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HVK Archives: From refugees to bonded labour

From refugees to bonded labour - Kashmir Sentinel

Shyam Koul ()
September 1 - October 15, 1998

Title: From refugees to bonded labour
Author: Shyam Koul
Publication: Kashmir Sentinel
Date: September 1 - October 15, 1998

Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah's spasmodic
exhortations to displaced Pandits to pack up and go back to
Kashmir, have by now become the premier joke for the homeless
community. They have grown to learn that he is not very serious
about it, which he himself knows too. It must be said though
that with massacres of the members of the one community at
regular intervals having become a part of Pakistan's proxy war,
it is next to impossible to work out a safe and implementable
plan for the return and rehabilitation of as large. a number as
three lakh displaced people. Any other person in place of Dr
Farooq would also have been in a perpetual quandary on this

But Dr Farooq is known for his habit of playing to the
galleries. As regards Pandits it is his compulsion to play to
the political galleries and declare to the country that all is
sugar and honey in Kashmir and Pandits must go back and partake
of it.

Home Minister, Mr LK Advani has similar compulsions too. The,
BJP government has been desperately looking for a feather in its
cap. It started with Pokhran II, actually an improved version of
Pokhran I, but that turned out to be more of a Thorn than a
feather when Pakistan came up with a fitting equaliser. Now the
next hope of the Central government is the restoration of
normalcy in Kashmir, and the most convincing -yardstick for this
would be the return of displaced Pandits. Hence Mr Advani and
Dr Farooq have to be in the same orchestra and play the same
tune, and Pandit has to be the frog on the dissection table.

Dr Farooq's exhortations may be a joke, but, in view of the past
experiences, Pandits fear it could be another costly one. They
recall how his earlier loud wheedlings to the community had
provoked the terrorists into committing the massacres of
Sangrampur and Wandhama. This time they are keeping their
fingers crossed for the security of the handful of Pandits still
left in some pockets of Kashmir.

The memory of Pandits is not so short as to forget. that after
Wandhama Dr Farooq had publicly declared that Kashmir was not
yet safe for Pandits to go back and that he would not persuade
them to do so. One wonders that all has happened during these
past six months to arouse Dr Farooq's optimism and make him
declare, as he did in Delhi recently, that Pandits should be
"bold" and should take "courage" in their two hands and head for
Kashmir. It is wonderful to say such things to others who are
defenceless when you have a whole lot of sharp shooters around
you to defend your person. But as far as Pandits are concerned,
they know, as does everyone else, that if anything has happened
during these past six months, it was the gruesome massacres at
Parankote, Dessa, Champnari, Shanna Thakrai, Sarban et al. They
also know that for the first time in the past ten years Kashmir
terrorism spread its tentacles to neighbouring Himachal Pradesh
taking a heavy toll of innocent lives there.

What a rosy picture, and what a rosy inducement to the hapless
Pandits, relentlessly tormented by the bloodthirsty terrorists
on the one hand, and apathy of the government, on the other.

Who has been creating a scare lately about an impending march
Taliban militia on Kashmir? Dr Farooq as at it, even on the
floor of the State Legislature. He rebuffed an opposition member
by warning him that Taliban were poised to swoop down on
Kashmir. He asked his party legislators to go to their
respective constituencies and warn and prepare people for any
eventuality. With this perception of the present situation and
the likely developments, where does the claim of normalcy fit in
the picture? It is a different thing, though, that the
opposition parties have blamed him of trying to play up the
Taliban card to divert attention from the failures of his
government, just as he is asking Pandits to come back to create
a mirage of normalcy in the Valley. Kashmir after all is not the
high security zone of Srinagar alone. It comprises hundreds of
villages, where Pandits also lived and are keen to live again.
Terrorist activities are now almost fully in the hands of
mercenaries and there is no let up in killings. Is it not a fact
that mercenaries have established certain impregnable pockets in
the Valley, on the pattern of Doda? These mercenaries are
trained and indoctrinated by such terrorist organisations as
Lashkar-i-Toiba, whose Amir, Mohammed Khan, is on record having
said, "our Jehad is confined strictly to non-Muslims,
particularly Hindus and Jews, the two main enemies of the
Muslims". Hindus have seen the result of this indoctrination and
training at Sangrampur, Wandhama, and at several places in Doda.

Emboldened by Dr Farooq's inducement and tall claims of
normalcy, a journalist friend recently journeyed to Kashmir and
to his village to explore the comeback chances. There in his
village he found that all that remained of his three storey
house was the charred skeleton of the front side, from one end
to another, with gaping openings of what once were windows. He
found that the large house of his uncle nearby had been reduced
to a heap of half-burnt rubble. A huge chinar that stood in the
compound of the house had disappeared completely. The entire
area, where once used to be Pandit houses, had become a tell-
tale wilderness, a grazing ground for the village cattle.

