IAKF Statement on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Visit to the U.S. Print
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 00:00

It is also a historic date involving Kashmiri Pandits and the Sikh religion. Three centuries ago, on the same day of November 24, 1675, Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur sacrificed his life to protect the rights of Kashmiri Pandits to follow their religion in Kashmir freely without interference and duress.

Kashmiri Pandits today, as in 1675, are struggling to preserve their identity and culture in Kashmir. Since the last exodus of Pandits two decades back, many proposals have been floated by the Indian Central and State Governments for their return to the Valley, but none has been carried out.

Today the government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh is making a new effort in this regard. While the community remains grateful to the Prime Minister for the Rs. 1,600 crore rehabilitation package, the ugly truth is that Pandits did not suffer from any havoc caused by natural calamities like an earthquake or a flood. They faced a man-made calamity called the ethnic cleansing in 1989-1990. Even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India on June 11, 1999 declared that "Kashmiri Pandits were subjected to near-genocide conditions before they fled." So any rehabilitation package that does not address the core issue of shrinking political, economic and social space for Kashmiri Pandits in the valley is not only incomplete, but also totally inadequate in addressing basic needs of the community today.

The State Government of Jammu and Kashmir, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Raman Bhalla, Minister of State for Revenue, constituted an “Apex Committee” comprising of 30-35 Kashmiri Pandits on 15 September 2009. The first meeting of the group was held on 23 September 2009 in Jammu, and the second meeting of the Apex Committee was held on 4 November 2009 in Jammu with the Indian Union Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram, present.

The Kashmiri Pandit community in general, and the Apex Committee in particular, has come to a general consensus that limiting the focus of community priorities to a small number of key and important issues is extremely important in order to make the discussion with Indian State and Central governments bear positive results. So a list of Common Minimum Demands (CMD’s) has been drafted, and indeed the presentation to the Union Home Minister primarily focused on these eight (8) demands. These are, in no particular order of priority:

* The Apex Committee should be consulted on all government initiatives before either the Central or State government proposes any legislative bill, or approves any executive or administrative order related to the rehabilitation and return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
* The implementation of 6,000 jobs for Pandits and enhancement of cash relief to displaced families should take place within the next 6 months as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) while long-term issues are being resolved.
* The financial and economic benefit package must extend to valley based Pandits (so called "non-migrants") who have received marginal assistance from the State government and the local civil society so far. The Pandit population in the valley continues to steadily decline, and reversing that trend should be one of the highest priorities.
* Political rights of the community, including representation in the State Cabinet, Legislative Assembly and the Indian Parliament must be guaranteed through changes in appropriate State and Union laws.
* Kashmiri Pandits must receive equal consideration as full-fledged constituents in the political dialogue that the Central government plans to hold with various Kashmiri entities.
State Government must agree in principle to implement the recommendation of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) regarding granting minority status to Pandits.
* The State government must secure legislative approval of the Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Bill, 2008, without further delay.
* The Central government must establish a Commission of Inquiry to examine what events led to forced exodus of Pandits in 1989-1990, and implement appropriate recommendations to prevent a similar calamity in the future.

IAKF appeals to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to follow through on the above demands with sincerity and do so expeditiously. Otherwise, the sacrifice of Guru Teg Bahadur will come to a naught. It is an ending that no one can even think about much less hope for. We appeal to the Government of India to be considerate and generous in preserving the ancient culture of Kashmiri Pandits.

IAKF Board of Directors


Last Updated on Thursday, 09 September 2010 20:48