As the Narendra Modi government prepares a road map for the return of Kashmiri migrant pandits, the exiled community has gone on an overdrive to mount pressure on the Centre to carve out a separate homeland with a Union Territory status in Jammu & Kashmir.
"The demand of homeland having a Union Territory status with free and full flow of the Indian constitution alone will satisfy the aspirations of the displaced community," said Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, President, Panun Kashmir, an apex body of migrant Kashmiri pandits.
In a resolution passed by Panun Kashmir in December 1991, Kashmiri pandits had asked the Centre to create a homeland comprising the regions of the valley to the East and North of river Jhelum. The homeland, according to Panun Kashmir, should have a Union Territory status where the Constitution of India is made applicable in letter and spirit to ensure right to life, liberty, freedom of expression and faith, equality and rule of law.
"There will be no dignified return of Kashmiri pandits until their geo-political aspirations are fulfilled. Homeland is the actual bottomline for the return of pandits," Chrungoo said.
Official figures reveal that nearly 58,697 families left their homes since 1990 when the state grappled with militancy. Of these, 4,522 families continue to live in four camps in Jammu division.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced a comprehensive package of Rs 1,618 crore for Kashmiri pandits in 2008. But despite that just one displaced Kashmiri pandit family has returned to the Valley so far.
What has, however, added another dimension to the return process is the demand for setting up a commission of enquiry to probe the allegations of genocide and trace those responsible for the exodus of Kashmiri pandits in 1990.
"The National Human Rights Commission has said acts akin to genocide have taken place against Kashmir pandits. We would like the government to take cognizance of that," said Chrungoo.
According to data from Panun Kashmir, more than 1,000 Kashmiri pandits were killed by militants. Official state government figures put that number at 219 since 1989.
"We do not agree with the state government figures. More than 1,000 pandits were killed. Not only killings but the whole community was driven out, Thousands of houses were burnt and hundreds of temples brought down. It is a genocide on all fronts," said Chrungoo.