No redemption for Hindus in Kashmir
by Sandhya Jain on 28 Nov 2017 15 Comments

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s inability to handle the deteriorating situation in Jammu and Kashmir, despite the virtual blank cheque offered by the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party coalition partner, was obvious in April 2017 when bye-elections were ordered for the Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies. Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s victory from Srinagar amidst unacceptable violence by stone-pelters in which eight persons died and one was famously tied to a jeep to facilitate the safe exit of security personnel from a polling station, was illegitimate and should have been annulled by the Election Commission as only 7.13 per cent of the electorate voted.  


Far more significant, however, is the fact that Tassaduq Hussain, brother of the Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party candidate for Anantnag, had to request the Election Commission to postpone the election owing to the volatile situation there. The election, deferred till May 25, has still not been held. Clearly, Mehbooba Mufti cannot protect her family seat, once held by her late father, Mufti Mohammad Saeed, and vacated by her in July 2016.


This single truth has delegitimised her leadership. The situation calls for Governor’s rule; the Chief Minister should resign; this lame duck government cannot last till 2020.


The Agenda of Alliance was seen as abject surrender by BJP supporters; Mehbooba Mufti still failed to control the State. After months of stone-pelting by unruly youths and steep rise in terror incidents, most notably the Uri military base, some quiescence came with the September 2016 surgical strike and success in eliminating terrorists in the State.


The Centre has recently appointed an interlocutor to assess the situation, but whatever Dineshwar Sharma suggests cannot improve the PDP’s precarious situation. Governor N.N. Vohra is keen to be relieved; a new Governor and Governor’s rule seems the only way out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried his utmost to improve relations with Pakistan, something keenly sought by the PDP also, but in vain. The crisis over the arrest and death sentence verdict of Indian national, Kulbhushan Jadhav, in Pakistan, and the de facto military rule following the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have only complicated matters.


India has failed to comprehend what the Muslim population of Kashmir Valley wants ever since Sheikh Abdullah first sided with Jawaharlal Nehru and later flirted with external powers, but Hindu desires have been crystal clear. Foremost is the honourable rehabilitation of Hindus who fled West Pakistan in 1947-48 in unspeakable, pitiable conditions; proper measures for their sustenance and livelihood, including citizenship and State Subject status, as granted with shameless alacrity to Muslims from Tibet in 1959. Equally poignant is the issue of the return and rehabilitation of nearly four lakh Hindus forced to flee the Valley in 1990. In between is the unending saga of discrimination against Hindus of Jammu province and Buddhists of Ladakh.


These concerns deserve urgent redressal. Yet, the situation of West Pakistan refugees, roughly one lakh persons (19,960 families) settled in Jammu province, has become perilous. At a meeting with interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma, the West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee chairman, Labha Ram Gandhi, lamented that they have been denied citizenship rights for over seven decades. Each household has three or four unemployed youth who are aging without the hope of gainful employment; the refugees accuse the State government of trying to compel them to move to other places in India by cheating them at every turn.


The refugees have been denied state citizenship despite living there for three generations; they can vote in national elections but not in state and municipal elections. The issue of a rehabilitation package has been hanging fire for decades. Nor have they received ownership rights over the small settlements they built on State land, though illegal colonies are routinely regularized in all States. They have been given identity certificates so that they can seek employment in the defence or paramilitary services, but the revenue authorities have withheld the caste certificates without which nothing can be done. It’s a crying shame.


More poignantly, in recent weeks, several West Pakistan refugee families found their names deleted from the list of ration card beneficiaries issued by the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department under the National Food Safety Act, forcing them to the verge of starvation amidst a bitterly cold winter. Even the Congress party condemned this as “inhuman”.


Embarrassed, the state BJP attributed the problem to an “administrative faux pas” and asked the affected families to approach Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, for re-inclusion of their names in the ration card list. It is inexplicable why the coalition partner did not order the Department to restore the status quo.


Actually, the authorities first told the affected families that their names were being deleted from the beneficiary list as refugee families do not have Permanent Resident Certificates. This is precisely what the State has denied them by refusing to make them State Subjects; the perversity is mindboggling.


In the Lok Sabha elections of May 2014, the BJP promised citizenship rights, including the right to vote in Assembly and local bodies’ elections, right to immovable property, right to higher and technical education, and right to state government jobs, and garnered the Hindu refugee votes. But little has been done to ameliorate their condition.


Occasionally, there have been apparently sincere promises to build exclusive townships to rehabilitate Pandits who fled the targetted violence of 1990. As per official statistics, there are 62,000 migrant families registered with the government, of whom 41,462 live in different parts of Jammu and 20,000 have settled in other states. Earlier this year, the government identified 100 acres of land, priced at Rs 375 crore, to build townships for the ousted Pandits, which was vigorously opposed by separatist groups. The Government of India also approved construction of 6,000 transit accommodations in the Valley for Kashmiri Pandits.


But when Jammu-based RTI activist Rohit Choudhary sought details of the plan, he learnt that there are no plans to build resettlement homes, and that the interlocutor is unlikely to address the aspirations of Hindus, but will likely accommodate jihadis and separatists. The withdrawal of thousands of cases against so-called first time stone-pelters has already begun, regardless of the damage caused by them, including injuries to security personnel. None of this bodes well for India or even for Jammu and Kashmir. India must take a call on how long we can tolerate the cussed lawlessness of certain sections of society.

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