Kashmiri Pandits unhappy with migrant tag, boycott polls (Lead)

May 7th, 2009 - 5:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, May 7 (IANS) Unhappy at being classified as “migrants”, the Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to leave their homes in the Kashmir Valley boycotted elections Thursday.
The Election Commission has not received a single ‘M’ (Migrant) form, which Kashmiri Pandit migrants have to fill up to be eligible to vote.

“We have advertised in the newspapers asking the Kashmiri Pandits to fill up the ‘M’ form, but nobody has responded. Though we had made arrangement for voting for Kashmiri Pandits at four places in Delhi but no one is voting,” Ghulam Qadir Bawa, the assistant returning officer for Kashmiri Pandits, told IANS.

The number of eligible voters in the community has dropped considerably from the voter list of Jammu and Kashmir state for the past 12 years. In 1996 there were 147,000 voters but the figure went down to 117,000 in 2002 and further to 71,000 during last year’s assembly polls.

“I did not vote in protest. This is a kind of discrimination. We are not migrants. Migrants are those who moved out of the valley on their own will. It was a forced exodus. Even the UN calls us internally displaced person,” Aditya Raj Kaul, a Kashmiri activist, said.

“We should have normal voter Id cards like every other Indian. Moreover, except for Jammu and Delhi, Kashmiri Pandits cannot vote anywhere else. Don’t the Kashmiris settled elsewhere in India have voting rights?” Kaul asked.

The sentiments were echoed by Rashneek Kher of the Roots in Kashmir organisation.

“Kashmiri Pandits are spread across the country but I think not more than 25,000 would have access to voting. Also the requirement of ‘M’ form is 100 percent discriminatory. I am as much an Indian as anybody else.

“We have not moved out the valley out of choice. It (the migrant tag) is a misnomer,” Kher told IANS.

Kher also added that though he filled up the requisite forms couple of years ago he is yet to get his voter Id card.

“It is not just me. I know many people in the NCR (national capital region). About 20,000 people had filled up the forms and of them only about 2,000 have got their voter-Id cards,” Kher added.

At a time when voter registration is just a mouse-click away the “tedious” process of filling the ‘M’ form is a big setback.

“The process is very cumbersome. You have to get the ‘M’ form from the relief commissioner in Jammu. Moreover, the poll process is meaningless till our issues are addressed,” said Panun Kashmir national spokesman Kamal Hak.

Kashmiri Hindus were forced to flee their homeland when separatist militancy erupted more than two decades ago in Jammu and Kashmir.

Some 300,000 Pandits fled the Kashmir Valley since 1989, when militancy was at its peak, at times targeting members of the community. Today, most of them live in Jammu, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Mumbai. Only about 3,000 still reside in the valley.

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