Bahadurgarh, Haryana: In March 2022, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Haryana made The Kashmir Files tax free to promote a movie about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, triggering anti-Muslim sentiments across the country.
Away from those headlines, Kashmiri Pandits living in the state told Article 14 about running from pillar to post for financial assistance since India’s ruling party came to power in the state in October 2014, five months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power at the Centre.
Kashmiri Pandit families living in Haryana since the early 1990s said they have only received financial assistance for two years between 2010 and 2012 when a Congress Party government led by the chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was in power. They have, they alleged, struggled to get monetary assistance from the BJP government over the past eight years.
Around 300 Kashmiri Pandit families live in Haryana today as per Kashmiri Pandit groups in Haryana that this reporter spoke with, but other sources put the figure at over 900.
In Haryana, the Financial Assistance To Kashmiri Migrant Families scheme of Rs 1,000 per person per family was started on 6 October 2006 by the Hooda’s government, but the Kashmiri Pandits that this reporter spoke with said they did not know about the notification of the Haryana government until 2009, after which they applied for and started receiving money in April 2010.
The financial assistance was raised by the Hooda government on 30 December 2011 to Rs 2,500 per family, starting January 2012 for two years, providing the family's annual income does not exceed Rs 50,000 per annum. On 16 August 2014, it was increased to Rs 1,000 per person per family subject to maximum assistance of Rs 5,000 per family for five years, providing the annual income of the family does not exceed Rs 200,000 per annum. The government changed when the BJP came to power a month later in October 2014, and Kashmiri Pandits say the scheme was never implemented.
In July 2015, the union government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly increased the cash relief for Kashmiri migrants from Rs. 1,650 to Rs. 2,500 per person per month, subject to a ceiling of Rs 10,000 per month for each family. Last year, the Modi government said it had increased the cash relief to Rs 3,250 per person per month, subject to a ceiling of Rs 13,000 per month for each family.
Kashmiri Pandits we spoke to said they were subject to state government policies, and the union government's decision was not implemented in Haryana led by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Financial Scheme Open To Kashmiri Pandits: Haryana Minister
Denying that the BJP government provided no financial assistance to the Kashmiri Pandits in the state, Haryana social justice minister Om Prakash Yadav told Article 14 that the scheme of financial assistance was available to them.
The website for the social welfare department has the current scheme at Rs 1,000 per family member subject to a maximum of Rs 5,000 per family with effect from November 2017 for five years, providing the annual income of the family does not exceed Rs 200,000.
Noting that one Kashmiri Pandit family in Haryana was being given financial assistance, Yadav said that he was not aware of the problem since the Kashmiri Pandits had not met him. He said he would resolve their issues if they did.
Pandits we spoke to said they had submitted letters for financial assistance to the chief minister’s window, an online portal for grievance redressal, in April 2017 and 1 February 2021.
The social justice welfare department website says there are two beneficiaries under the financial assistance to Kashmiri migrants in Haryana.
Khattar Says Opposition Bitter About Kashmir Files’ Success
In April 2022, following an event where plots were allotted to 182 Kashmiri Pandit families in Bahadurgarh in Jhajjar district in Haryana, three decades after they purchased land in the area, chief minister Khattar said, This allotment was a befitting reply to the opposition, which claimed his government had stopped the Rs 5,000 per family financial assistance, the Press Trust of India reported.
“I would like to clarify that the scheme of giving Rs 5,000 per month as financial aid to these families was not started by us, it was the Congress that had framed these rules that any family would get the said amount for a period of five years,” Khattar said.
“As per our official data, right now, out of the total five such families, only one family is getting this aid because it has not yet completed the five-year rule, while the rest have completed their five-year norm,” said Khattar.
Khattar said that the opposition was making “false allegations” against his government because they could not digest the success of The Kashmir Files movie, PTI reported.
