India’s Plan to Build Pandit Townships in Kashmir Causes Uproar

By Adeel Shah

2015-04-13
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150413-IN-pandits-620 Kashmiris protesting a government plan to resettle Hindus in new townships clash with police, April 10, 2015.
AFP

Tensions are high in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir over a central government plan to build townships to house some 200,000 Hindus displaced by the region’s separatist conflict.

Shops in Srinagar, the state capital, were shut Saturday in protest against the plan, according to news reports.

That followed clashes on Friday between stone-throwing demonstrators and security personnel who fired tear gas. At least a dozen people were injured.

The tensions escalated after Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced last week that the union government was setting aside land in the Kashmir Valley for the construction of townships that would house the Pandits.

Fearing for their safety, tens of thousands of Hindu inhabitants abandoned their homes in predominantly Muslim Kashmir and moved to Jammu and other parts of India after the insurgency broke out in the 1990s. Most of them have yet to be resettled in Kashmir, a Himalayan region bitterly contested by India and Pakistan since 1947.

Singh’s announcement on April 7 drew fierce criticism from pro-separatist groups and opposition politicians in Kashmir.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who leads the separatist Hurriyat Conference, and others liken the plan for the townships to Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

His group and mainstream politicians accuse the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization, of being behind the township plan.

“They (Kashmiri Pandits) are always welcome, but the BJP and PDP are using the Pandits’ return as a pretext to create a state within the state,” Geelani told BenarNews, referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party and People’s Democratic Party, partners in the state’s newly installed coalition government.

“The concept of composite townships for the Pandits will create a situation of ghettoization. We will not let this happen,” said Ali Mohammad Sagar, general secretary of the National Conference (NC), the state’s leading opposition party.

The state’s chief minister, however, defends the plan, saying that it would re-integrate Pandits into Kashmiri society rather than segregate them from Muslims.

“The government is determined to facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits as part of the Kashmiri society and not as an isolated community,” Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who heads the state government, told J&K lawmakers last week.

He had met in New Delhi with the home minister last week, before Singh announced the plan.

Pandits’ Concerns

The township plan is even getting a cool reception from some Pandits.

If it goes through, that could make Pandits vulnerable, said Sanjoy Tickoo, president of the Kashmir Pandit Sangrish Samiti (KPSS), an organization of Kashmiri Hindus who stayed in the valley.

“The creation of separate colonies would only complicate the situation between the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims,” he told BenarNews.

Another Pandit, whose family left Baramulla district in the 1990s but returned home in 2004, expressed skepticism about the government’s ability and willingness to help returning Kashmiri Hindus.

“Around 30 families returned to the valley and the government has yet to do something for us,” Anil Kaul, 42, told BenarNews. “If they have failed to rehabilitate us, how will the government be able to settle thousands of Kashmiri migrant Pandits now?”

“The government needs to do something extraordinary to bring back the displaced Pandits. A separate homeland is not a solution,” he added.

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