June 27, 2016

India: ‘Given the political backlash in Kashmir, no Pandit can or will return to Valley’ - Sanjay Tickoo, Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS)

Rising Kashmir

‘Given the political backlash in Kashmir, no Pandit can or will return to Valley’

Published at June 27, 2016
  • ‘With mainstream opposition, separatist leaders holding seminars, calling hartals and dictating terms for return, there is very little hope that anyone will or can return’
  • ‘Perceived safety is paramount for returning KPs perhaps more than real safety’
  • ‘Civil society has ignored plight of Pandits who stayed back in Kashmir’
  • ‘I wonder if civil society is following written narrative on return of KPs’
  • As per KPSS survey, 674 Kashmiri Pandits were killed in Valley

‘Given the political backlash in Kashmir, no Pandit can or will return to Valley’

The return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland has been one of the most debated issues in the recent past. The Pandit families, which stayed put in Kashmir amid the mass migration of their community, have been following the developments closely under the banner of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS). In an interview with Rising Kashmir Editor-in-Chief, Shujaat Bukhari, KPSS president, Sanjay Tickoo shares the concerns and challenges regarding the return of pandits to the valley.

 How do you see the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Valley?

It is a challenge to begin with, given the security concerns and rise in religious intolerance in Kashmir, but when mainstream opposition and separatist leaders are holding seminars and hartals against Pandits and dictating terms for their return, there is very little hope that anyone will or can return. Perhaps that is the true intent of these anti-KP demonstrations, but I can tell you that diplomats from around the world are watching how Kashmiris on one side pride themselves as being secular and on the other side are scaring off Pandits from returning, by putting forth pre-conditions.

Do you think the concept of separate colonies is a good idea?

It is not about good or bad idea. It is about how to take first step towards final settlement. As you know, almost 90 percent Kashmiri Pandit property is either encroached or sold or occupied, if State Government has to bring them back, then they have to create something new. If separatists and civil society in Kashmir are going to negate that idea then there should a Plan B from them. Let them take a decision and get the old houses of Kashmiri Pandits vacated. By the way, the concept as you are describing it is not a good idea. But that is not what is being proposed. What is being proposed is a composite township where all displaced Kashmiris, regardless of their religion, will be accommodated, and the focus will be on younger people who can demonstrate their talent, their entrepreneurship and their enthusiasm to development on the basis of which this township will be proposed as a “smart city” to the Central Government.

Finally, what other choice do you see? Can KP’s go back to their old homes currently in rubble or sold to others in distress sales?
I am telling you the reaction of the civil society is so strange and consistent, one has to wonder if all are following a “written narrative” prepared by some vested interests.

They are also giving it the name of composite townships or transit camps?

They are not giving it a name of Composite Township because it was always a composite township. It degenerated into Transit Camps because of the charged political environment by vested interests. But be sure it is just first step towards final settlement.

How do you see the reaction of separatist organizations or civil society to these colonies?

Sad – very sad, we should be building bridges not just with displaced Pandits but will all disfranchised people within Kashmir, and instead what we get are demands, diktats and threats. As I said before, the world powers are watching and my information is that their reaction has been very negative to what is happening. Please do not forget, KP’s are the aboriginal people of Kashmir. In the UN Charter their status to this land is higher than any of the rest.

Do you think KP's will be safe on their return?

Given the tense and alarming political backlash today, I will say that this question is premature as none can or will return in this environment.

How do you share experience as the one who did not opt to leave?

My experience is personal. The decision to leave or stay in the land of your forefathers is not made trivially. Each person’s experience, emotions, and sense of security are different. Those who left had a different perception of threats to their personal safety and well-being. That is why “perceived safety” will be paramount to returning Pandits, and what is happening in the valley presently degrades rather than improves that “perceived safety”. Notice perceived safety is different from real safety. There is no question that real safety situation has improved since the time these folks left, but perceived safety is more than real safety.

What is the condition of those who decided to stay back?

