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Home > News > Columnists > Seema Kachru

Will the Pandits ever find a home?

March 27, 2003

They called Kashmir the 'Paradise on Earth' and compared it with Switzerland. The great Sufi saint Nur-ud-din refused to enter one of its royal gardens thousands of years ago, saying, 'If I visit this place now I shall not be allowed to visit paradise hereafter.' Persian poet Firdaus said, 'If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, and it is here.'

Today the same Kashmir sends an icy knife stabbing through the heart. Today's Kashmir evokes the picture of gore and terror. Not a day passes without grenade attacks, brutal killings, kidnappings, arson, loot, rapes, bloodshed and mayhem. Now the souls of the people are scarred as insanity haunts the region. Firdaus' couplet has lost its relevance as Islamic fundamentalists turn it into virtual hell.

Nothing is the same anymore. Kids have lost their innocence, women their freedom and men their security. There was a time when the people of Kashmir, irrespective of diverse faiths, lived in harmony for centuries nurturing Kashmiriyat, the composite culture of Kashmir. But now Kashmiriyat has taken a severe beating; it is merely a word that is insignificant and meaningless.

Every Kashmiri has suffered immensely due to militancy. But not all of them have been rendered homeless and rootless like the Kashmiri Pandits. Considered to be the original inhabitants of Kashmir, Pandits have been the worst sufferers and lost everything in a flicker of a moment -- their roots, identity, homes, hearth, possessions, memories, childhood, cherished dreams, hopes for a better tomorrow, and their sense of belonging. They became refugees in their own land for believing in the Indian Constitution and saluting the Indian flag.

In return, what they have received is indifference from the government, both in the state and at the Centre. No community in modern times has suffered so much for so long and yet evoked so little concern at their plight as the minuscule population of Kashmiri Pandits.

Hundreds of them have been brutally killed by terrorists; many more have died prematurely due to inhuman conditions, in tattered and unhygienic makeshift camps. This has not happened in the last few months but has been their destiny for the last 13 years.

Pandits were driven out of their comfortable homes at gunpoint. Such conditions were created which made it impossible for the community to live there. First came the threats from mosques through loud speakers, and then the selective killing of officials, intellectuals and prominent community members. This was followed by the harassment of women and young girls. Later, even the local media contained announcements saying: 'Kashmiri Pandits responsible for duress against Muslims should leave the valley within two days or face the consequences.'

Not many Pandits were willing to leave their homes, but such threats made them rethink their decision. When they left they entrusted their homes, lands and shops to their Muslim neighbours. They didn't realise they were biding a final adieu to their homes and homeland. Eventually, an estimated 400,000 Pandits -- some 95 per cent of the original population in the valley -- became part of the neglected statistic of 'internal refugees,' pushed out of their homes as a result of this campaign of terror.

Not only did the Indian State fail to protect them in their homes, successive governments have provided little more than minimal humanitarian relief. This exiled community seldom figures in the discourse on the 'Kashmir issue' and its resolution.

The government let them languish in 10x12 sq feet camps with no privacy, no proper sanitation and no provision for extreme weather conditions. People died of extreme temperatures, snakebite, heat strokes, stress, insomnia, trauma, depression and hypertension. But who cares?

Not only this, the mass migration has also resulted in high death and low birth rates. A recent study based on inquiries at various migrant camps in Jammu and Delhi revealed there had been only 16 births compared to 49 deaths in about 300 families between 1990 and 1995, a period over which militancy was at its peak. Family life is under great strain; the divorce rate in the prime fertility age group has increased. For a community where divorce was unheard of, it is a serious development. Couples voluntarily chose not to bear children for if they cannot fend for themselves, how can they take care of children.

Diabetes is said to be rampant, psychosomatic diseases, biophysical effects of stress and strain, cases of cancer are noticeably evident. Dr K L Choudhary, who has been treating various Kashmiri Pandit patients, asserts they had aged physically and mentally by 10 to 15 years beyond their natural age, and if the current situation persists, their extinction could not be ruled out.

