Not Quite Home

  • Aamir Ali Bhat
  • Publish Date: Nov 3 2017 7:34PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 3 2017 7:34PM
Not Quite Home

Seven years ago, more than 2,600 Pandit migrants returned to Kashmir after the government offered them jobs and a bouquet of promises. How are they doing?

 

2008, the Indian government announced the Prime Minister’s Return, Relief and Rehabilitation Package, amounting to Rs 1,618 crore, for KashmiriPandits who had migrated in the 1990s. As part of the package, 2,650 migrants were provided state jobs in 2010, so they could come back to their homeland and make new lives.

Seven years on, how are they coping? Are they satisfied in their new lives? Do they feel secure? Are they being treated well by the state and the larger society? They had been promised, apart from employment, “family accommodation”, financial assistance for two years after returning, and schools and scholarships for their children. Have these promises being fulfilled?

The answers, for the most part, make for depressing reading.

“I was promised accommodation when I returned in 2010 to take up a job in the Social Welfare Department at Pahalgam. I am still waiting,” says Ranjan Jyotshi, 42, who stays at the Mattan Transit Camp, Anantnag. “I can’t bring my family from Jammu until I get accommodation.”

Ranjan’s family lived in Bijbhehara before migrating to Jammu in 1990.

The Mattan camp has 16 flats. One is with the Central Reserve Police Force and another houses the Relief and Rehabilitation office. That leaves 14 flats for 96 people. Ranjan says they are living 6-7 people to a flat of three rooms, kitchen and washroom. “This is not rehabilitation package. We call it ‘Caged Package’,” he says. “We feel like prisoners here because for seven years we have been living without our families. My kids, parents and wife are in Jammu. How can I live without them?”

Anil Kumar Tickoo, 33, a teacher in Nambal, Anantnag, stays in the same camp. “Except employment, the government has not kept any promise – job promotions for us, scholarships for our children,” he says. “We are living 6-7 people to a flat, yet the government cuts 10% from our salary as House Rent Allowance every month. What kind of justice is this?”

Apart from Mattan, transit camps have also been established in Vessu, Qazigund; Haal, Pulwama; Sheikhpora, Budgam; Nutsuna, Kupwara; Sheeri, Baramula; Ganderbal. But they are not nearly enough to accommodate all the Pandits who have returned.

Many Pandits say they would have preferred going back to their ancestral places had they not sold their land and houses. “Before migration, I lived in Larkipora, Anantnag. I have sold my property there but if the government provides me a house, I will return to my hometown. We don’t want separate colonies. We want to live among our Muslims neighbours,” says Sanjay Kaul, 40, a teacher and president of the Vessu Transit Camp.

The camp, Sanjay complains, is almost unlivable. “About 800 families live in 250 quarters here,” he says. “We were excited to return to our homeland when we were offered jobs, but we have only seen hardship after coming back. This transit camp lacks even basic facilities –playground for children, medical centre.”

The Haal camp is empty. The Pandits living there left for Jammu when the 2016 uprising peaked, saying they didn’t feel safe. Many have since returned to their jobs, but live in rented apartments or with friends and relatives in different places. “We want a safer location for our camp,” says Sandeep Bhat, 35, who works in the Power Development Department in Pulwama and stays with his relatives in Shivpora, Srinagar.

Amit Kumar, 35, a teacher originally from Siligam in Anantnag, too stays in a rented place at Ghulam Hassan Bhat's House in Mattan Village. He pays Rs 4500 as rent a month. It’s a difficult life, he says. “If the government does not fulfill its promises to us, we will start protesting. Our children are facing problems. They can’t play, read, and watch TV in a single room. We can’t bear this.”

Sitting beside Amit, Sanjay Pandit, 44, teacher by profession, who stays at Nisar Ahmad Ganie's in Mattan Village adds, “The government doesn’t even provide us subsidised ration. We have to buy ration from the market.”

This situation may only worsen. As Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner ML Raina pointed out, the state government last year approved another 3,000 jobs for migrants under the PM’s package. “In the first phase, of the 3,000 posts approved by the government, 2,650 posts have been filled so far,” he said.

But why get more Pandits to return when the government has utterly failed to provide decent living conditions to those already here? “We are receiving funds from both central and state governments. Our work is in progress and every issue will be solved soon,” Raina said. “Our priority is to rehabilitate them in their respective hometowns, so we want every migrant Pandit who returned in 2010 to go to their original hometowns and build confidence with their Muslim brothers. The bridge that broke in the 1990’s should be build again. Once the atmosphere becomes conducive, then every Pandit can bring his family from outside.”

Mercifully, though, it isn’t all gloomy, and that is no thanks to the government. In many places, Kashmiri Muslims have risen to the occasion, embracing their Hindu compatriots and lending a hand to ease their hardship.

“When I returned in 2010, I was put up at Vessu  camp. But my posting was at Seer Hamdan, which is an hour and a half away. So, I stayed with Abdul Rehman Koka, our family friend in Seer, for two and half years. They treated me like their daughter,” says Sunaina Kaul, 32, a teacher. She now stays in the Mattan Transit Camp.

Ranjan, sitting nearby, interjects, “I too stayed with my friend Farooq Ahmad Bakshi, in Wantrag, Kehribal, for a year after I came back.”

He adds, “My family was here during the unrest last year. Our milkman, who is Muslim, used to walk a long way amid curfew just to deliver milk to us. Our Muslim friends gave us vegetables, rice and other things during those days. And the people here, around the camp, are very helpful and loving.”

At their workplaces, too, their Muslims colleagues have been welcoming, the Pandits say. “It is because of their love and affection that we have now spent seven years here,” says Sanjay. “Otherwise, it would have been very difficult as the government has completely deceived us.”