Asia - Pacific

Indian diplomat's Israeli-type settlement idea for Kashmir draws ire

Kashmiri pandits find idea of Israeli-type settlements 'crazy', blaming officials for playing 'politics on our plight'

Hilal Mir  | 28.11.2019 - Update : 28.11.2019
Indian diplomat's Israeli-type settlement idea for Kashmir draws ire

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

Because of an internet ban, not many Kashmiris are aware of an Indian diplomat's comments that settlements modelled after Israel could be built to settle Kashmiri Hindus -- who had migrated to various parts of India when insurgency erupted in the region in 1990.

A video of a private event held on Saturday in New York is doing the rounds on social media where the Indian Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty can be seen as saying: "It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it.”

He was referring the illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian lands.

His comments drew the ire of Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan who in a tweet on Wednesday said: "Shows the fascist mindset of the Indian govt's RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] ideology that has continued the siege of IOJK [Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir] for over 100 days."

Pakistan, which holds part of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir and claims it in full, has voiced concern over a lockdown which persists in the region since early August, in the aftermath of the scrapping of special status granted to the state.

The change in status among many other things did away with a law which prohibited non-Kashmiris from buying property in the scenic Himalayan state, raising fears that the Indian government will attempt to change demographics of its only Muslim majority state.

Kashmiri Hindus react

The diplomat's remarks have also evoked responses that are reflective of the positions various groups have on the return of between 150,000 and 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus, also called Pandits, to the valley.

Sanjay Tickoo, chairman of the Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, is a community leader who continued to live in Kashmir even after the exodus of his fellow Pandits. He said the idea of Israeli-type settlements was “crazy”.

“Do they think that with the abrogation of Article 370 they can do anything? We won’t allow such settlements. It is unfortunate that some people in our community who live in the West are not willing to live with their Muslim neighbors here. But whatever their plans, these settlements will not materialize,” Tickoo said.

He said such statements will endanger the lives of more than 4,000 Kashmiri Hindus who live and work in Kashmir Valley at present.

Satish Mahaldar, a Kashmiri Pandit leader who migrated to New Delhi in 1990, said: “I condemn his remarks because they go against the very grain of our secular constitution. Miscreants are trying to divide us along communal lines. My Kashmir is not a place for such ideas.”

“We can’t let anyone exploit people in the name of religion. These people are not aware of the fact that death rate in the community is three times higher than the birth rate. We are becoming extinct and they are playing politics on our plight,” he said.

However, Ashok Kaul, a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) representative in Kashmir, denied any plans of initiating Israel-style settlements.

“We have always maintained that Kashmiri Pandits should return to their homeland with honor, dignity and with full security so that the previous (mass exodus) things should not happen again,” he said.

Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has been facing severe lockdown since Aug. 5, 2019, when the Indian government scrapped the special status, which allowed citizens to enact their own laws, of the region.

The provisions also protected the region's citizenship law, which barred outsiders from settling in or owning land in the territory.

Tensions have since been high in the region with key leaders put in prison or under house arrest. Internet services have also been clamped down in the Himalayan state.

India and Pakistan both hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.

*Islamuddin Sajid contributed to this report from Islamabad

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