It is not good. And I must say that the civil society by ignoring the plight of Pandits, who stayed back, has not been helpful either. You must recall nearly 20,000 KP’s braved through the peak periods of militancy and stayed in the valley when the civilian rule returned to the state in 1996. Today fewer than 4,000 KP’s are left in the valley. Has anyone examined the reasons why that is so? Has any political party or separatist group shown concern why KP’s are leaving the valley even as security situation has improved steadily? You do some research on this subject and you will find out what is the condition of KP's who stayed back.

When was KPSS found and why?

Technically KPSS came into existence the day, Kashmiri Pandits had to flee their homes to save their lives. It all started with a group of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 and was named as Hindu Forum. It was run by the then stalwarts of our society, H. N. Wanchoo, Dr. T. N. Ganjoo, Dr. Brij Mohan Bhan and many more. I was young at that time and I joined this group as executive member. The aim and objective of this Forum was to get in touch with the fear-ridden Kashmiri Pandit Community and try to reach out and to help them in distress. The main objective of this group was to give respectful last journey to the dead bodies of Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus who got killed during those days. Later on, when H. N. Wanchoo was killed, we had to stop all these activities, but after a gap of one year or so, we renamed the group as “Hindu Welfare Forum”. I was General Secretary of that Group. The aim and objective was same. As the time passed, we tried to do surveys to see how Kashmiri Pandits, who stayed back, are living in Kashmir. We travelled length and breadth of Kashmir to get in touch with all. And as time passed by, we made first registered NGO of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in Kashmir and renamed our small group as Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir. This NGO is still working at ground zero and is trying its best for development of the community. As NGO has its own limitation so in the year 2006, we made an organization, which is more political than just social or religious one. We named it Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti.  KPSS takes all the situations head on and from the past nine years we have done number of surveys and have taken bold initiatives like fighting legal battle for preservation, protection and restoration of Kashmiri Pandit religious places in Kashmir Valley, fought and won a long legal battle to include the educated left out youths from Kashmir Valley under the PM’s Return, Relief and Rehabilitation Programme. We initiated an ambitious battle to grant all religious minorities in the state minority status, grant of OBC status to Financially Backward families of Kashmiri Pandits who are below poverty line. Besides, KPSS organizes the celebration of Dusherra in Kashmir Valley and other socio-religious gatherings in Kashmir for the benefit of community members who are staying the valley.

You have been giving different figures about the killings of Pandits while the State says it is 219. What is the basis of that?

All our figures are based on surveys and collection of data from ground zero. When State government gives other data, almost every member of majority community rejects, then why do they accept and acknowledge the figure of Kashmiri Pandits circulated by government agencies? Till date, as per our own survey we could identify 674 Kashmiri Pandit killings, which is contrary to what government agencies are circulating. The matter is under active consideration and KPSS is now going to contest the official figures legally to ensure justice for those who became victims of violence and vicious bureaucracy of the state.

KP's are already in camps at Vessue, Hawl and Budgam. How has that experiment gone?

The results have been mixed. It demonstrates a desire of KP’s to be part of the valley mosaic. But that housing is dehumanizing both in shared interior spaces and exterior surroundings, and not conducive to normal family living. The employment terms specified in their contracts are not fair. The physical protection at these transit camps is spotty. These camps do not offer human dignity and certainly will fail the human rights test.

What do you think is the ideal solution for return of KP's?

A genuine desire by the majority community, civil society, and the state administration (in that order) to welcome KP’s back with open arms and with no pre-conditions or diktats. Let us show that people presently living in the valley are humans and worthy of the land of Rishis and Sufis.

Do you support Panun Kashmir as a separate territory?
I don't think it is feasible on the grounds as per the Constitution of India. It can afford more Union Territories that too only for minorities. I am opposed to Panun Kashmir as much as I do in respect of "Azaadi".

How do you see role of some prominent KP's such as Anupam Kher and Ashok Pandit?
I don't endorse what they do but here also some people from majority community are playing the same role. I do not expect my community putting onus of all what has happened to us migration, misery etc on the majority community.