Protests in Srinagar Over Plan for 'Composite Townships' for Kashmiri Pandits

Protests in Srinagar over the proposal for "composite townships" in Jammu and Kashmir for displaced Kashmiri Pandits


Protests have erupted in Srinagar over a plan for "composite townships" in Jammu and Kashmir for displaced Kashmiri Hindus, or Pandits. Police resorted to tear gas shelling as dozens of demonstrators, led by separatist Yasin Malik, broke police cordons and entered the Lal Chowk area in the centre of the city.

Earlier this week, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had asked Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to identify land for "composite townships" for Kashmir Pandits who left the Valley when the first wave of militancy began 25 years ago. The proposal has raised questions on whether these townships will exclusively house rehabilitated Kashmiri Pandits, with separatists even drawing parallels to Israeli settlements in Palestine.

"In the garb of the return of Kashmiri Pandits, a State within a State is being created. It is a ploy to make Kashmir the next Palestine and rob people of their land," said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the chairman of the separatist Hurriyat conference.

But the Chief Minister, whose PDP runs a government in partnership with the BJP, has assured that he would not allow "Israeli-type settlements."

"I have told the Home Minister that they can't stay separately. If it happens, then everyone will stay together. It is a symbol of our diversity. There is no plan, no decision... but it is being floated that a separate homeland will be created. That is not possible," Mr Sayeed said in the state assembly on Thursday, where opposition parties raised protests.

But even after the Chief Minister's statement, Mr Singh indicated that there would be no going back on the plan. "I don't want to go into details. Whatever decision was taken by the central government for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits... the decision remains the same," he said.

About three lakh Pandits had left the Valley in the 1990s. Many of those who did return in 2007 under a government job scheme say they are not happy. They live in migrant colonies and do not have basic amenities like a ration card or even a voter ID card.

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