Kashmir conflict has over the years evolved, yet its threads continue to inflict injuries on masses bearing different religious and ethnic identities. The conflict has contributed to the bloodshed with thousands of lives lost, families and homes destroyed utterly. No method or policy for the unconditional resolution of the conflict has worked so far, and even those that were meant to bring a respite turned out to be failures. On the contrary, the measures taken to alleviate the pain of the suffering people further exacerbated the situation in Kashmir.
Apart from various schemes and policies framed to discourage the people, particularly youth, from resorting to violent means, the Indian government in association with the state government came up with a “surrender & rehabilitation policy” that was approved by the state cabinet in November 2010. According to the policy, the governments were to facilitate the return of former militants who had crossed the LoC and wished to shun violence and return back to the state. It was meant for the youth who gave up the idea of picking of arms due to change of heart and those who were willing to return to rejoin with their families. Only those who had crossed over between January 1, 1989 and December 31, 2009 were applicable.
According to the policy envisaged, the youth were allowed to return but only though four designated points – Poonch, Rawalakote, Uri-Muzaffarabad, Wagah (Punjab) and Indira Gandhi International airport, New Delhi.
As a goodwill gesture, there were hopes pinned on the rehabilitation policy as it was called. It was expected that hundreds of youth and men with their families may return to their home state via these designated routes. It was also hoped that the move will deescalate the tension between the neighboring countries, India and Pakistan. But the rehabilitation policy proved to be a flop show.
Implementing the policy, the returnees were allowed to come back via the routes but the rehabilitated were never given the rights and privileges ensued in the policy. The basic identity documents were not provided to any of their family members like election card, ration card Aadhar card, and the likes even after repeated pleas to the state government. Instead of alleviating their sufferings it further added to their insecurity while considering their future in Kashmir in the absence of these basic amenities granted to them.
Protests in the past years and the recent one wherein spouses of the former militants said they were neglected and not granted travel and other documents by the state administration have revealed the failure of the policy. It has also driven another wedge between the two countries.
The government in its 2003 budget session of state legislature informed that during past three years then some 241 former militants had returned ‘illegally’ via Nepal route and other routes along with their families. Adding that since no ex-militant returned through the identified routes under the policy after fulfillment of the conditions prescribed in it, they were not eligible for any assistance or rehabilitation. The government and concerned authorities need to be reminded of the fact that in the absence of travel documents to any of them and in the wake of non-clearance of emigration by the concerned agencies, how come they would have came back through the designated routes. They were made to come back illegally as the policy failed to handle their situation. It has rather been an attempt of deceit to let them come back, get the required information from them, prepare a framework document of future plans and then let them suffer on their own. This way they not only crushed their trust but proved their inherent stance that they can’t own them.
The policies vis-à-vis Kashmir has been marred by deceit and failures. There are cases in which former militants after their return surrendered before the designated authorities hoping for a suitable rehabilitation plan and finding it baseless rejoined the militancy.
Around 350 former militants have returned to the state along with their families, though Nepal and other routes in over two decades from 1989 up to 2009 under this rehab policy. But as per government, they are not entitled to the benefits as they have come via undesignated routes. These families are facing lot of hardships with the spouses of former militants still being Pakistani nationals as they and their children have been denied the basic identity in this part even after repeated pleas. Apparently some of these families want to go back to the other side from where they had come with lots of dreams and hopes.
While the governments for their PR or publicity stunts boasted about facilitating the real-life Bajrangi Bhaijaan act of bringing an Indian girl named Geeta stranded for years in Pakistan back, they have displayed a different attitude towards the families of the former militants. The women, now stranded in Kashmir and treated as alien, who is going to be the Bhaijaan to take them back or at least allow them to live a life of dignity and honour.