who talk glibly of Kashmiris secular traditions turn a blind eye to the travails these refugees are undergoing for no other reason than that they are Hindus. They callously dismiss it as false progaganda or ‘playing the Pandit card’. They should meet some of them now living in Jammu and Delhi to have their visions corrected.”

Yes, many still are not “aware of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who have fled from the valley for fear of their lives.....” Among them, perceivably, are also the governments at the Centre and here in Jammu and Kashmir. And this is no overstatement.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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