Ten years ago, in 2010, more than 2,600 Pandit migrants returned to Kashmir after the government offered them jobs and a bouquet of promises. In 2008, the Indian government announced the Prime Minister’s Return, Relief, and Rehabilitation Package, amounting to Rs 1,618 crore, for Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated in the 1990s to Jammu and other parts of India. As part of the package, 2,650 migrants were provided state jobs in 2010, so they could come back to their homeland and make new lives. They had been promised, apart from employment, “family accommodation”, financial assistance for two years after returning, and schools and scholarships for their children.
Located at a distance of 64 KMs from the capital city of Srinagar, in South Kashmir’s Anantnag/Islamabad district, the Mattan transit camp has 16 flats. One is used by the Central Reserve Police Force and another house by the Relief and Rehabilitation office. That leaves 14 flats for around 240 people. Around 18 people live in a flat of three rooms with a kitchen and a washroom. On one hand, the govt of India has been pushing its voice very strongly for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pundits, but on the ground, people who returned to the valley, live a miserable life.
the promises made with us proved to be a lie after our return, most of us are government teachers, and every morning there is a queue to use this single bathroom, says Ashwini ji, a Kashmiri pandit who has returned back to Anantnag from Jammu.
It has been three decades since the Pandit community migrated from Kashmir after a wave of militancy erupted across the region against the Indian rule. According to the data of the Govt of India 60,000 families have been registered as migrants, which includes Pandits, Sikhs, and Muslims as well. It is estimated that the total population of Kashmiri Hindus (Pundits) has been between 5-6 percent. Data also suggests that there are more than 3000 Kashmiri Pandits still living in Kashmir and many families never migrated.
The return of Kashmiri Pandit community has remained one of the major political debates across India fueling Hindu-Muslim polarization over the years. This conversation has grown after the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August, 2019, taking many turns – and the Pandits who returned feel that they have been betrayed by the government.