The area under troop occupation in J&K is 527 sq km. That is more than the area of Maldives, Andorra and 41 other countries. Beyond statistics, on the ground, it is tale of thousands of helpless families struggling to reclaim their land rights. HAROON MIRANI reports.
For hours Ghulam Mohiudin Pandit used to sit in an orchard silently staring with moist eyes at his magnificent house across the apple trees. The beautiful house was built by Mohiudin’s father Jabbar Pandit. The house was good enough for the family’s third generation, but their prosperous stay was cut short.
In November 1993, army managed to take over Sopore after a brutal crackdown and bloodbath that killed 55 people.
Soon after, army occupied many buildings across Sopore to consolidate their position.
Mohiudin Pandit’s famed farmhouse was located at a prime location at Sheikh Sahib, Chinkipora and it had all the facilities which the occupiers had never dreamt of. The 14- bedroom house with six attached bathrooms had a charming panelling, and elegant electric and sanitary fitting. Excellent use of wood and cement on a well designed structure gave it an aesthetic look to envy for.
That day the troopers stormed into the house and kicked the inmates out, throwing away some belongings and keeping the most. In an environment where killings by troops were routine, Pandits heaved a sigh of relief as they managed to escape alive. Overnight they became what are known as the internally displaced people.
The joint family was scattered all over the valley. Unlike Kashmiri Hindus who migrated to Jammu and became, what Indian columnists call the most pampered refugees, people like Pandit suffered unheard.
As Kashmir moved on, so did the fate of Pandits and their property. In the due course of time Army handed over the houses to Border Security Forces (BSF) who later transferred it to Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF). In between hundreds of soldiers came, resided and plundered this ‘special garden’. The property is a favourite jaunt for their officers who come here for holidays along with their family.
While the property was changing hands, over the years, the helpless Pandits’ began a struggle of reclaiming it. “We have been running from pillar to post to get our house vacated but to no avail,” said Ishfaq Pandit son of Ghulam Mohiudin Pandit.
Pandits are an influential family with access to political bigwigs in India, but that did not help either. “From ministry of defence to Chief Minister of J&K everybody assured us the house,” said Ishfaq. Even after the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah gave a written order and Defence Minister A K Antony literally agreed to relocate the troops, the status quo never changed.
It doesn’t matter if the well known figure of Sopore Abdul Samad Pandit was Mohiudin’s uncle and it doesn’t make any difference if their cousin Farah Pandit is well known global figure at the White house. Their influence crumbles before a sentry posted on the outermost gate of their farmhouse.
Pandits are not alone in their suffering and struggle. There are tens of thousands of such people in Kashmir who are deprived of their land, house, orchard or other possessions.
Each locality has a story of occupation to tell and each village has a saga of its sorrows to narrate.
Level of occupation
On August 24, 2009 the state government informed the assembly that different security agencies have occupied 10,54,721 kanals (520 sq kms) of land in state. It includes 8,55,407 kanals under illegal occupation and 1,99,314 kanals occupied by the agencies on the basis of lease, licenses and acquisitions under the provision of Land Acquisition Act.
If the land occupied by security forces, officially acknowledged by government, were to be put together and formed into a new region, it will be 192nd largest country in the world bigger than 43 countries. Its area will surpass the area of Andorra, Maldives, Grenada, Liechtenstein, Malta and Barbados.
But experts say, the land occupation is far beyond the official figures.
Countering the government figures on occupied land Peoples Democratic Party’s Ifthikhar Husain Ansari told Legislative Assembly that more than 28 lakh kanals of land have been occupied by the army in the state.