Return Policy: Don’t touch them for the time being
by Ajay Chrungoo on 19 Jan 2011 22 Comments
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On Dec. 5, 2010, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah formally issued recruitment orders for the displaced Kashmiri Hindu youth, selected as per the Prime Minister’s Package for relief and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Migrants. On the occasion, the Chief Minister addressed the selected candidates, “You have suffered a lot. You went through a difficult period… Your new generation is unaware of the cultural heritage and secular amity Kashmir has been abode for ages… So far we have only heard slogans in your favour and in favour of your return to Kashmir… Creation of economic security by way of providing jobs in government sector to young educated Kashmiri Pandits was a milestone in restoring their confidence and return to valley…”


The self-appreciation was conspicuous in his address. More conspicuous, however, was the projection which trivialized the whole issue of forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindus as merely an issue of economic deprivation and insecurity. As if Kashmiri Hindus had left the Valley because of unemployment! Omar Abdullah’s speech on the occasion reflected either a dangerous naïveté or a single minded ruthlessness to put innocent lives to risk to score a political point.


Exploiting Destitution


While seeking to make others believe that internally displaced Kashmiri Hindus were merely awaiting economic security in the form of government jobs, Omar Abdullah inadvertently accepted the stark reality of enforced destitution to which the displaced Kashmiri Hindus have been subjected to during their exile. More than two-thirds of Kashmiri Hindu employees in State government services have retired since their expulsion from the Kashmir valley. With a kind of undeclared ban on their recruitment during more than two decades of exile, the cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the State administration has become a glaring component of their religious cleansing from the valley.


This is the second stint of the National Conference government after the democratic process was initiated in the State in 1996. In the previous stint, the National Conference government succeeded in getting a massive package from the Central Government of one lakh government jobs for the Kashmir valley. According to some experts, the employment package eventually touched almost 1.5 lakh jobs for which only Kashmiri Muslims were recruited. Kashmiri Hindus were kept out of this package and the then National Conference Chief Minister brazenly cited dearth of funds for recruitment of Kashmiri Hindus! Since 1990 when the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus took place, successive State governments have refused to bear any financial burden of relief and rehabilitation of displaced persons from Kashmir. All the funds for the purpose, including the salaries of displaced Hindus working in State services, are being borne by the Central Government.


Omar Abdullah describes the stand of successive governments in the State so far on return of Kashmiri Pandits as a mere slogan. He emphasizes that these governments lacked the commitment to provide economic security to the displaced youth from the Valley in the form of employment in the State government. This is in fact an admission of the state of siege and marginalization to which displaced Hindus have been subjected over the years. Does the new recruitment drive mark the end of this siege?


After much dithering, the State government eventually agreed to provide around 1800 government jobs to ‘Kashmiri Migrants’ out of a total of 3000 jobs whose financial burden will be borne exclusively by the Central government. And these jobs constitute only half of the total of 6000 jobs enunciated in the Prime Minister’s employment package which was endorsed by the state government. As per the Prime Minister’s package, the financial burden of the remaining 3000 jobs was supposed to have been borne by the State government. Even after publicly accepting the Prime Minister’s Package for ‘Kashmiri Migrants’ the state government has already refused to fulfill its part of the employment package and declared such recruitments as against the provisions of the State Constitution!!!


Understanding the plan


The State government has actually cut the Prime Minister’s Employment Package to half and then moved to fulfill only half of the remaining, that too when it has no financial implications for the State government. By linking the package to return and delinking it from all factors which led to the cleansing of Hindus from the Valley, it is actually using the Prime minister’s package as a tool of political blackmail.


It is revealing in itself that the jobs are being provided to aspiring candidates amongst internally displaced Kashmiri Hindus only if they agree to return to the  Kashmir Valley and provide a written undertaking to the state government to stay put in the Valley under all circumstances, come what may. To seek such an undertaking is not only highly discriminatory, but in fact a coercive measure, tantamount to hostaging Kashmiri Hindus to conditions which are far more vicious than they were in the 1990s when they had to run away. Denial of genocide and re-fouling of the victims is glaring in the entire process.


For the Government of India, treating internal displacement as a peripheral low priority economic issue has served the purpose of continuing its compromise with communal identity politics in the state. Religious cleansing in Kashmir Valley otherwise marked the demise of the nation building model it chose for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. National Conference has not even treated it as an issue at all. That explains why it kept the displaced Kashmiri Hindus out of the employment packages for which it got massive financial support from the Centre from time to time. In fact the entire political class in Kashmir valley, including National Conference and People’s Democratic Party, has chosen to treat the problem of internal displacement of Kashmiri Hindus as a problem of the Government of India. This political class chose to consider the problem an artificial one, a ploy by the Indian State to undermine its aspirations. It viewed the perpetuation of destitution amongst Kashmiri Hindus as a political necessity to manage their opposition. Destitution kept a segment of the displaced community available to collaborate both with the Muslim establishment in the Valley as well as the Central Government always eager to craft a compromise with the same establishment.


Predicament or connivance


To be fair to Omar Abdullah, he had a healthier and consistent position on the issue of forced displacement of Hindus in Kashmir Valley till he became Chief Minister. In one of the last current affairs programs on Kashmir of Star Channel, when 24x7 channels had yet to take off, he made a bold confession when Harinder Baweja asked him why the NC government had failed to make Pandits return, “Hum Kya Karey… hum ek ko vapas ley jatey hain aur vo dus ko mar daltey hain… What can we do… when we take even one back to the Valley they kill ten of them.” The memory of Sangrampora and Wandhama backlash massacres of Kashmiri Hindus living in the valley were perhaps fresh in his mind. Omar openly disagreed with the return policy of PDP for Kashmiri Hindus. In a seminar organized by Observer Research Foundation he was candid enough to accept the insecurity prevailing in Kashmir Valley as the most important impediment to the return of the displaced Kashmiris: “When we ourselves as leaders of Kashmir are insecure, how can we take them back to insecurity.”


