Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Return Policy Don’t touch them for the time being by Dr Ajay Chrungoo (The author heads Panun Kashmir)

Return Policy
Don’t touch them for the time being
by Dr Ajay Chrungoo
*(The author heads Panun Kashmir)

January 2011


On December 5, 2010, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, formally issued the 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, Omar Abdullah, while addressing the selected candidates said, “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-patting was quite conspicuous in his address. But more conspicuous was the perception 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 valley because of unemployment. Omar’s speech, delivered on the occasion, reflected either a dangerous naivety 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 Kashmir valley. With almost an undeclared ban on their recruitment, during more than two decades of their exile, the cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from State administration has become a glaring component of their religious cleansing from the valley. This is the second stint of National Conference government after the democratic process was initiated in the State in 1996. In the previous stint National Conference government succeeded in getting a massive package from the Central Government of one lakh government jobs for Kashmir valley. According to some experts the employment package eventually touched almost 1.5 lakh of 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 the dearth of funds for recruitment of Kashmiri Hindus. Since 1990 when the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus took place the 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 the displaced Hindus working in the State services, are being borne by the Central Government.

Omar describes the stand of the successive governments in the State so far on return of Kashmiri Pandits as not more than a slogan. He tries to impress that these governments lacked the commitment to provide economic security to the displaced youth from Valley in the form of employment in the State government. It is in fact an admission of the state of siege and marginalization to which the displaced Hindus have been subjected to over the years in exile. Does the new recruitment drive mark the end of this siege? After a resolute dithering the State government has 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 as 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 rest of 3000 jobs was supposed to have been borne by the State government. Even after publicly accepting the Prime Minister’s Package for the ‘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 actually has intervened to cut the Prime Minister’s employment Package to half and then moved to fulfill only the half of the remaining and that too when it has no financial implication for the State government. By linking the package to return and delinking it from all factors which led to the cleansing of Hindus from 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 the aspiring candidates amongst the internally displaced Kashmiri Hindus only if they agree to return to the Kashmir valley and to ensure that a written undertaking is provided to the state government by them 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 which tantamounts to hostaging Kashmiri Hindus to conditions which are far more vicious than they were in 1990s when they had to run away. Denial of genocide and refouling of the victims is glaring in the entire process.

For government of India treating internal displacement as a peripheral low priority economic issue has served the purpose of continuing with its compromise with the 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 has got massive financial support from the Central Government from time to time. In fact the entire political class in Kashmir valley, which includes National conference as well as PDP, has chosen to treat the problem of internal displacement of Kashmiri Hindus as a problem of Government of India. This political class either chose to consider the problem as an artificial one and not more than a ploy by the Indian State to undermine its aspirations. In fact this class viewed the perpetuation of the destitution amongst Kashmiri Hindus as a political necessity to manage their opposition. Destitution has kept a segment of displaced community available to collaborate both with the Muslim establishment in the Valley as well as the Central Government alwayseager 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 assumed the reigns of the state as its Chief Minister. In one of the last current affairs programs on Kashmir of the Star Channel, when 24×7 channels had yet to take off, He made a bold confession when Harendra Baweja asked him as to why 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 Wandhhama backlash massacres of Kashmiri Hindus living in the valley were perhaps fresh in his mind then. 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. He was very forth right in saying, “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 to change his approach particularly about 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 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 Secretariat and dare the NC to hold a rally in its bastion Srinagar. Collaboration of the administration and the organs of the society with communal separatist politics was nakedly evident during the three months of unrest in Kashmir valley. The violence has again started surfacing in the State in a big way. There is no dearth of support to radical, communal and Jihadi forces. Only the other day 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. Lashkar-i-Toiba, Jash-i- Mohammd terrorist regimes are making their appearance now and then. In his journey to become the legitimate owner of the NC legacy Omar is changing fast unfortunately not towards an egalitarian direction. It is clear that 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 in case they want to survive. Psychological studies have revealed that otherwise normal, good in behavior and sensitive citizens of Germany chose to be either bystanders or collaborators during the Jewish Holocaust. The same thing is being observed amongst the behavior of so many Jews living in Israel with regard to what is happening with 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. And the group response and requirement 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 to this group sentiment the Patron of National Conference, Dr Faroq Abdullah stated in New Delhi recently that, ” 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 after this statement his brother Mustafa Kamal responded by saying, “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 Mr. Kamal has blamed Mufti Mohammad Sayed and Jag Mohan for engineering the exodus. It seems that the policy of the NC led State government is more governed by the perceptions of Mustafa Kamal than the patron of NC, Dr Faroq Abdullah. If it would not have been so the NC leadership would have realized that those who brought about ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus are roaming free, are far more numerous and are calling 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 NC government, in case it agrees with their Patron, and also in case the Patron has offered his apologies to the beleaguered community from heart and not for merely public consumption, 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 have been numerous instances when enlightened Kashmiri Muslims escorted many of their Kashmiri Pandit friends or neighbors to safety in Jammu. Many more through timely information and advice forewarned the Kashmiri Pandits who were close to them to escape to safety. This time as well many Kashmiri Muslims have warned their 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 Ali shah Geelani, the separatist patriarch, was heckled by Kashmiri Hindus in New Delhi. He enquired from his Muslim colleagues and well-wishers about the reasons for their concern. He was told that a meeting was going on in the nearby mosque where the heckling against Geelani is being debated and they apprehended trouble. His Muslim well-wishers lifted him in their vehicle and dropped him at his rented accommodation in a nearby Sikh village. He remained perturbed for the whole day. In the evening another of his Muslim friends came to his place and happily informed him that the danger was over. He asked him, ” How?” His friend told him that 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.

*(The author heads Panun Kashmir)

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