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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Delimitation process and minorities of Kashmir

The last week witnessed a historic exercise by the Delimitation Commission in context of the delimitation process for the J&K state. It was actually an initial exercise undertaken by the Commission to elicit opinion from the public and public representatives regarding the issue.

A three-member delegation, headed by this author (Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, Senior BJP and Kashmiri Pandit leader) met the Delimitation Commission in New Delhi on 26th March 2021 on its invitation. The other members of the delegation included Utpal Kaul, GKPD Incharge, India-Chapter and Kashmiri Sikh activist, Sardar Harbans Singh.

One-hour long meeting with the Delimitation Commission was very satisfying and fruitful meeting, opening new vistas under the chairmanship of Justice Ranjana Desai, Chairperson, Delimitation Commission. Sushil Chandra, Chief Election Commissioner and Umesh Sinha, Dy. CEC also attended the all important meeting.

The Commission called the presentation of the delegation having substance which called for serious consideration. An oral presentation (in the shape of a memorandum) was made in the important meeting. Memorandum reads like the following:

1. Context:

On 19th January 2021, the displaced Kashmiri Pandits completed thirty one tragic and painful years of their seventh mass exodus from the Kashmir Valley, their abode for the last thousands of years.

It was in 2017, that the erstwhile Legislative Assembly of the Jammu and Kashmir State passed a unanimous resolution on 19th January itself emphasising the need for return and resettlement of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the valley.

This historically important resolution that was passed on 19th January is tantamount to due recognition of the day as the “Day of Holocaust” for the Pandits in the valley. It was on this day in 1990 that the Hindu minorities were asked to leave the valley of Kashmir consequent upon a number of their selective killings and brutalities with their men, women and children by the Pakistan supported, aided and armed terrorists and fundamentalists in the valley.

A large number of national and international political, human rights, social, cultural, constitutional, legal and legislative bodies have expressed themselves about the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Pandits all these thirty years. While the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which we approached in 1994, in its decision in June 1999 said that ‘acts akin to Genocide were committed against the Kashmiri Pandits and a genocide type design may exist in the minds and utterances of the militants and terrorists’, the Delhi High Court observed that ‘the Pandits are the victims of ethnic cleansing’.

The J&K High Court termed the mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits as unparalleled and adjudged that it can’t be equated with any other displacement of the people in the state. The government of Bharat a couple of years back, through the Secretary to the government (Home Affairs), classified the atrocities against the Pandits as Genocide.

Amnesty International and US Committee for Refugees long back called the displacement of the Pandits as the consequences of the selective attacks by gunmen and terrorists in Kashmir against them. We took up the issue with the International Criminal Court and the Global Human Rights Defence, The Hague and also with the other relevant human rights bodies as well.

2. Resolve:

Three decades of long struggle has slowly and steadily brought the Kashmiri Pandit community out of the “trauma of victimhood”, and rightfully so. Their long struggle in exile at both individual and collective level has paved a sense of relief to them that they were able to survive and prosper due to their hard labour, application of mind, converting opportunities into ventures and according value to relations with the new neighbourhood, friendship and fraternity-feeling outside Kashmir valley during their exile.

The womenfolk and the younger generation of the Pandit community made an indelible mark all these years by executing exemplary character and penchant for success and glory, though the Pandits in the words of the National daily, Hindustan Times editorial of nineties are, “the Victims of the State too”. Inspite of the experiences of apartheid and bias, they continued with their perseverance, attitude and accommodating approach to move ahead with, without and despite.

The Pandits made it sure that they don’t forget the facts of history but with the passage of time they exhibited their age-old ethos of forgiveness. While expressing their anger against the tragic events of brutalities, they maintained the decorum of language, debate and discussion. This helped the Pandit community to grow in a spiritual sense. They have indeed created a high moral ground in the overall scenario pregnant with a lot of political upheavals and vicissitudes.

