Kashmiri Pandits Upset Over Congress Blocking Their Bill

Kashmiri Pandits Upset Over Congress Blocking Their Bill

7 March 2014
The Economic Times
Masood Hussain

Srinagar: Kashmiri Pandits are upset over Congress ensuring the state assembly sends the bill envisaging a separate board for maintenance of their shrines to a joint select committee (JSC). The community had been assured they will get the rights to maintain, control and regulate their shrines in Kashmir, a job hitherto done by non-Kashmiri groups for decades. 'It was a failure of Kashmir lawmakers because the Jammu lawmakers cutting across party lines united to defeat the bill,' Sanjay Tickoo of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti said. 'They are driven by their vested interests and not the faith as they claim.' Chuni Lal Bhat of the Hindu Welfare Committee said the government has fooled the community, yet agin. 'For all these years, they assured us the Board will be reality and then on the last day of the session, they introduced the bill and sent it to a joint select committee where it will die.' After the migration, most of the Hindu shrines in Kashmir could not be maintained. Mostly in disuse, some of them suffered damage and at a later stage encroachment as well. It was after detailed interactions that the government agreed to set up a board for the upkeep of the shrines that Pandits will manage themselves. After Omar Abdullah took over as Chief Minister, the Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Act, 2009 envisaged setting up of 12-member Kashmiri Hindu Shrine Board (KHSB) for preserving, protecting, administering and using the notified properties was introduced in the state assembly. The Board would be appointed by the government, 10 would be local Hindus who would come to the Board through an electoral process repeated every three years. But the bill witnessed massive opposition from non-Kashmiri Hindus who though the bill was aimed at dividing the Hindu Samaj. The bill went to a select committee that concluded its report late last year. Kashmiri Pandits came on streets to force government reintroduce the bill. Within minutes after it was introduced, parties having Jammu as their main base including Congress, Panthers Party and the BJP was up against it. They forced NC to agree to sending the bill to a joint select committee. This was despite PDP pressed for a vote and later walked out in protest. Even the CPI (M) pressed for its passage. Panthers Party lawmaker Harshdev Singh moved an amendment seeking exclusion of Jammu based Trusts which are managing some of the Kashmiri temples from the purview of the bill. He also sought deletion of the word 'Kashmiri' from the bill asserting that Hindus can not be divided as Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris. While Congress ministers Tara Chand and Sham Lal forcefully argued the bill should go to the Joint Select Committee, BJP wanted the bill to be rejected asserting it was interference with religious affairs. NC, eventually, went with its ally. Tickoo said the community knows the reasons. 'They (lawmakers) have suggested that 17 trusts that are manning some of our shrines should be excluded, it is because 16 of them are run by Jammu and Mirpuri Hindus,' Tickoo said. 'Why can not Kashmiri Pandits manage their own shrines and it is because these shrine own resources worth Rs 10,000 crore.' He said those opposing the bill talked about blood flowing on streets (if it is passed). 'I am sure it is our blood they are talking about.'