Why the Indian State declined to give the displaced Pandits their proper nomenclature of Internally Displaced Person remains unexplained. India is a signatory to the Human Rights Charter. Very seldom, she violates the resolve of international body.
After their exodus from Kashmir in 1990, State authorities in general and Revenue authorities in particular, tried a number of epithets to de-identify the Pandits. The commonly used soubriquet was Urdu “mufroor” literally meaning absconder. The State administration finally settled for “migrant” and the then Union Government accepted it without a budge. I think the Revenue records compiled after 1990 in the state continue to use that term. Do not overlook the subtle element of hatred in the term “mufroor”.
At the UN Human Rights Commission, we assayed for the precise nomenclature of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). After overcoming many odds, mostly from home chapter, we succeeded in the effort. In UN Human Rights documents especially the Working Group on Minorities, we invariably carry the adjunct of IDPs.
However, this had no impact on either the Union or the State government. We will explain it a little while later.
More recently new and factual dimensions of Pandit issue have surfaced, first with Modi forming the NDA government fourteen months ago and later on PDP-BJP coalition government in the State. During its parliamentary election campaign, the issue of return and rehabilitation of the Pandit IDPs was BJP’s oft-repeated memo. For first four months of his government, PM Modi hardly missed alluding to the Pandit issue in his public speeches. Then there happened the slow-down: now it is outdated, hence forgettable.
Four months ago, after a meeting between the chief minister Mufti Sayeed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, both went to the press to declare that the return and rehabilitation of Pandits, very much in their Agreement of Alliance, was agreed to be along the formula of concentrated rehabilitation.
With 24 hours of this public announcement, all hell broke out in Kashmir. Separatists supported by all regional parties gave a call for total strike to protest against return and concentrated rehabilitation of the Pandits in the valley. The Assembly then in session saw a ruckus in which members of all parties, treasury as well as the opposition delivered threats coercing the Government to distance itself from the commitment. The Chief Minister began retracing his steps and mincing words. The 25-member strong BJP MLAs group just sealed their lips; they did not even have the courage to walk out of the assembly hall as a show of protest. I do not know what brief they had from their party echelons.
Thereafter, Modi forgot the Pandits, Mufti forgot the Pandits, separatists won the day and the message went around the world that Kashmir valley Muslims would not allow Pandit IDPs to be a nuisance in their exclusive rights over the fiefdom of Kashmir.
This is a moment of introspection for the Pandits. It puts a big question mark on their 25-year old slogan of “homeland” or “Kashyap Land”, or “cluster rehabilitation” or “twin-city” concept etc. It also extends serious challenge to the wishful slogan of the Pandits that they will return to Kashmir. I myself am one of such daydreamers.
In these circumstances, I find that the issue of return and rehabilitation of the Pandit IDPs is shrewd antic of those who want to draw political mileage out of it. To me, return and rehabilitation is neither the main nor the only issue of Pandit IDPs. It is political contrivance of political performers with a stake. They want to put the core issues of the IDPs under carpet and take up only peripheral issue of return and rehabilitation, as it is a handy one.
In addition, they know that the Pandit IDPs will not be able to build consensus on return and rehabilitation. Therefore, it suits their political ambitions to keep the Pandits busy with their in-house struggle on this issue.
I, for myself, may henceforth stop thinking or asking about return and rehabilitation of the community. I do so after testing two major mainstream political parties of the country and various regional governments of J&K State. Let us, therefore, resolve this issue without external intervention and give no chance to the policy planners to catch us on the wrong foot.
The Pandits want the rulers of the land address two of their main issues forgetting return and rehabilitation. The first issue is of determining the status of the community in the social structure of the State and the country. The issue, which the Governments in Srinagar and Delhi have to decide, is whether the Pandits are a religious minority or not?
The State Constitution does not recognize any community as minority on any count, religion, language, culture or ethnicity. Nevertheless, the State Constitution does not debar the Muslims majority of the State to be determined as part of national minority. This dichotomy needs to be removed once for all.
The partition of India was based on two-nation theory. Insertion of Article 370 and special status for J&K is the corollary of two-nation theory. The ongoing-armed insurgency in Kashmir is the fallout of two-nation theory. If the justification of Article 370 and Special Status for Kashmir underscores the need of protecting the interests of J&K Muslim majority vis a-vis Hindu dominated India, the same logic has to be applied to the status of the Pandits. This is the core issue and nor return and rehabilitation.
Event the UN Human Rights Working Group has recognized the Pandits of Kashmir as “reverse minority”.
Second core issue is the nomenclature of the community in exile. Application of “migrant” as the determining term for the extirpated community bruises and mutilates its identity and sends immensely misleading message across the board. We want our proper nomenclature of Internally Displaced Persons, which, according to international law, entitles us to same privileges as the international refugees including seeking asylum in other countries like the Syrian and Iraqi refugees in European countries.
J&K Chief Minister has been repeatedly saying that Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan. He entreats the Indian government to talk to Pakistan. Well, as Kashmir is a disputed matter, as the CM pronounces, we the Pandit IDPs are the people of a disputed territory and, therefore, by simple logic we are IDPs not migrants and have the right to seek asylum.
*Dr. Kashi N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University