Srinagar, April 8: The composite township concept for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, which they had fled following an Islamist militancy that began in the 1990s and which continues to fester, is the latest of many such proposals that have so far failed to woo the frightened community back to the land of its ancestors.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who met union Home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday, was asked to implement the ambitious proposal of setting up composite townships for migrant Pandits in the Valley.
The centre has assured the state of help for setting up the townships, but the problem with all such ambitious plans in the past has been that these efforts were not practical.
Opposition, separatists slam move to create townships for Kashmiri pandits
"How can you think of bringing back a community to the land of its ancestors like some alien, protected species and put them up in security force protected, concertina wire demarcated habitations," Pawan Raina, 63, a retired engineer who lives in winter capital Jammu with his wife, asked while speaking to reporters.
Raina's two sons have since shifted to the US, where they are working.
Secured residential apartments for Pandits were set up during the last six years in central Badgam and south Kashmir's Anantnag districts.
For some time, migrant Pandits, especially elderly couples, came back to live at these places.
Distraught with the inability to visit their ancestral villages or to mingle freely among their past neighbours, these couples returned to places outside the Valley.
"It is not the question of bringing us back to the Valley in whatever way suits the political compulsions of governments in power. The problem is that unless our livelihood, honour and social acceptance is guaranteed how do we exist there," asked G.L. Daftari.
Daftari had not even shifted to his newly-constructed house in Sant Nagar in 1990 when he had to leave his ancestral home in Fateh Kadal area in Srinagar's old quarters.
The other major hurdle in the return of migrant Pandits is that mainstream politicians want this to be seen as an indication of peace having returned to the Valley.
"As long as the state and the central governments try to put the cart before the horse, the return of Pandits would, at best, only be cosmetic," Ashok Koul, 46, a bank employee who has been living in Jammu city for the last over 20 years, said.
"This return is being politically projected as an indication of peace having returned to the Valley. This is like using a community for political expediency. The other day three unarmed local policemen were dragged out of a vehicle and then killed in broad daylight on a busy road. How do we move about in the so-called composite townships? If one is to remain confined to the demarcated borders of such a township, we prefer to continue living as free citizens outside the Valley," Koul added.
The number of migrant Pandits living outside the Valley is estimated at between two and two-and-a-half lakh.
Interestingly, around 3,000 Kashmiri Pandits still live in their ancestral places in the Valley among their Muslim neighbours.
These people did not migrate out during the Pandit exodus of 1990s.
The government and the migrant Pandits believe the separatist militants targeted the community as it was seen as a symbol of India in Kashmir and a hurdle in the state's secession from India.
The separatists say that while it cannot be denied that many innocent Pandits were killed like their Muslim brothers by both militants and the security forces, the fact is that the Pandit migration was orchestrated by the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan.
"We believe Jagmohan prompted Pandits to migrate out of the Valley as he started his massive crackdowns and shooting sprees to tackle separatism in Kashmir," Muhammad Nayeem Khan, a senior separatist leader here, said.
"Undoubtedly, Pandits were killed by militants also, but that is also true about Muslims who were killed in much larger numbers because our presence and population is more. Pandits are a part and parcel of our society and ethos. They will have to return on their own terms and live among their Muslim brothers as old times.
"The way they are trying to divide the society by creating these so-called settlements will definitely not be practical. This design is not going to serve the purpose," Khan added.
The problem is that treating the return of Pandits as an administrative or political agenda could be self-defeating.
It is a human problem beyond the realms of separatism and security. It needs compassion and trust among the two communities those have taken a serious beating during the last two decades.