The division of Kashmiris on religious lines and isolation of the Pandits from the (Kashmiri) society will not be tolerated by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Both the communities collectively will not let this to happen. Pandits are a vital part of our society.Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Veteran Leader of the Hurriyat Conference
From the end of the 1980s through to the next decade, militancy in Kashmir was at its height. Large numbers of Kashmiri pandits, intimidated and persecuted, fled their homes and became refugees. In India’s only Muslim majority state, the number of Hindus has dwindled from nearly 1.5 lakh in the 1980s to less than 4000 today.
In April 2015, the BJP government in Delhi announced a plan to establish “townships” for “exiled” Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley. There is also a plan to establish Sainik colonies, to settle ex-army men in separate colonies in Kashmir.
The various separatist groups in Kashmir have united to oppose both Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Sainik colonies. There are, of course, two sides to the argument. For some Kashmiri youth though, it’s the separatists that are making the balanced argument.
KP Colonies: The Right to Securely Return vs Segregation on Religious Lines
The Case for KP Colonies
1. Kashmiri Pandits, many of whom still hold a grudge about the circumstances of their departure from their homes, want to return ‘home’.
2. Given the volatile security situation in the Valley, a government-sanctioned and secure colonies for Kashmiri Hindus are needed.
3. Some sections of the Kashmiri Pandit population have been demanding a homeland in Kashmir. The present BJP government has increased the allocation under the 2013 rehabilitation scheme and has been hinting at separate colonies and townships.
The Case Against KP Colonies
1. Separatist leaders have said that they welcome all Kashmiris, regardless of religion back to the region and their homes. Their objection is to the idea of segregated colonies. Both Hindus and Muslims are victims of violence.
2. KP colonies are being compared to Israel’s settlements in Palestine and being used as a propaganda tool to show that ‘India’ is an “occupying force” by anti-India elements.
3. Separate colonies will give an easy, obvious target to terrorists and insurgents. Security will be a constant concern.
4. Separatists have also tried to say that KP and Sainik colonies are an attempt by the RSS and BJP to alter the demographic profile of Kashmir viz. increase the number of Hindus in the Muslim majority state.
A Reasonable Argument That Masks Insecurity
Separatist groups, united in their objection to KP and Sainik colonies, have been speaking the language of secularism and brotherhood. However, more often than not, their discourse on the ground has been one stemming from fear. These colonies, they believe, are the first step in bringing more and more “Hindu settlers” into the valley. They fear that Kashmir, like Palestine, will become an occupied territory.
While these fears may be exaggerated, their use to discredit Kashmir’s mainstream political parties has been effective.
These townships will be used to change the demography of the Jammu and Kashmir. India is leaving no stone unturned to change the Muslim majority state into a Hindu state. But, both Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims will not let it happen. India is playing a very dangerous game by not only wanting to divide the Kashmiri society on the religious lines but also want harm the freedom struggle of Kashmiris.Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Veteran Leader of the Hurriyat Conference
Sainik colonies too are being opposed by separatists. Settling ex-Army officials, they say, is part of the conspiracy to settle outsiders in the region and change its demographic profile.
For now, the states two major parties, the PDP and National Conference are largely silent on the issue. As one source told us, they don’t want to be on the wrong side of this issue, which they think has popular support.