T h e

K a s h m i r

T  e  l  e  g  r  a  p  h

Vol I Issue XI

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

March 2003

I N S I D E


Spotlight 

Romeet K WATT

 

Comment     

A B Vajpayee

 

Column     

S Chaulia       

                   

View Point      

Romeet K WATT

 

On Track     

Romeet K Watt 

                  

Opinion

Kanwal Sibal

 

Analysis

Sawraj Singh

 

State Craft

Subhash Kapila

 

Perspective

T R Jawahar

 

Last Word

Anil Narendra 

 

                            


 

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C o p y r i g h t 

C O L U M N 

K Ps, groping in a lightless tunnel

Sreeram Chaulia


“India lacks a national policy or institutional legal framework concerning internally displaced persons. Moreover, the government systematically refers to internally displaced persons as 'migrants'. At the same time, India shuns international scrutiny and thereby denies international humanitarian access to internally displaced.” This is the judgement of the Global IDP Project, the research database of the Norwegian Refugee Council that advocates for the 25-30 million civilians worldwide who have been forced to flee generalised violence, civil war and serious human rights victimisation, but could not manage to cross over into another country to claim refugee status.   

 

Even as some of the poorest and most backward parts of Asia, Africa and South America are realising the devastating impact of war on unarmed innocents sandwiched inside borders, implementing legislation and inviting international aid to succour the internally displaced, India, host to more than 350,000 Kashmiri Hindu IDPs, has callously avoided a policy that can lead to durable solution of the violent tragedy afflicting a religious minority hailing from Muslim-majority Kashmir. Languishing in makeshift camps of Jammu and Delhi with minimum nutritional and medical benefits, Kashmiri Hindu IDPs (also known as the ‘Pandits’) are unenviable holders of the ‘homeless and persecuted’ identity card for 12 long years. Thanks to the total negligence and insensitivity of the government of India, they are grovelling in a lightless tunnel, in a baleful dark night that never turns into dawn.

 

What are the roots of apathy towards this hapless population which was religiously cleansed by militant Islamists from its original home in the Kashmir valley in 1990-91?

 

Firstly, and this is the consensus of the IDPs themselves, the queer logic of the ‘number game’ in Indian democracy makes 350,000 demoralised and disorganised citizens a zilch as far as a vote bank is concerned. No major political party, be it in Jammu & Kashmir state or at the national level, finds the right to return of the IDPs worthy of patronage or highlighting because they are too few in number to matter in winning elections. Indian democracy has been reduced to the farce called ‘electoral democracy’, where polarisation of votes is achieved by latching on to divisive issues like caste and religion. ‘What election has ever been won on the idealistic plank of restoring IDP human rights?’, ask the power-hungry politicos. Even if all the Kashmiri Hindu IDPs were to vote en masse for one party, their impact on the result would be minimal. Small and unassertive fish, like the millions of Indians who live below poverty level, are therefore abandoned by Indian democracy to their listless destiny. 

 

Secondly, the government of India uses Kashmiri Hindu IDPs as a psychological talking point to prove how rapacious Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is in Kashmir. The fact that the IDPs were victims of a Kashmir valley-wide fundamentalist upsurge that instilled fear through dreadful kidnappings, murders and warning chants of Kashmir Mein Rehna Hain To Allahu Akbar Kehna Hain (If you want to live in Kashmir, convert to Islam), is indeed proof of the devastating impact of the rise of Islamist terrorism in a once peaceful region. However, for the Indian government, which is accused of disallowing self-determination of the majority Muslims in Kashmir, the existence of Kashmiri Hindu IDPs is desirable as it allows for a balancing of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ According to Delhi’s convoluted rationale, if Kashmiri Muslims do not wish to remain part of India and India is morally wrong in denying them their own choice, then Pakistan is morally worse by sending in armed jihadis who drove the Pandits out of their homes.

