Safety concerns mar Pandits' Valley return

The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly’s resolution, calling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits and others who left the Valley in the 1990s, is an expression of goodwill and fine sentiment. The resolution was moved by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, supported by all major parties and unanimously passed. It welcomes not only the Pandits but Sikhs and Muslims, too, who had left Kashmir after being targeted by militants for various reasons. Among the migrants from the Valley, there are some who left after getting specific threats and others who found life difficult in a changing environment. Most of them are settled in Jammu and a return to the Valley is an emotional issue for many of them, especially the older generation. Living conditions are unpleasant and educational and job opportunities don’t come easily in the camps. In other places also, where the migrants have settled down, there are serious challenges.

But a dignified return to the Valley is tough, and almost impossible, for the migrants in the present circumstances even if the resolution has promised it. The living environment and the security situation in the Valley are not considered conducive for the return of the migrants. The Pandits were an inalienable part of the Kashmir Valley’s life and their departure is a social and cultural loss for it. Everyone, including the Hurriyat and the militants, has said that they would welcome the migrants. But the realities on the ground have to be considered when any return plan is discussed. Many do not have homes in the Valley any more. Some have sold them. Some other homes have crumbled, have been destroyed or illegally occupied. Old jobs, trades or businesses will not be there for those who go back. Many migrants would also not feel safe in their old neighbourhoods even if they returned there.

There is a proposal to build separate townships for the Pandits in the Valley. This is an ill-conceived idea promoted by the Central government, which says even Muslims can stay there. It is opposed by all sections of the Muslim society and organisations in Kashmir. Such separate existence will aggravate the communal divide in Kashmir rather than heal the present wounds. Residents will be dependent on the government and there will be a greater security threat in such places. There are a few existing enclaves but most migrants do not want to live there. The Kashmir Assembly has made a good gesture. But there is no possibility of a return of the migrants to Kashmir in the near future. The matter  will, however, remain an emotional and political issue. 

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