What has changed in Kashmir for the better that has made Omar Abdullah change his approach to the issue of return of Kashmiri Hindus? His personal insecurity, political and otherwise, has increased to the extent that he had to bend on his knees to sue for peace from Syed Ali Shah Geelani. His party is fast losing ground in its strongholds. It was unimaginable even at the peak of unrest in 1989-90 for non-NC formations to lock the doors of the Secretariat and dare the NC to hold a rally in its bastion Srinagar. Collaboration of the administration and organs of society with communal separatist politics was nakedly evident during the three months of unrest in Kashmir Valley.


Violence has again started surfacing in the State in a big way. There is no dearth of support to radical, communal and jihadi forces. Recently massive demonstrations were held in Tral township in South Kashmir in protest against the arrest of the sister of the District Commander of Hizbul Mujahidin. The Lashkar-i-Toiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad are making an appearance now and then. In his journey to become the legitimate owner of the NC legacy, Omar Abdullah is changing fast but not in an egalitarian direction. It is clear he has not been able to change the party. Instead the party is changing him fast.


In a political environment which is essentially totalitarian and guided by ideology, normal healthy individuals start changing to survive. Psychological studies have revealed that otherwise normal, well behaved and sensitive citizens of Germany chose to be bystanders or collaborators during the Jewish Holocaust. The same thing is being observed in the behaviour of so many Jews living in Israel with regard to what is happening with the Palestinians. Many experts on group psychology have observed, “Group processes can dominate the psychology… embedded in a group, trained in submission to authority, and further indoctrinated in ideology, people give up individual decision making to the group and its leaders. The ‘We’ acquires the substantial power than ‘I’. With the boundaries of self weakened, there will be an emotional contagion, the spread of feeling among group members, and shared reaction to events. The members’ perceptions of reality will be shaped by their belief systems and by the support they receive from each other in interpreting events. Deviation from the group becomes increasingly unlikely.”  


The group sensitivity in Kashmir gets hurt when Kashmiri Pandits talk about their expulsion; when they say Kashmir has been overwhelmed by a regressive, exclusivist, communal sentiment; when they say forces which brought about their expulsion from the Valley have become stronger and more numerous; when they say there is no freedom struggle going on in Kashmir but only a violent campaign to destroy all freedoms which a modern people should have and when they refuse to endorse the solutions which emanate from various strands of separatism. The group response to this is to deny what happened to them and support any policy measure or effort which delegitimizes the internal displacement. The policy on return of Kashmiri Hindus pursued by the state government is guided by this group sensitivity.


Apology or Politics


In a rare defiance of this group sentiment, National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah stated in New Delhi recently, “One of the major tragedies that we have had to go through was the ethnic cleansing that took place in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I think it was one of the darkest chapters in the history of the state that will always remain and for which even for years if we ask God for forgiveness I wonder if it will ever come.”


Immediately thereafter his brother Mustafa Kamal responded, “In no way it was ethnic cleansing of a particular community. It was the Army and other Central Agencies that were in the forefront of hatching conspiracies aimed at creating a situation that would cause exodus of Kashmiri Hindus and enable them to butcher the Kashmiri Muslims following the outbreak of armed rebellion in 1990.” In another statement Kamal blamed PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Governor Jagmohan for engineering the exodus.


It seems the policy of the NC-led State government is governed more by the perceptions of Mustafa Kamal than patron Farooq Abdullah. Else, the NC leadership would have realized that those who brought about the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus are roaming free, are far more numerous and are calling the shots in Kashmir. NC would not have overlooked the fact that violent insurgencies are more dangerous for the common man when they are losing control and soft targets are most vulnerable in this situation. And if the patron’s apologies to the beleaguered community were from the heart and not merely for public consumption, the NC, if it agreed with him, would move decisively and agree to temporarily shift all the new jobs created for the internally displaced community to Jammu before it is too late.


In 1990, there were numerous instances when enlightened Kashmiri Muslims escorted many of their Kashmiri Pandit friends or neighbours to safety in Jammu. Many more through timely information and advice forewarned Kashmiri Pandits close to them to escape to safety. This time as well many Kashmiri Muslims have warned Kashmiri Pandits about what is behind the return plan. They have advised them to be circumspect and suspicious about the whole process.


For the time being don’t touch them


A Kashmiri Pandit working in a government department in the border area of North Kashmir revealed an interesting experience to his kin in Jammu. One day he was asked by his colleagues to leave the office premises immediately as they apprehended danger to his life. This happened a day after the separatist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani was heckled by Kashmiri Hindus in New Delhi. He asked his Muslim colleagues and well-wishers the reasons for their concern, and was told that a meeting was going on in the nearby mosque where the heckling against Geelani was being debated and hence they apprehended trouble. His Muslim well-wishers put him in their vehicle and dropped him off at his rented accommodation in a nearby Sikh village. He remained perturbed for the whole day.


In the evening, another Muslim friend came to his place and happily informed him that the danger was over. He asked, “How?” The friend said Geelani Sahib had issued instructions to them not to hurt any Kashmiri Hindu for the time being. “Kansi batas sueet lagi zav na athu philhaal. Natu gatsi amutch kwaker pati… for the time being don’t touch any Kashmiri Pandit. Otherwise we would lose a winning game.” Many Kashmiri Muslim friends and well-wishers of Kashmiri Pandits have informed them to beware of the return plan.             


Dr. Ajay Chrungoo is chairman, Panun Kashmir

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