Kashmiris have expressed their fury over plans by the new coalition government, which is backed by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to establish heavily fortified, self-contained “composite townships” for the Hindu Pandit community in the Kashmir Valley.
The plan will see the Pandit community resettled across Kashmir 25 years after migrating from Indian-occupied parts of Kashmir to India and Hindu-dominated areas in Jammu due to an outbreak of violence which forced them to flee.
No details regarding the size and location of the settlements have been revealed, nor has any construction date been announced, but pro-independence groups have compared plans to Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied West Bank.
Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammed Yasin Malik said the plans will only stir hatred between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir, and turn the region into “another Palestine.”
"[Pandits] are owners of this land as we are, and we welcome them to live in a composite society along with their Muslim brothers," said Malik, who was among several activists arrested by Indian police Friday during protests in Lalchowk, the main city in the Indian-held regions.
Separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani concurred with Malik, telling India’s NDTV the plans amounted to creating a “state within a state” that will “rob people of their land.”
Meanwhile, National Conference General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar also criticized the plans as polarizing and unpopular. "We don't believe in separate homeland and the National Conference does not support it...What is the purpose if it creates differences among the people of the valley?” he asked.
The chairman of United Jihad Council (UJC), an umbrella organization of militant groups in the Pakistani-controlled regions of Kashmir, Syed Salahuddin, claimed the move to resettle the Pandits was a "deep-rooted conspiracy" to change the "Muslim-majority character" of the Kashmir Valley.
"Separate homeland for Kashmiri Pandits within the valley is a fascist forces' agenda and we will not allow this to happen and will foil such a ploy with our might and unity," Salahuddin said.
“We are not against the return of Kashmiri Pandits as they are part and parcel of our society. But any attempt to settle the community in separate habitats will neither be allowed by Kashmiri people nor by the Mujahedeen."
However, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the most senior elected official in the Indian-occupied regions, denied plans amounted to establishing “Israel-type clusters," saying that Pandits are merely being settled in their former homelands.
“We will not make separate clusters that Israel has set up... Neither we will make that [separate townships] nor they [Kashmiri Pandits] have desired to live in that,” Sayeed told the Legislative Council in Jammu Friday.
“We will bring this community back and integrate them in the Kashmiri milieu,” he added, just days after meeting India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi where a request to provide land from the project was officially put forward.
Naeem Akhtar, the chief spokesman for Sayeed’s Peoples Democratic Party also clarified the “composite townships” will not be exclusive to Pandits alone, but will be open for all communities.
But Kashmiri Pandit community leader Sanjay Tickoo rejected the plans, saying composite colonies will only make Pandits vulnerable. “Under such circumstances nobody will come back,” Tickoo said.
Around 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits are expected to return under the plans, rejoining the mere 7,000 who remained behind after the 1990 uprisings which were followed by a massive crackdown on Kashmiri Muslims led by the Indian-appointed governor Jagmohan Malhotra.