Where is the hope for the 350,000+ Kashmir Refugees?
Kashmir, once known for its idyllic beauty, is now associated with violence, death and jihadi extremists. Starting in 1989, Islamist terrorism gripped the Kashmir Valley and a brutal campaign of violence and ethnic cleansing was directed against the state’s minority Hindu population, known as Kashmiri Pandits. As a result, between 1989 and 1991, more than 350,000 Hindus, that is over 95% of the Hindu population, were driven out of the Valley by Muslim extremists (some estimates put the figure closer to 400,000). There was an organized and systematic campaign to cleanse Hindus from Kashmir, including massacres, rapes, threats and intimidation. Public announcements were placed in newspapers, sermons made in mosques and loudspeakers and posters hung on houses, ordering all Kashmiri Hindus to leave the Valley and threatening violence if they did not.
After that initial displacement, 160 of the remaining 700 Hindu families in the Valley were also forced to leave after increased violence and attacks occurred between 2003 and 2004.
In order to accommodate the large numbers of Hindus fleeing the Valley, the Indian government set up semi-permanent camps for the displaced in Jammu and New Delhi. These camps, however, are overcrowded and lack adequate facilities and basic necessities. For instance, there is no regular supply of drinking water, a shortage of medicines and poor sanitation. Additionally, the education and employment opportunities are severely lacking. As a result of the substandard conditions, Kashmiri Pandits, after years of displacement, have faced serious health problems, including high incidence of disease, depression, stress-related problems and a high death rate.
Although the Indian government, as well as the local state government in Kashmir, have discussed plans to rehabilitate displaced these Kashmir Hindus to the Valley, these plans have not yet been implemented. Furthermore, while Hindus are keen to return, Pandit leaders are skeptical of the government’s rehabilitation plans and its ability to provide protection to Hindus upon return.
Jihadi militant groups have rejected the Pandits’ right to return and have issued threats against Hindus if they return. For example, one extremist group publicly stated that, “We impose a ban on the return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants to the Valley.” This indicates that the security situation in the Valley remains tenuous and Hindus cannot yet safely return to their homes.
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