Many Kashmiris, in search of a better future, have moved to different states, cities and towns. Those who could not, or have not in the ever waning hope of returning to their homes are rotting in camps on minimum government doles. About 200,000 Pandits still live in abysmal conditions in Jammu with families of five to six people, huddled into a small room. Their cries for better facilities have fallen on deaf ears. So what are they to do?

Perhaps this is the way to save and protect a peaceful community whose only misfortune is they are in a abject minority in their homeland, too small in numbers to enthuse the vote bank. The silence on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits is deafening. Their relatively small numbers, coupled with a tradition of non-violent protest, has made them largely irrelevant in the political discourse -- both within the country and internationally -- on Kashmir. 'Peace processes' and 'political solutions' that are initiated from time to time have little meaning until these include steps to correct the grave injustices done to this unfortunate community.

One wonders if we still live in the same country amidst the same leaders, intellectuals and human rights activists whose hearts bleed if illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are sought to be repatriated, and who welcome and shelter Afghan refugees and militants alike. They talk loudly about human right violations and forget about the Pandits in their backyard. Even in exile, the community has been subjected to apartheid.

In addition to this, the agriculture, horticulture and other commercial properties of the Pandits in Kashmir is under unauthorised occupation of the local population. The passing of an Act by the J&K legislature regarding immovable property of displaced Pandits in Kashmir could not provide any relief to the Pandit community. Why haven't vested parties espoused their [Pandits'] cause in the mercenaries' court? Are they not human or is it that they don't have rights?

To silence their voices from time to time, the government has come up with various rehabilitation proposals that envision provision of jobs if the displaced people returned to the valley. Perhaps the government doesn't realise that return could be more difficult than the experience of exile itself. They cannot force Kashmiri Pandits to return on any pretext without knowing what conditions await them. If they cannot guarantee their security, they can again become soft targets for militants in Kashmir where the rule of law hardly exists, where violence still continues, where guns are still prevalent.

Evidently, such a hostile environment do not satisfy even the basic security needs of these uprooted people.

There has been a lot of rhetoric about the return and rehabilitation of the Pandits 'with honour and dignity.' Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed plans to resettle some Pandits around two shrines, namely Mattan and Tulamula. How is that going to solve anything or save them from the same enemies who have grabbed their property and ensured their exit?

Proposals for the setting up of camps is unacceptable because that would mean isolating the community and making them more vulnerable. The primary aim should be the restoration of peace in Kashmir. As long as there is support of men and material from across the border, militancy will continue to thrive. Kashmir cannot have peace as long as there is no negotiation between Pakistan and India.

The other option can only come from face-to-face dialogue with the majority people of Kashmir. One has to be sure if they are prepared to return to the old ethos of tolerance and brotherhood. After all, there is nothing wrong in a dialogue with the majority community of Kashmir, on a people's level. If they show some signs of goodwill and think about the good old days when they lived and shared everything peacefully with Kashmiri Pandits, half the problem will be solved. They can bring them back to their neighbourhood and make them feel safe again.

It is the duty of every member of the community to prove to the world that Kashmiriyat cannot be wiped away from Kashmir no matter how hard militants or politicians try. A Kashmiri is a Kashmiri first, and only after that is he or she a person of any other faith.

Seema Kachru is a freelance writer and PR consultant in Houston, Texas

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Number of User Comments: 94




Sub: Will the Pandits ever find a home?

Great article and so interesting. Kashmiri militants are openly threatening KP's and govt is still looking into the matter and grabbing money in the name ...


Posted by geeta





Sub: RE:NO ONE IS GOING TO DO IT FOR US

Good article, Rohit. Waqar and others of his ilk should be made to know(if they don't already) that long before India did anything in East ...


Posted by Varun Shekhar





Sub: RE:Sob Story

Dear krishna, Do you have your stats right on this subject. Do you know that the majority of the millions of people living in the ...


Posted by Subash Kaul





Sub: RE:Sob Story

Mr.Krishna , I believe that you have posted a message for the sake of "posting a message " . I request you to develope analytical ...


Posted by rajinder harkara





Sub: symbol of Weakness of hindus

"A Kashmiri is a Kashmiri first, and only after that is he or she a person of any other faith" - this is not true ...


Posted by govind




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