June 14, 2007

Where it comes from

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.


Vinod Khare said...

I wonder what good such packages will do now. It has been a very long time. Many Pandits have settled down into new lives. Their kids have grown up and started lives of their own. Most of them do think of Kashmir now and then with intense nostalgia. I have a few Pandit friends too and it it really heartbreaking to see that look on their faces. Yet, I wonder how many of then can now go back. It has just been too long a time.

Anonymous said...

This is a welcome post. On a couple of earlier outings, maybe due to general co-timing, I confused your go-home advice with the then prevalent "earn goodwill" policy being offered by the powers.

1. "... not one political party, at any rate, is *truly interested* in getting the Pandits home safely ..."

I wonder if its more to do with ability than interest. No party can do that with the militants calling the shots and dictating the terms.

2. The right of return is welcome and was an uplifting bright spot in my day.

Then I read the 1st comment above. I couldnt help thinking if that was contributory to the policy.

A cynical calculation that most KPs wouldnt return anyway, but we could get to look good for almost free.

Wouldnt put it past the powers. Real dampener.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Vinod, a couple of years ago I visited Pandit camps in Jammu and Delhi. Plenty of people I met in both places still wanted to return to the valley, despite all the years that had passed.