On the exodus at the onset of the militancy in 1989 in Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandits have spoken of the direct threat to their lives as posters calling for them to leave or face the consequences appeared in the valley, threats were issued from loudspeakers of mosques, hate-filled slogans reverberated around them, and members of their community were shot dead.
Endorsed by many BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, The Kashmir Files, which its director Vivek Agnihotri, claimed was based entirely on facts, has been criticised for being historically inaccurate, lacking nuance, and exploiting the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits—painfully ignored for three decades—to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments.
Before its release, Nirmal Khanna, wife of an Indian Air Force officer Ravi Khanna—shot dead by militants in January 1990— objected to how he was depicted in the movie and got a local court in Kashmir to order the removal of the scenes.
Fight For Financial Assistance
M L Koul, a retired government teacher and chairman of the Bahadurgarh Kashmiri Samiti, a committee that speaks for families living in Jhajjar, close to the Delhi border, said that following a meeting in February 2010 with then chief minister Hooda, they started receiving financial assistance via the social justice department in Haryana.
Koul said the financial assistance was given in cash at the local municipal committee run by the state’s directorate of urban local bodies, and the last payment he received was in September 2012, but others say it stopped in April 2012.
The Kashmiri Pandit families living here, primarily workers and supervisors in factories making shoes, slippers, and spare parts, earn just enough to meet their basic needs. Some are unemployed. The Pandits said that local factories need recommendations from influential people, so more jobs go to the locals. They say they need financial assistance to survive, especially in times of chronic unemployment and rising inflation.
Sunil Koul, 50, a Kashmiri Pandit living in Bahadurgarh, said they had “repeatedly written” to the Jhajjar district administration, the deputy commissioner's office, the Haryana BJP president, the Prime Minister, the chief minister, local MLAs and administration councillors since August 2014, about restarting monthly financial assistance to Kashmiri Pandits.
Koul said they lodged a complaint at the chief minister's window in April 2017, but this was disposed of without being resolved.
“The BJP government in which Manohar Lal Khattar became chief minister was approached by Kashmiri migrants about dozens of times but all in vain,” he said.
In a letter submitted to the chief minister's window in February 2021, the Kashmiri Pandits wrote: "Thirty years have passed since the unfortunate Kashmiri Pandits migrated from Kashmir valley to the prevailing circumstances in the J&K state. Driven out of our homes, hearts and heritage and leaving everything, we lead a life of utter frustration and agony at Bahadurgarh. The poor Kashmiri migrants working in small private industries cannot sustain their families. The heads of the families are jobless.”
“Government of Haryana is not adhering to the standing committee orders headed by the honourable vice president of India and then the chairman of the standing committee of parliament which states and recommends for giving financial assistance to Kashmiri migrants in their states at par with Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir government,” read the letter. “Please look into the matter personally and see to it that justice is done to poor Kashmiri migrants families at Bahadurgarh Haryana.”
‘We Underwent Trauma & Immeasurable Losses’
In Ambala, Haryana, where 40 Kashmiri Pandits families live, the Kashmiri Sabha (Ambala), a committee that speaks for the community, said they had not received financial assistance since April 2012, and after waiting for two years for the Congress government to release the money, they too have been pressing for financial assistance since 2014.
Sunil Braroo, joint secretary of Kashmiri Sabha (Ambala), said that in September 2017, they filed a right to information (RTI) application with the social welfare department, asking them to restart financial assistance to the pandits, but they received no answer. In 2018, Braroo said they met their local MLA and current home minister Anil Vij with the same demand.
“We filed an RTI in 2017 with the social justice department as to what is being done for KPs, but the information was never shared by the department,” said Braroo.
According to the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), of the 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families living in Kashmir in January 1990, more than 70,000 fled between 1990 and 1992. As per the ministry of home affairs, there are about 62,000 registered Kashmiri migrant families in the country who migrated from the valley in the exodus.
About 20,000 of such families live in Delhi/NCR, 45,000 pandit families are residing, and about 2,000 families are settled in other parts of the country, according to the MHA’s data from July 2014. In Jammu, where, according to Ashok Kumar Pandita, the relief and rehabilitation commissioner (migrants), J&K, 45,000 pandit families are residing.
