Ever since news broke about the revocation of Article 370 that provided Jammu and Kashmir with ‘special status’, reactions have poured in from all corners.
One community which has welcomed it is the Kashmiri Pandits who came to be considered as ‘refugees’ in their own country after being forced to flee the region upon being targeted by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Islamic insurgents during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The minority community that resided peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbours in the state had to be resettled in other parts of the country, mostly in Delhi and Jammu.
At a time when the nation is so divided over the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status, Kashmiri Pandits have a different perspective to offer.
Restoration of Kashmiri identity
A chat with a few Kashmiri Pandits who are first and second-generation migrants revealed why the central government’s move is a possible game-changer for them.
Priyanka Kaul, 23, is a journalist and a Kashmiri born and raised in Delhi. Welcoming the move, she said, “Every Kashmiri Pandit is happy about this decision. Ever since we were driven out because of the exodus, we haven't been able to call Jammu and Kashmir home. We have a lot of relatives in Jammu but that’s not where we are from. We are from Kashmir.”
Nikhil Shalla, a fourth-year engineering student from Pune, said his family originally hailed from Habba Kadal, Srinagar, but are now residents of Jammu.
Explaining why the move has been significant for his family who fled at the time of the exodus, he said that while resettlement may be a distant dream, this action would certainly encourage more prosperity, development for the people still residing there and in turn gladden the hearts of those who were forced to leave.
'Bifurcation a good step as Ladakh was neglected'
The bifurcation of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, namely Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, is also a welcome decision in the eyes of Kashmiri Pandits who feel that Ladakh was being denied the attention and development it deserved.
“Ladakh deserves to be taken care of as it was neglected for years. Jammu and Kashmir being a Union Territory will now be governed by the central government, which means stricter border security, less corruption and money being put to better use,” said Tanisha Razdan, a 22-year-old engineering graduate from Mumbai, whose family originally hails from Baramulla and Srinagar.
UT status to solve terror problem?
Pandits are hopeful that terrorism, which has unfortunately become synonymous with Jammu and Kashmir in the past few years, will now be curbed.
With the central government gaining a greater say in J&K, the terror threat can be better dealt with, feels Nikhil, while Tanisha added that this would also ensure the safety of Kashmiri Pandits who will be able to move about freely across the region without fearing retaliation, which was a concern for them earlier.
'No immediate move back to Valley but hope for a brighter future'
While integration with India has been one of the top arguments in favour of the article's removal, the likelihood of a speedy resettlement of the Pandits is bleak at best.
Ritika Razdan, a 26-year-old IT professional residing in Hyderabad, ruled out any chances of going back to Kashmir in the near future.
“I don’t see any immediate benefit for me or my family. We (Kashmiri Pandits) had to look for opportunities outside and start from scratch. So the revocation is hardly going to make all of us drop everything and move back,” she said. However, she is hopeful of the move having long-term benefits.
In the end, however, for most of them, who have not gone back to the Valley since 1990 fearing violence, an action like this is more symbolic than anything else.