The distress of the displaced

Published : Nov 22, 2002 00:00 IST

Official mismanagement and lack of proper leadership deprive the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community in Delhi of a role in the recent election process in their home State.

FOR most displaced Kashmiris, the recent Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir held little meaning. Their virtual non-participation in the process can be attributed to two factors. One, the shoddy administrative management when it comes to the affairs of displaced people in the country. Two, the extremist positions taken by Kashmiri Pandit groups, most of which speak the language of the extreme Right.

Administrative mismanagement was evident on August 27 when the Election Commission published an advertisement in national newspapers asking all unregistered Kashmiri migrants living in Jammu, Delhi and Udhampur to get their names included in the voters' list. The last date for the inclusion of names in the voters' list for elections that were to take place in Srinagar and Badgam was the day the advertisement was published.

The result, as one Kashmiri Pandit organisation, Kashmir Samiti, claimed, was the exclusion from the election process of up to 50,000 Kashmiris living in Delhi. The numerical correctness of the claim put forward by the Samiti remains doubtful. The organisation's president Sunil Shakdher said that the figure was only an estimate.

The majority of Kashmiri Pandits in Delhi could not get themselves enrolled on the dates designated for them. One such person, Rakesh Razdan, said: "There are 40 people in my family whose names do not figure in the electoral rolls. We come under the Habbakadal constituency. I read the newspaper advertisement on the morning of August 27 and rushed to Kashmir House around afternoon. After a long wait I got a registration form but I found that the registration involved formalities like getting the signatures of two gazetted officers. I had two hours to complete these. It was an impossible task, so I came back home. I did not vote.''

Manoj Kumar, who unsuccessfully tried to get 18 families as also himself registered, said: "I received a phone call from the Sub Divisional Magistrate a few days before the last date. He said that a survey would be taken up of Kashmiri people in Delhi who were unregistered. We identified the unregistered voters around the area I live. But the time was too limited. I did go to J&K House but could not get anything done."

The Election Commission, however, defended its action. The Secretary to the Resident Commissioner in Delhi, M.H. Malik, said: "Before the last date, we visited Kashmiri camps to explain to the people the process of inclusion of their names in the electoral rolls. A system is in place.'' Malik admitted that the advertisement in the print media came late but said that prior to that the government had been advertising on radio and television.

The Election Commission also has its limitations. For one, it finds access to the displaced people difficult. While some of the displaced people live together in camps or settlements, the majority are dispersed across India.

In Delhi, only 237 families live in the 14 camps. Together they account for some 40,000 people. According to the E.C., in all there are one lakh displaced Kashmiri people in Delhi. Said Malik: "We reached out to the people in the camps and gave them application forms. For the rest, we used the mass media. Most of them do not seem to be interested in the election process.''

Before elections most Pandit organisations did not assist the E.C. in its administrative functions. Worse, they adopted a confrontationist attitude, thereby making it difficult for the state to help them. What complicated the situation was that the Pandits are not a cohesive lot. There are several Kashmiri Pandit organisations and they speak in many voices. Each claims to represent the real Kashmiris. Some of these groups even held meetings with top state functionaries to express their dissatisfaction with the electoral process. On September 1, members of the Kashmir Samiti met President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, complained that the "elections were a meaningless exercise'' and demanded two constituencies in exile.

On September 2, another organisation, called Panun Kashmir, known for its rightist leanings, met the President to say that the Pandits would boycott the elections as elections would not address their problems. Panun Kashmir leaders charged the E.C. with "hoodwinking'' the country on the issue of the Jammu and Kashmir elections. Its leaders apprised Kalam about their "neglect'' by successive governments. They told the President of the need for the displaced community to make a "permanent return to the Valley''. Both these organisations lambasted the E.C. for its decision on Gujarat. They charged that the E.C. had shown double standards in the discharge of its duties, for it had postponed elections in Gujarat because 16,000 people were displaced whereas it held polls in Jammu and Kashmir despite an entire community of over 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits remaining displaced. The argument, however, fails to take the broader aspects that were taken into account by the E.C. before declaring elections in the States.

Now, the Kashmiri Pandit organisations have unabashedly hitched on to the Shiv Sena bandwagon. They remain grateful to Sena chief Bal Thackeray for helping the community out. While in power, the Shiv Sena had instituted quotas for Kashmiri Pandits in colleges in Maharashtra. Pandit organisations in Delhi are particularly sore about the Bharatiya Janata Party not doing anything to revive the registration process for migrant identity cards.

The Centre had stopped registering displaced Kashmiris who reached Delhi after October 1992 in order to discourage further migrations from Kashmir. In March 2002, Kashmiri Pandit organisations approached the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government confident that the right-wing government would get them their migration cards. The Kashmir Samiti had approached the government with a request for reopening registration procedures for Kashmiris who migrated after 1991. It wanted the migration cards to be issued to the displaced so that they could apply for admission in educational institutions and gain access to employment and cash assistance schemes. Their demand was not met. A letter written by Home Minister L.K. Advani to Defence Minister George Fernandes on March 28 (a copy of which is with Frontline) stated that there is "no prima facie reason for reopening registration in Delhi for the Kashmiri migrants''.

The Kashmiri Pandits continue to lambast the Muslim `other'. "The candidates who stood in Kashmir were only bothered about the Muslim population of the constituency,'' said Avtar Krishan Kaul, president of another Pandit organisation called J&K Migrants' Camp. Kaul, who runs a photocopying shop in Delhi, misses no opportunity to blame Kashmiri Muslims for his displaced status. It is this mindset which feeds on the bitterness of the displaced and makes them see planned strategies by Muslims to wipe out Pandits. It stops them from taking help from the right channels and participating in democratic exercises. Amidst all this, the more important issue of identifying the genuine problems of the displaced community has been relegated to the background.

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