He also visited the two houses of a senior colleague of his,
hailing from the same village, only to discover that both houses
were under the occupation of CRPF, without the owners knowing
anything about it. The lawns, as also the compounds of the
ravaged neighbouring Pandit houses, had been made into a parking
lot for the CRPF vehicles. The large orchard surrounding the two
houses, which once yielded a rich apple crop, had been converted
into a network of bunkers. The apple trees had turned wild for
want of care for several years. The distraught journalist
brought back some pictures, some portraits of devastated homes,
so typical of scores of other villages all over the Valley where
Pandits lived and owned properties. That was all Kashmir had to
offer to him and that, perhaps, is all that Farooq Abdullah can
offer him.

A recently-retired junior engineer went to Srinagar too only to
discover that his large family house at Jawaharnagar was under
the occupation of four families, two local Muslim, one Sikh, and
one a trader from Bombay. The reception given to him was far
from friendly and since .then he has been knocking doors to seek
justice. The plight of a retired Central government employee,
who had a house at Indira Nagar, was worse. The house. had been
grabbed straightaway and the grabber had the temerity to
fabricate false documents to the effect that he had purchased
and paid for the house. The poor owner went to a court of law,
as have scores of other Pandits in similar situations, but our
judicial system, as its well-known, has 'yet to hear of the old
adage that justice delayed is justice denied.

At Iqbal Park half a dozen shopkeepers, whose shops mysteriously
changed hands, have been going from pillar to post, right up to
the minister concerned, but without any results whatsoever so
far. It is not only their shops that have changed hands, the
goods inside the shops have disappeared too.

These are not mere random instances from urban and rural
Kashmir. These are representative samplings of the totality of
the devastations suffered by Pandit properties over the years.
It is this ground reality which has been lost sight of.

The government no doubt is the employer of a few thousand
Pandits and considers itself their bread-giver. But taking them
to Kashmir and then holding them to ransom as evidence of so
called normalcy in Kashmir, are not the answers to the
stupendous problem. The issue has never been viewed, understood,
approached and worked upon in totality, and with the involvement
of the displaced community outside Kashmir, and the majority
community within Kashmir. It is the issue of displacement,
dispossession and perpetual homelessness and insecurity of a
whole community, and not of a few hundred government employees.
It is also basically a human problem, and not a political game
to further the interests of this party or that. Unless the
government looks at the problem that way, no viable solution is
likely to come up, now or in foreseeable future.

Dr Farooq had started well, when, soon after taking over as the
Chief Minister two years ago, he had declared that a district-
wise survey of the condition of Pandit properties would be made
which would form the nucleus of the rehabilitation plan. He had
said every person would be adequately compensated for the losses
he had suffered and assistance would be given for rebuilding of
damaged house. He also had announced in unequivocal terms that
he would bring every Pandit to his "own home and own land." That
perhaps was the only statement of the Chief Minister which had
an element of honesty about it and appealed to practical minds.
After that he often blew hot and cold and things went haywire.
Dr Farooq lost track of his own commitments and vested interests
got down to work to thwart the honourable return of Pandits.
Today the situation is that Delhi totally lacks the perspective
of the Pandit tragedy, Farooq is groping in confusion, Pandit is
neither here nor there, and the problem gets bigger every day
that passes. Dr Farooq says homeland for Pandits will not be a
reality as long as he lives. But, notwithstanding the
justifiability or otherwise of the homeland demand, Dr Farooq
till this day has not been able to restore to the displaced and
exiled Pandit his home and his land.

Perhaps BJP government's spiritless, if not heartless, stance on
the issue, is matter of deliberate choice. The party leaders in
Delhi appear to be beyond themselves with excitement and elation
for having roped in the only Muslim Chief Minister in the
country, representing the only Muslim majority State who, apart
from being a Chief Minister, is also the son of great Sheikh
Abdullah. Dr, Farooq, as one single individual, has given the
much needed semblance of secular credentials to BJP and, as a
gesture of gratitude, the BJP government has handed over the
keys to him and gone to sleep.

Look at the travesty of poor Pandit's fate in this great country
of ours. The Chief Minister is no more concerned about the
magnitude of the problem of the displaced Pandits, their
perpetual homelessness, their emotional trauma and their vast
human tragedy. All that he is worried about is the displaced
employees are a burden on State exchequer and they should be
driven back so that the government gets its money's worth. Pure
mundane business. From refugees in their own country, Pandits
should now be prepared to be bonded labourers too. That is what
it all comes to.

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