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Pundits get promises, not homes

New Delhi, Aug. 3: Kashmiri Pundits displaced from their homes in the Valley by militancy say both the Centre and the state have forgotten them.

Since March 1990, as many as 40,000 Pundits have been living as refugees in 17 camps of dirty shanties across Jammu.

“When Pundits had to flee from their homes in the Valley, we thought the central government will look after us. But from Narasimha Rao to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, no one had time to consider our problems,” says Panun Kashmir coordinator Yuvraj Raina.

“Even I.K. Gujral promised much when he was Prime minister. But conditions in the camps have steadily deteriorated and we remain where we were.”

Raina has kept in touch with his community in Jammu though he now lives in Delhi, where some Pundit families have been staying in eight camps since 1991.

Though he blames the state and the Centre for turning a blind eye to the Pundits, successive state governments have not been sitting idle.

For instance, the National Conference government had prepared a blueprint for refugees’ return in October 2000.

The Rs 2,590-crore plan, to be implemented in phases, was supposed to settle Pundits in clusters of existing migrant houses and in secure villages and mohallas in the Valley.

Each family was to get a rehabilitation grant of Rs 1.50 lakh, Rs 50,000 to buy furniture, and Rs 50,000 loan free of interest.

Any individual who had lost agricultural income was to get Rs 1 lakh-2 lakh as compensation, or up to Rs 1.50 lakh per family. Interest-free agricultural loan of Rs 1.50 lakh a family was in the pipeline as also a monthly sustenance of Rs 2,000 a family for one year.

Families with houses intact were to get Rs 1 lakh and those with damaged houses Rs 3 lakh.

After the National Conference government identified 166 houses in 15 secure clusters across Srinagar and Badgam districts, it urged 50 families registered with the Jammu administration to return to the Valley. Only two families agreed.

Soon after, the rehabilitation plan was shelved when the Farooq Abdullah government was voted out last year.

For now, most Pundits in the camps, who are from rural Kashmir and are poor and illiterate, survive on the government stipend of Rs 800 per adult with a ceiling of Rs 2,700 per family.

The monthly ration consists of 2 kg sugar and 7 kg rice, as well as cooking oil and kerosene.

Raina says the Centre and the incumbent People’s Democratic Party-Congress government want Pundits back home because it suits them.

“Where shall we go' To be exhibited as animals in the zoo in Mattan' Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has earmarked some place for us, but we refuse to go back unless security is provided.”

Raina is referring to the shrines in Mattan and Kheer Bhavani where chief minister Sayeed of the PDP wants to temporarily resettle the local Pundits in two model clusters of temporary shelters. They will be accommodated there till they are ready to return to their old homes.

The chief minister has drawn flak from some in his own government for focussing only on the majority Kashmiris. But his aides emphasise that the chief minister has met representatives of the Pundits, though he apparently failed to assure them a secure future. As a result, no Pundit is willing to move out of the camps.

Worse still, the tentative steps taken by some in returning to the Valley was dealt a severe blow when 24 Pundits were massacred in Nadimarg this March.

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