The Plight of Kashmiri Pandits

The Plight of Kashmiri Pandits

By Divyashri Puri & Lark S. Escobar

Kashmiri Pandits are a 5,000-year-old community of Brahmin Hindus and were one of the original inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley in northern India. Violent armed groups operating in Kashmir since the 1980s displayed a nexus of anti-Hindu and pro-Islamist violence, and this militancy culminated in the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. Approximately 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits are reported to have left the region due to constant persecution from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and other militant groups, like Hizbul-Mujahideen (HM).

Events Leading to The Exodus

In 1989, radical Islamists initiated an insurgency, fueled by covert support from Pakistan. The imposition of leaders chosen by Delhi, with the manipulation of local elections, and the denial of autonomy led to the militancy of the JKLF, a movement devoted to political, not religious, objectives.  The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) reported that Hizbul Mujahideen  presented Kashmiri Pandits with three choices — “ralive, tsaliv, ya galive” (convert to Islam, leave the place, or be ready to perish)— and that HM pressured Pandit men to flee without their wives. As a response to such armed groups and with the aim to combat the insurgency and stabilise control over the region, by the end of the 1990s, India’s military presence in the region had escalated to approximately one Indian soldier for five Kashmiris, and some 30,000 people had died in the conflict.  In 1993, Amnesty International (AI) reported that Kashmiri Pandits’ homes and temples in the Valley had been damaged and destroyed en masse.

In 1995, the National Human Rights Commission headed by the former Chief Justice of India, M. N. Venkatachaliah, found the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits “akin to genocide.”[1] The Kashmiri Pandits have brought their massive human rights violations to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 1995, via a detailed petition filed by the representative organizations of Kashmiri Pandits. Two hundred and fifteen First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed but left unaddressed. The government lacks a comprehensive probe, leading to a time-bound charge sheet (i.e; an official document on which the police record the details of the crime a person is accused of, in a chronological manner), which is necessary to ascertain alleged genocide.

Survivors and human rights organizations continue to seek independent investigations into the violence against the Pandit community’s displacement, though India’s state and central government have instituted no such investigations. In March 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs declared the JKLF as an unlawful organization. A ministry statement accused JKLF Chief Yasin Malik and the JKLF of participating in the violations and killings of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits in 1989. Malik and the JKLF were involved in violence in the early 1990s until Malik renounced violent separatism in 1994 and declared a ceasefire. However, delays and corruption incapacitated the Indian Judiciary, which lacked a modern case management system to ensure justice. The Supreme Court (SC) refused to entertain a plea seeking probes and prosecution of various persons, on the grounds of ‘lapse of time’.  

Displacement & Migration

The Indian government, in its efforts to locate ‘suspects’ and identify Pakistani infiltrators, implemented measures that resulted in widespread repression of the entire population in the Valley. Amidst the volatile situation, the Indian government recognized the suffering of the Kashmiri Pandit community and made several attempts to alleviate their plight. Recognizing the need for intervention, various measures were undertaken to address the concerns and challenges faced by the displaced Kashmiri Pandits. The Minister for State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, confirmed that 44,684 Kashmiri migrant families (over one million persons) were registered with the Office of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner as migrants within the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Specifically, they are registered in Jammu, which is the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, and has been a significant destination for Kashmiri migrants seeking refuge and rehabilitation.

 A total of only 3,800 migrants returned to Kashmir for employment options. After the abrogation of constitutional Article 370, 520 migrants returned to Kashmir for jobs.  Another 2,000 migrants returned under the same policy in 2021. Moreover, in order to relocate Kashmiri migrants back to the valley, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)  government had offered a rehabilitation package, incentivizing return to the valley by providing a lump-sum payment of 9,875 USD to every Kashmiri Pandit family.  Nityanand Rai said in the Rajya Sabha that 3000 state government jobs were across the country were created for Kashmiri migrants under the Prime Minister’s Development Package-2015, with an outlay of 142,205,112 USD.   The Indian government also constructed 6,000 transit accommodations in the Kashmir Valley and the provision of 129,037,972 USD in accommodation for employed Kashmiri migrants. The Union Minister, Amit Shah, stated that the Indian government provides 171 USD per month to the families of 44,000 Kashmiri Pandits who get free food rations. 

However, there are still 62,000 displaced Kashmiri families (the vast majority of whom are Pandits, with small numbers of Sikhs and Muslims), of which 40,000 are in Jammu, 20,000 in Delhi, and 2,000 in other parts of the country. As many as 610 Kashmiri Pandits were given back their properties left behind in Jammu and Kashmir following the eruption of militancy there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, sadly, despite the many attempts at rehabilitation, the government does not monitor the movements of such internally displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies have limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP (internally displaced persons)[2]  camps, an unknown number of displaced persons reside outside the camps. Many IDPs thus lack sufficient food, clean water, shelter, sanitation, and health care.

Legal Analysis

Even though a combination of compensatory and rehabilitative reparation mechanisms has been employed as a form of restorative justice, the ‘migrant status’ of Kashmiri Pandits is an unabating challenge.

While the Indian government does set up camps, build some houses and provide limited cash and other assistance for the IDPs from Kashmir, it does not officially regard the Kashmiri Pandits as IDPs (reportedly out of concern that this might attract international involvement). In a petition to the National Human Rights Commission in 1995, the Pandits demanded that the authorities should extend facilities and rights by virtue of their internal displacement. The Commission decided that the Kashmiri Pandits did not fit into the definition of IDPs. In its response to the Commission, the government argued that the word ‘migrant’ is a more appropriate description of the status of the Kashmiri Pandits. The government closed the State (Jammu and Kashmir) Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in some instances involving the military. However, due to the lacking establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, India is unable to inquire into any wrongdoings of the military forces in the region, which is highly problematic.


The Pandits have been displaced for over thirty years in camps and are deprived of reinstatement. Despite the Indian government’s efforts to provide financial assistance, education, and employment to the displaced Pandits, they still live in inhumane camp conditions and lack sustainable employment opportunities. Effective implementation and enforcement of the policies, backed by an economic plan, the accordance with an IDP status and active engagement of international intervention, would only be a justified step in abating the perils of the Pandits.

[1] The UN defines “genocide” as an act with the intent to destroy an ethnic group, including the killing of its members.

[2] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Internal Displacement in India, Stakeholder Report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism Established by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007,” November 2011, accessed on November 28, 2022, Stakeholder report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

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