30 years on, return to homeland eludes Kashmiri Pandits
JAMMU: Seventy-nine-year-old Mohan Lal has a last wish: To live the remainder of his life along with “my community” and die in “my homeland”.
Sitting in his hut at Jagti camp on the outskirts of Jammu city, Lal, who is among the seven lakh-odd Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee Kashmir Valley in the wake of spread of terrorism in 1989-90, says they are living as “refugees in our own country” for three decades but “nothing” is being done for their return and rehabilitation.
As Lal’s wait for a life “in Kashmir as I used to (live) before 1990” gets longer, his hope gives way to disappointment and anguish.
“We have completed 30 years in exile. We still await a call for return from our homeland. I want to live along with my community in Kashmir as I used to before 1990. I want to die in my homeland. Promises made and policies adopted by successive governments for our rehabilitation have fallen flat due to opposition from Kashmir,” Lal, who hails from Kulgam district in South Kashmir, told PTI.
Lal, along with his family of five members, lives in Jagti camp which houses about 20,000 Kashmiri Pandits.
The displaced Kashmiri Pandits say the biggest hurdles in their return to their roots were concerns for their “safety and security” and the government’s inability to implement its return and rehabilitation package of 2008 on the ground.
Like Lal, 80-year-old Soomawati too want to return home in the border district of Kupwara. She says, “I want to return and die in my home. But nobody is fulfilling my last wish, neither the government nor my family.”
The general secretary of the All State Kashmiri Pandit Conference (ASKPC), T K Bhat, said, “Kashmiri Pandits are at the crossroads. There is uncertainty. The return and rehabilitation policy of the government is on paper and there are no takers for it…Our core concern is safety and security for the community in Kashmir Valley.”
In 2008, the then Congress-led government at the Centre announced a package for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants, offering maximum assistance of Rs 7.5 lakh each family for construction of houses.
But the then state government led by Omar Abdullah of the National Conference requested the Centre to enhance the package to Rs 20 lakh per family, following feedback from affected families. The plan has not since moved forward.
In September 2017, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced in Srinagar that the central government had decided to construct 6,000 transit accommodations for Kashmiri Pandits.
But the plan to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in three composite townships in North, South and Central Kashmir was opposed by the National Conference and separatists, BJP MLC Surinder Ambardar said.
“I feel there is a need to carve out separate homeland for the community,” Ambardar said.