Pallone Urges Indian Government to Reconsider Policy of Isolating Kashmiri Pandits
Delhi, India--- After a meeting with Kashmiri Pandits today in Delhi, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. sent the following letter to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani urging the Indian government reconsider its policy of isolating Kashmiri Pandits.
Pallone, a Democratic Congressman from New Jersey, co-founded the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans in 1993 and served as the co-chair from 1993-1998. With well over 100 members, the Caucus seeks to identify issues of concern to the growing U.S./India relationship and to advocate policies to strengthen that relationship.
January 11, 2004
Honorable L. K. Advani
Deputy Prime Minister
Government of India
New Delhi 110 011 INDIA
Dear Mr. Advani,
I am compelled to write to you in support of a protest demonstration on October 15, 2003 that was held by Kashmiri Pandits that are currently living in the Kashmir Valley. The purpose of the protest was to voice the concern of the Pandits that the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State Government has shown total apathy and indifference towards meeting their financial and physical security needs for sustenance in Kashmir.
Public records indicate that Valley-based Kashmiri Pandits, who numbered about 17,000 at the time of Wandhama massacre in 1997, have been reduced to about 8,000 today. While some have been killed in subsequent mass massacres by Islamic terrorists and others have fled as a consequence of these gruesome murders, the fact cannot be denied that many Pandits have been forced to leave because of indifference, lack of sensitivity and new hardships posed by the current and previous State administrations. 350,000 Kashmiri Pandit refugees cannot be prompted to return to the Valley if the State government is unable or unwilling to meet the needs of 8,000 brave Pandits currently living in the Valley. The signs are ominous that the Pandit population will dwindle, not increase, in the years to come.
In spite of the fact that Valley based Pandits, through their newly formed organization the Hindu Welfare Society of Kashmir (HWSK), were given repeated assurances by the Chief Minister and the Revenue and Rehabilitation Minister on May 21, 2003 and July 29, 2003, that their grievances will be addressed, no such effort has been made so far. The HWSK leadership also met with you in New Delhi three months ago and informed you about their concerns and at that time, the member were grateful to you for meeting with them to hear their concerns.
It is simply incomprehensible to me why the J&K State government is unwilling to take steps within its prerogative to assist Valley based Kashmiri Pandits today. We have applauded the "healing touch policy" announced by the Mufti administration, but it remains to be seen if this policy extends to Pandit victims, since no one from the minority community has benefited from this policy so far. Indeed, the State government by assigning all budgetary matters about Pandit rehabilitation to the Central government is giving out wrong signals that Pandit needs, even minor demands like giving jobs to 469 unemployed Pandits as requested by HWSK, cannot be met by the generous annual State budget of nearly Rs. 10,000 crores. Kashmiri Pandits are part of the State constituency, and the tendency to shift the responsibility for their welfare from the State government to the Central government conveys a wrong message to the Muslim majority community and makes future reintegration of Pandits into the State economy very difficult.
I request you to reconsider the policy of isolating Kashmiri Pandits from the remaining constituents of the State, and to make their rehabilitation part of the State budget and responsibility. The approach taken by the Mufti government towards Valley based Pandits, currently engaged in peaceful protests against the State apathy, has grave implications for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
In spite of repeated pronouncements by the National Commission on Minorities (NCM) to have Pandits declared as a minority community in Jammu and Kashmir, the State government has steadfastly refused to consider such a move. In addition, summons by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to discuss the plight of Pandits are routinely ignored by the State government, as State officials fail to attend the NHRC proceedings. Unless the Central government makes a forceful effort in changing the stance of the State government, I am afraid that a proud ancient culture of Pandits will be lost forever.
I was very hopeful that some progress would be made on this subject in late December when Chief Minister M. M. Sayeed met with Kashmiri Pandit leaders at the Kashmir Bhawan in New Delhi. Unfortunately that meeting has not lived up to its expectations, and to date, the State government has not committed to any improvements in its approach to dealing with Kashmiri Pandits.
I hope to raise this issue again when I have an opportunity to meet with you in the future.
Frank Pallone, Jr.