The ministry says that financial assistance of Rs 13,000 per family is paid every month, in addition to nine kilograms of rice, two kilograms of wheat, and one kilogram of sugar. The only eligibility criteria is that the beneficiary should not be a government employee.
Demanding assistance at par with Kashmiri Pandits in other states, Braroo said, “We all underwent similar trauma and bore immeasurable losses, but different treatment is being given in different places. Since the BJP has been a vocal supporter of the KPs since the 1990s, they should prove they really care and not only earn brownie points through some media frenzy over a film.”
Recalling the days before the exodus, Koul from Bahadurgarh, who was an English teacher in Kashmir said, “Loudspeakers were blaring from mosques and posters with our photos that said to either leave the Valley or get ready to be hanged at the chowk.”
As life came crashing down, Koul said that he went from being a “happy, healthy and prosperous man” to “a pauper, wanderer and struggling for basic things in life.”
“On a wintery night, we left in a truck to Jammu, where other Kashmiri Pandits had fled. From there, we were told to reach Bahadurgarh near Delhi. We had never heard of Bahadurgarh before, but destiny brought us here.”
Ever since coming to Bahadurgarh, Koul said that life had been a struggle and not a single day went by without Kashmiri Pandits thinking about everything they had left behind in Kashmir.
“The property worth millions had to be sold under distress after a couple of years,” he said. “We struggled for every penny after being forced to leave our homeland for a new place.”
‘Our Repeated Written Pleas Fell On Deaf Ears’
The Kashmiri colony in Bahadurgarh on the periphery of New Delhi, where Kashmiri Pandits bought space for the construction of their houses in the 1990s, used to be a jungle with no water, and sewage, roads or any other human development around.
Over the years, some Kashmiri Pandit families sold off their houses to locals and moved to Delhi to seek better education and healthcare. Today, Bahadurgarh has turned into a much-sought-after colony near the popular Balaur Chowk, which became a site for the farmers’ protest last year.
Sunil Koul, who lives in Bahadurgarh, said that he lost his job as a quality supervisor when the shoe factory he worked in fired many employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Any amount of monetary help would be a big help for me,” said Sunil Koul. “The Haryana government should consider the plight of Kashmiri Pandits like me who have been rendered jobless and need assistance to organise their lives.”
“Our repeated written pleas fell on deaf ears as sometimes the matter was referred to the police department who had no link with the financial compensation,” said Sunil Koul. “And then the complaint was junked without even hearing us out.”[[https://article-14.com/uploads/2022/05-May/10-Tue/Sunil%20Koul.jpg]]
‘Desperately Need Financial Assistance’
Sanjay Kumar Pandita, a 52-year-old Kashmiri Pandit residing in the Kashmiri colony in Bahadurgarh, said that he was doing an internship in Bangalore when the exodus started in 1990 and his family fled one winter night.
“The incident of 1990 has ripped everything from me, and I was forced to quit my job and start living with my family members in Bahadurgarh after being displaced from Kashmir,” he said.
Pandita, who has an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) diploma in mechanical engineering from the Raman Polytechnic Institute in Bengaluru, wanted to get a job in that city but he came to Bahadurgarh to take care of his parents.
“Seeing the condition of trauma under which family members were undergoing and struggling with health issues, my priority changed and I wanted to stay as close to them as possible,” he said.
Pandita now supports his twin daughters and wife by doing odd jobs in factories, sometimes at a construction company owned by a relative in Delhi.
“I have no income source and desperately need financial assistance,” said Pandita. “Displaced Kashmiri families in Delhi and other states receive financial compensation from their respective government, but the Haryana BJP government has been indifferent to us.”
(Sat Singh is an independent journalist based in Rohtak, Haryana. He writes on Haryana’s political, cultural, agricultural, developmental and social issues).