 

As long as the IDPs remain outside their homes, Indian officials can indulge in slanging matches with the Pakistani government about who is wrong and who is right. In case the IDPs returned in safety and dignity, two essential conditions of IDP return as per the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Indian government will feel that it is on a weaker moral wicket vis-à-vis Pakistan. No political analyst has viewed Kashmiri Hindu IDPs as caught between the crossfire of India and Pakistan, but this is very much the case. Pandits still have hopes of returning home to their pre-conflict property, professions and free life in the valley, but with every passing year, solutions appear more and more like chimeras.  

 

A third reason for India’s inaction on IDP rehabilitation is its inability to improve conditions of return inside insurgency-ridden Kashmir valley. UN Guiding Principle 28 states, “Competent authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily to their homes or places of habitual residence.” The onus is on the state to establish law and order, curb threats to minorities and create space for the reintegration of returnees. India’s failure to defeat Pakistan-sponsored Islamist terrorism in Kashmir for the last twelve years, despite maintaining a huge army presence and issuing several spiels that its “patience is running out”, renders talk of returning IDPs impractical.

 

The new Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, rhetorically claims that his government will organise voluntary repatriation of IDPs and welcome the Hindus back with open arms. One glance at the violence graph in the valley and the unending attacks on Hindus and Sikhs and their religious shrines by Islamist gunmen will demonstrate that Mufti is merely paying lip service to a now- forgotten idyll of Kashmiri Sufi Muslim tolerance toward all faiths. The younger generation of majority Kashmiris that is coming to age has been brought up on Jamaat-I-Islami propaganda that Hindus are “Indian agents” (mukhbir). Animosity in the valley’s mosques for a trickle-back return of Hindu IDPs is comparable to the impossible hostility encountered by Serbian IDPs who wish to return to Kosovo.

 

The fourth reason for Indian ineptness at assisting its own citizens who are now IDPs is a long-held Ostrich mentality in Delhi about ‘internationalising the Kashmir dispute.’ While India understandably feels it is conventionally superior to Pakistan and does not need third party mediation or intervention, the unfortunate fall-out of this protective and defensive strategy has been the shielding of Hindu IDPs from much-needed international humanitarian aid. In January 2003, the government of Pakistan allowed the International Rescue Committee, a leading American non-sectarian refugee relief NGO, to distribute food and blankets to temporary IDPs in Pakistani Kashmir who were forced to escape their border villages due to cross-border shelling. But the Indian government, which has an instinctive mistrust of ‘internationalisation’, has never allowed relief aid from UN or other impartial agencies to reach the protracted, near-permanent Kashmiri IDPs in Jammu and other parts of India.  

 

One striking parallel to the case of the Pandits is the relatively better situation of some 280,000 Georgian IDPs who were defenestrated from the Abkhazia region by Islamist fanatics after the USSR’s collapse. The Georgian government, in contrast to the lackadaisical Indian government, invited international attention as soon as the expulsions of the Christian IDPs from Abkhazia began. World involvement prevented mortality rates to shoot up in the immediate aftermath of the exodus and gradually stabilised IDPs in settlements in interior parts of Georgia. Today, humanitarian NGOs run psychosocial counselling centres and employment bureaus to enable IDPs to find employment while in exile. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees acts as a lifeline for the IDPs, concentrating on housing and property restitution for potential returnees and supporting a network of jurists who provide advice to the IDPs on their legal rights. Kashmiri Pandits, on the other hand, are resigned to cruel fate, unaware of their rights and struggling to make ends meet. Summing up the sorry state of the IDPs is the community’s lugubrious label for itself- Sharanarthi Apne Hi Desh Mein (“refugees in our own country.”)    

 

In conclusion, I submit that the plight of Kashmiri Hindu IDPs is not just an integral part of the ‘Tragedy of Kashmir’, but also of the much-talked-about ‘Kashmir Problem.’ If Kashmir is a tale of justice denied and of rights trampled, the Pandits have been its most visible demonstration. As the international community increasingly recognises the rights of civilians against arbitrary displacement and in favour of rightful return, the government of India’s haphazard and ad hoc response to IDPs in general and Kashmiri Hindu IDPs in particular, is anachronistic and anti-democratic.

 

Are Vajpayee and his mandarins listening? Even if they are, do they care?      

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