With the change of narrative on Kashmir over the last a couple of years and particularly with effect from August 2019, there is an imperative need to create an atmosphere of accommodation for Pandits in Kashmir, politically speaking.

Pandits are the indigenous people of Kashmir and have every right to be there. The possibility of their return and resettlement can be thought of as an important agenda for the year 2021, and the Delimitation Commission and the government of Bharat can play a historic role in this context.

3. Workable Solution:

In order to secure the political rights of the Hindu-Sikh communities in the valley, we propose that the delimitation process need to reserve five seats in the Assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir for these victim minorities of the valley, who have remained unrepresented in Jammu and Kashmir continuously for the last five decades, initially due to the gerrymandering of the Assembly constituencies in the valley and latterly by the forced mass exodus due to terrorism in Kashmir.

It would be appropriate to reserve or nominate five seats for the minorities of the valley (Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmiri Sikhs and non-Kashmiri speaking Hindus of valley) in the Assembly of the UT of J&K in the all important process of delimitation along with reservation and nomination of one seat each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively for them. This will eventually empower the community politically and provide it the much awaited justice which deluded them for the last seven decades consistently.

Though there is no provision for reservation for religio-ethnic minorities or groups in the constitutional scheme of things but equally was there no idea in the minds of the founders of the constitution that any section of the people would be forced to live as refugees in their own country. Unbelievable and unforeseen situations lead the vibrant societies and nations to go for a new thinking. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary solutions and the necessary political will in this connection can be expressed by the effective constitutional amendment as did happen in the case of abolition of Article 370/35A and the related issues.

A legal luminary and former Sessions Judge of the UT of J&K, B.L Saraf opines that in Sikkim there is a seat reservation for Sangha’s Lamas with no bounded territory. This stood the test of constitutionality when the Apex court upheld reservation in 1993. This is a classic case of providing justice to a community which faces danger of further physical spread, displacement and extinction. The hon’ble commission may study this case as an example justifying the idea of reservation for the victims of ethnic cleansing in the valley of Kashmir.

In case the constitutional amendments are not brought to this effect, yet there is another option available with the Delimitation Commission and the government. The important thing to note is that we have both the constitutional mechanism as well as the precedence available on this account in the case of Pudducherry Assembly which mutatis mutandis can be applied in case of J&K as well to nominate 5 seats for the minorities of Kashmir valley with voting rights. The same scale can be applied in respect of Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha as well.

The Pondicherry Assembly has 30 elected members and the government of Bharat nominates 3 members (with voting powers) to the Assembly. Accordingly, in the case of J&K Assembly, we can add 9 nominations to the 90 seats Assembly on the pattern of the Pudducherry Assembly.

The J&K Assembly had already two nominations for women of the state, which we propose should be doubled to four, thus raising the strength of the Assembly to 99 (90 elected + 5 seats for the victim minorities of the valley + 4 seats for women of the state).

It is the question of the national will, the intent of the State and the accommodation of the constitution of Bharat to make believe the Pandits that they were and continue to be part and parcel of Kashmir inspite of them living as refugees in their own country. Delimitation will definitely test the intent of the State and the polity of the nation towards the indigenous people of the Kashmir valley, the Kashmiri Pandits, in the real sense and use it as the practical confidence building measure in respect of Kashmir & Kashmiri Pandits.

This will also reply the million dollar question about the Kashmiri Pandits, i.e “Is Kashmir really incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits”…….as every politician and political party continues with the rhetoric that, “Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits” for the last three decades.

4. Epilogue:

The land where lay “the ashes of our forefathers and the temples of our gods” is invariably the Kashmir valley, the gifted land which Rishi Kashyap, our earliest forefather, inhabited for us thousands of years ago; for Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmir is indeed the ‘Promised Land’.

The Hon’ble Delimitation Commission can take the displaced community nearer to its destination with the expression of its will and intent in letter and spirit, which we believe, it will….!

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Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
In-charge Dept. of Political Affairs & Feedback, J&K BJP. Can be reached on [email protected]


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