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Kashmiri Pandits are privileged refugees

Kashmiri Pandits have reservations in coveted disciplines of education and other privileges that they might be deprived of if they forego their refugee status

Kashmiri Pandits are privileged refugees

Daanish Bin Nabi

By now no one disagrees that Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files is a rather one-sided story, full of halftruths, blacked out facts and depending on fiction to whip up communal sentiments against Muslims.

It would not be too far-fetched to presume that the film stinks of a facilitation of genocide in India. There is, of course, no doubt that the film vilifies Kashmiri Muslims, distorts facts and brings back haunting memories of the days of violent militancy that are best forgiven, even if not forgotten.

“I heard a journalist on national television say that the world should know what transpired in Kashmir. But ‘Kashmir Files’ only vilifies Kashmiri Muslims and distorts the truth,” Kashmiri Pandit author and columnist Badri Raina told National Herald.

What the film also covers up is the fact that Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out of their home state are really not so badly off. They continue to receive ample funds and material help from the governments, both central and various states where they are resident, they have reservations in medical,engineering and other courses that they might be deprived of if they cease to be refugees, and they have a far better status as migrants than they would have as residents of their own state.

The story of their homelessness and dire straits is clearly a myth that needs to be busted.

“It seems reasonable to assume that Kashmiri Muslims were severely disaffected and their faith in India seemed to have been eroded, but whereas they held India responsible for the plight of Kashmir, only those Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims were killed by militants who were thought to be Indian agents in one form or another,” Badri Raina said.

He said that in the first killings, three noted Pandits and also the Muslim vice chancellor of Kashmir University were killed. “Many Muslims had a lot to fear as well from the new sectarian turn of events.”

So, it is not quite fair that the film depicts only the plight of Kashmiri Pandits to the exclusion of similar fate suffered by Kashmiri Muslims. With one difference-- the Kashmiri Pandits never had it so good.

Hefty compensation

According to the official data of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir Relief and Rehabilitation, approximately 60,000 families migrated from the Kashmir valley and settled in Jammu and its adjoining areas. Out of these families, 23000 migrant families settled outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2004, the government announced construction of two-room concrete houses at Muthi Camp Phase-I in Jammu and subsequently sanction was accorded for construction of 5,248 two-room sets including allied facilities like community halls, higher secondary schools, primary health centres, water and electricity supply, a 40-bed hospital, roads and drainage, STP plant, and parks. Likewise, the government of India also sanctioned the project for construction of 5248 flats for the welfare of the Kashmiri Pandits in two phases, the data reveals.

“Initially, when they migrated, they were given a stipend of Rs. 250/- per household per month (in the year 1990) which subsequently has been increased to Rs.13,000/- per household. Electricity, ration and other day-to-day eatables are being provided entirely free to them. They further divided their families into nuclear families to derive more benefits,” Kashmir-based civil society member Shakeel Qalandar told National Herald.

He said that after the Gujarat riots, the displaced Muslims families were given a stipend of only Rs. 500/- and that too was discontinued shortly thereafter and their camps forcefully shut down.

As per the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) dry rations (9 kg rice, 2 kg. Atta per person per month and 1 kg sugar per family per month) to eligible families living in Jammu are too being given.

“Government provides Rs 13,000 per month to the families of 44,000 Kashmiri Pandits who have relief cards,” Home Minister Amit Shah has said while replying to the discussion on the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization (Amendment) Bill of 2021 in the Lok Sabha.

Likewise, Phase-I of 1024 flats was taken up at Muthi, Purkhoo and Nagrota during the year September 2005. “A total of 4224 flats had been taken up at Mini Township JagtiNagrota during the year 2007,” the data shows.

The government data also reveals that from 1998 to 2004, around 979 registered families of migrants hailing from hilly regions of district Doda, Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch were rehabilitated.

Qalandar, who has also worked on the process of the rehabilitation of Kashmir Pandits, says that government jobs were reserved for them, so were seats in various colleges and universities across the country.

“After they left the Valley, many states gave them seat reservations to take up medical or engineering courses which continues to this day. On the other hand, a Kashmiri Muslim family has to send their children outside India and spend nearly Rs. 50 lakh to secure their admission in foreign countries,” he said.

As per MHA, around 20,000 Pandits are settled in Delhi/NCR and about 2000 families are settled in other parts of the country.It said that the Government of Delhi is also providing cash relief of Rs.2500/- per head per month (maximum Rs.10,000/- per family per month) to eligible families living in Delhi/ NCR.

A comprehensive package was announced by the Government of India in 2008 for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants. Under this package, so far state government jobs have been provided to 2,461 Kashmiri migrants and 505 Transit accommodations have been constructed in the Kashmir Valley and allotted to the newly-appointed migrant employees under the package.

On November 18, 2015, the Government of India had also approved another package, for providing additional 3,000 state government jobs to the Kashmiri migrants and construction of 6,000 transit accommodations in the Kashmir valley. The package/scheme was implemented by the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the same year in 2015, the government of India had said that there were about 1054 registered Jammu migrant families who were living in various parts of the Jammu region of the State. The State Government of Jammu and Kashmir was providing cash relief of Rs.400 per head per month plus ration to such families from its own resources.

Why are Pandits not returning to Kashmir?

Kashmir did witness relative ‘peace’ from 2003 to 2008. And since then the security agencies and the Government of India have always claimed that ‘peace’ has returned to Kashmir. The only question that remains is – then why aren’t the Kashmiri Pandits returning back to their native places?

The answer is aptly answered by the Kashmir-based civil society member Shakeel Qalandar,“If they [Kashmiri Pandits] come back, they will have to give up all the perks and privileges being provided to them by the government.They will never do that.”

Qalandar suggests that the incentives should be for returning to the Valley and not for staying outside.

“GoI should stop all the stipends and other privileges to Kashmiri Pandit living outside. Once they are back to their ancestral place, the government should continue to give them stipends and other perks till they settle down at their ancestral places,” he said.

“This is the only way of getting our Pandit brethren back to Kashmir.”

He could be right. If the material compensation to continue as refugees is what is leading them to stay away, then it stands to reason the temptation of more money to return will bring them back in hordes. And the myth of the Kashmir Files will be finally busted.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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