Forced migration and homecoming

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:12 pm IST

Published - April 10, 2015 12:53 am IST

The return of Pandits to Kashmir is integral to any solution to the Kashmir dispute, but the proposal to create enclaves for them in the Valley is a misconceived element of tokenism that would do great harm and no good. Indeed, by pushing the idea of separate zones for Pandits, the Bharatiya Janata Party is in effect abdicating the responsibility of the government it heads at the Centre and of the government it is part of in Jammu and Kashmir, in restoring normality to the conflict-torn Valley. Without ensuring a peaceful climate for Muslims and Pandits to live together in Kashmir, creating clusters for Pandits would amount to little more than further dividing the State on religious lines. While religious polarisation might work for the parties in government, the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party, it could have disastrous consequences for efforts to find a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir dispute taking into account the concerns of all stakeholders. Although Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has now denied any move to create a “separate homeland” for Pandits, there is little doubt that the idea initially found favour among leaders of both the BJP and the PDP. The two parties were the biggest beneficiaries of the polarisation on religious lines seen in the recent State Assembly election, and their leaders must have calculated that the proposal for separate zones could only accentuate the existing communal divides. For the BJP, this was a solution that would have had a resonance for its political constituency in the rest of India, and the party must have been hoping to sell it as a big step forward to resettle Hindu Pandits in Kashmir. In the PDP’s eyes, any effort by the BJP to mobilise Hindus politically in Jammu could lead to a consolidation of the Muslim vote in its favour in the Valley.

Had it not been for voices of protest from leaders of both the Muslim and Pandit communities, the proposal might have gone through. Kashmiri separatist leaders who sought to draw parallels between the enclaves and Israeli settlements in Palestine were surely overreacting, but there was little doubt that the proposal would only have worsened the situation for both Muslims and Pandits. After all, Pandits are longing to return to their native land, and not to specially created clusters away from their original homes. Unless they are able to return to their roots, their own places before the forced migration, homecoming would hold no significance. Their longing is for their homeland, for their old lives and livelihoods, and not for any parcelled piece of space in Kashmir. If the BJP’s leaders have not realised this, they have misdiagnosed the problems of the Pandits.

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