Driven by faith they came in droves and emotional scenes of Hindu-Muslim amity were there. The sense of security was also very much prevalent. But only one thing was elusive –a hope of their returning back.
Thousands of migrant Pandits of Kashmir- settled in various parts of the country- converged in Tulmulla village on Tuesday to bow before the goddess of peace at Mata Khir Bhawani temple, 30 km north-east of Srinagar.
“It feels great to be back and breathe the air of my birthland. My family and parents are ecstatic to be here,” said 35-year-old Naresh Raina of Pune who lived in old city Srinagar before militancy. “The situation also has improved a lot”.
But when asked about any plans of his return, he said,”What will I do here now? I have a settled business in a peaceful place than Kashmir”.
Around 55000 Pandit families left their ancestral homes some two decades ago to migrate to Jammu and other parts of India when a bloody insurgency broke out in Kashmir in 1989. While some have made their way to capital Delhi and other parts of the country, thousands of others continue to live in the state's winter capital, Jammu.
And it was not until 2007, when security situation started to improve, that they started to trickle back and take stock of their properties, raising hopes of their return. Buoyed by this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to the State in April 2008 announced a package for the rehabilitation of those who wished to return back to Valley. The Pandit families who had to sell their property in distress and were desirous to return were to be given an amount of Rs 750,000 rupees besides jobs to 6,000 the migrant youth.
However, even after four years of the announcement of the rehabilitation package, the government has not been able to convince the Pandits to return. The State’s Legislative Assembly was informed last month that appointment orders in respect of 2148 candidates have been issued but only 1441 have joined the services in valley. The people who got jobs did not bring their families along.
“State government is not sincere for our return. The jobs they are providing have no pension policy. And the announcement of Rs 1600 Crore package by Prime Minister was never spent on us,” said Ajay Koul, 25, a truck dealer in Jammu whose ancestral home was in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
In-fact the concern of these migrant families is not misplaced. The proposal of financial assistance for those intending to return and construct their houses is yet to take off. When Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited the temple today he said that the issue of enhancing financial support to Kashmiri Pandits to enable them construct their residential houses in the Valley is yet to be taken up with centre. “A proposal will be discussed in the Cabinet in this regard and presented to the Government of India for release of funds”, Abdullah said.
The Chief Minister maintained that the peace and security was gaining ground gradually in the state. “The Government has implemented half of the employment package for Kashmiri Pandits, the situation is becoming more and more palatable for their return,” he claimed.
However the Pandits seem least impressed. “Even if Kashmir becomes as peaceful as it was before 1989, I don’t think more than 20 percent of the families would be ready to return,” said Sanjay Bhat(32), whose uncle was killed during heydays of militancy. “It takes a moment of storm to rip-up a tree which had taken decades to take root,” he said.