The BJP’s muscular stand on Kashmir is no secret. The party is opposed to autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir and its 2014 election manifesto promised the “safe return” of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley with “full dignity, security and assured livelihood”. The Kashmiri Pandits fled from the Valley after militancy broke out in 1989. Recently, chief minister Omar Abdullah met Union home minister Rajnath Singh and the issue came up again in the discussion. While the Centre is yet to make any such formal demand before the state government, there were reports that the NDA government has asked the state to set up enclaves for Kashmiri Pandits wishing to return to the Valley. It is unclear who floated the enclave idea, but it has been rightly criticised by many. All we know for the moment is that the Centre is considering the state government’s proposal of increasing the amount for construction or repairs for the houses of Kashmiri Pandits to Rs. 20 lakh from the existing Rs. 7.5 lakh.
The issue of repatriation of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley brings the focus back on the larger issue of Internally Displaced People (IDP) in India. Unlike refugees who cross international boundaries, IDPs are those forced to flee their homeland as a result of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters. While the development of laws and policies on IDPs are becoming a trend across the world and internal security issues exist in 16 out of 29 states, India has no national policy for IDPs and no central agency for monitoring and implementing strategies aimed at them. Even in semi-autonomous J&K there is no policy to manage issues of internal displacement. Those displaced by the conflict in Kashmir are identified as ‘migrants’ rather than IDPs, which allows the government to provide humanitarian assistance but deny State protection for such citizens.
Citizens who are forced to leave their homes due to political violence or development projects in Kashmir, the North-East and Chhattisgarh are often left to their own devices. This is because welfare services and schemes can be accessed only by people who are registered as residents of a particular state and who meet the eligibility criteria. The displaced cannot access them and are forced to depend on sympathetic officials for periodic handouts. A law specifically meant for IDPs can guarantee — at least, put the onus on the State to provide — them a life of peace and dignity and make them feel at home, no matter where they stay in India.