According to this report from a few days ago, government officials have suggested that "the right of Kashmiri Pandits to return to the valley should be made a part of state policy."
This is a stunning step forward from another bit of news I read, now ten years ago, about an "interim rehabilitation package" for displaced Kashmiri Pandits. It was drafted by the then government of J&K, which featured Farooq Abdullah as Chief Minister. To me, this "package" seemed to have been designed to fail from the start. Why? Because one of the things it said was that Pandits who chose to return to the Valley would have to "earn the goodwill of the majority community."
Excuse me? Just why should Pandits have to earn anybody's goodwill? If they return, they must do so on their terms, period. Not on someone else's say-so, not dependent on someone else's goodwill, and that to be "earned".
No, that "package" from ten years ago was really just a pernicious, sly way of saying Pandits were not welcome back in Kashmir.
So yes, from that nadir, it's good to see governments now recognizing the need to get Pandits back into the Valley. I've always believed that one answer to terrorism in Kashmir is for more of the rest of us to take the risk of visiting the state, and in particular, for Pandits to take the risk of returning on their terms. Yes, it's a risk, and yes, it's an easy thing for me to say. But I believe these people that their country utterly forgot will eventually have to lift themselves up from where they are. Because if the last 15+ years have shown anything, it is that not one political party, at any rate, is truly interested in getting the Pandits home safely and with dignity. It is futile to wait for the crumbs such parties offer.
For what it's worth, I have often said all this to Pandit friends. And I was glad to learn of the brother of a good friend who has returned to make a life again in Srinagar, running a hotel. Next time I'm in that city, I'm staying there.
Kashmiri Pandits have the right to return to the valley, period. If a government wants to make that explicitly "part of state policy", fine. But let's remember that the right comes not from such policy, not from "packages", but from the simple presence among us of Pandits.