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31 years on, 19 January still a dark day for Kashmiri Pandits as they wait for exile to end

'Visthapna Diwas' marks the day Kashmiri Hindus fled their homes in J&K back in 1990. While they wait to return, Modi govt is working to ensure a safe & economically viable life for them.

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New Delhi: Over three decades after thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were uprooted from the Valley overnight in the wake of terror threats, they are still waiting to return to their homes. The exodus happened on 19 January 1990. Since then, the day has been remembered as ‘Vishthapna Diwas’ (Day of Exile) by Hindu organisations.

After almost 27 years, some hope was generated in 2019 with the amendment in Article 370. This was followed by a series of administrative decisions taken by the Modi government, which gave Kashmiri Hindus, especially Pandits, more hope of returning home.

However, the realisation that it is a long haul and not an easy one, seems to have dawned now. “One shouldn’t expect any quick turn-around in the situation, though we are making progress in the right direction,” said a government official associated with the process.

“Return of Kashmiri Hindus is a complex issue. We need to first ensure their safety and security and also create enough economic opportunities for them so that they can come back and live here permanently,” said another senior government functionary.

Also read: Haider to Shikara: Why Kashmiri Pandits are done being homeless and voiceless

Article 370, DDC polls herald new political dynamics

The general perception in the top echelons of the central government is that the amendment in Article 370 and subsequent removal of Section 35(A) has created a level playing field in the Union Territory in all spheres of life, according to a senior government official.

In the new regime, everyone in Jammu and Kashmir can now have equal opportunities in terms of jobs, education and political representation. This is expected to be a major incentive for Kashmiri Hindus, who were forced to migrate by radical Islamists and terrorists.

“In the new administrative and legislative set up under which the state of Jammu and Kashmir was reorganised into two UTs — Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh — the political dynamics have also changed as the edge enjoyed by a handful of Valley based outfits has been taken away,” said a third senior functionary associated with the ongoing developments in the region.

The recent District Development Council (DDC) election has also reflected the changing ground realities. The Gupkar Alliance — comprising the National Conference (NC), the Peoples Democratic Party and some other smaller Valley-based outfits — were compelled to participate in these polls, which witnessed enthusiastic participation of voters across the state.

The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats followed by the NC with 67 seats. The independents won 50 seats, PDP won 27 seats while Congress performed poorly with just 26 seats.

Already, there are cracks developing in the Gupkar Alliance and it is just a matter of time before it disintegrates. But the most important outcome of these polls is that the political dice is no longer loaded against Kashmiri Hindus, and with local polls being held at all levels, it opens up new political constituencies for them. They can now come back and be part of the political process on equal footing.

More importantly, a new leadership is emerging in the state with many smaller parties and independents, contesting first in the Panchayat polls and now in the DDC polls. This will go a long way in preparing a politically stable and hence conducive atmosphere for the return of Kashmiri Pandits.

In September 2020, the administrative council, headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, reallocated around 2,000 unfilled supernumerary posts for recruitment of registered Kashmiri migrants and non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits. This was a part of the prime minister’s package for Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, in May 2020, L-G Sinha opened the online registration of Kashmiri migrants and displaced persons of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) living outside the Union Territory, under the new domicile policy.

Any Kashmiri Pandit and displaced person, who might have left Kashmir in 1944 before Independence and had any proof of owning or possessing immovable property in any part of Jammu and Kashmir on or after 1944 is entitled to domicile of the Union Territory.

This “fresh registration” for Kashmiri migrants and displaced persons, is considered to be another significant move in creating an atmosphere conducive for the return of Kashmir Pandits and other Hindus.

Also read: DDC polls are proof J&K is ready to move on. Army needs to prepare exit plan

What happened in 1990

In 1989, the then chief minister of J&K, Farooq Abdullah, had ordered the release of around 70 terrorists between July and December 1989. They had been trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied J&K.

The top four among them were Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani, Javed Mir and Yasin Malik. They played a major role in promoting insurgency and creating an anti-Hindu atmosphere in the Valley, which made Kashmiri Hindus flee the Valley. The madrasas financed and run by the Jamait-e-Islami also contributed to the radicalisation of the youth in the Valley.

By the end of 1989, the demand to establish the Islamic dominion in the Kashmir Valley and separate it from India had hit the peak. On the evening of 19 January 1990, pro-Pakistan sloganeering started from the mosques in the Valley and mobs started gathering. Posters came up, asking Hindus to either convert to Islam and join the separatists or leave their homes.

Thousands of Hindus left through the night. According to a report by Jammu-Kashmir Study Centre, a Delhi-based think tank, by March 1990, more than 90 per cent of the Hindus residing in the Valley had left their homes. They were living in inhuman conditions in camps in Jammu, hoping to go back, but then gradually the hope faded away and a large number of them shifted to other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, most of the Hindu’s houses were burnt down in the Valley and whatever was left of their movable properties was looted. 19 January is considered one of the blackest days in post-independence India.

(The writer is a research director with New Delhi-based think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on the RSS. Views expressed are personal)

Also read: Here’s why Kashmiri Pandits living in Hindu-majority areas remain a minority


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