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The Rediff Special/ Basharat Peer
'The CRPF men guard their own lives'
March 27, 2003
They survived death, but life is killing them. Those who survived the first massacre of Kashmiri Pandits on the night of March 21, 1997, at Sangrampora village in Budgam, an hour's drive from Srinagar, are a neglected lot despite the tall claims made by the central and state governments.
For centuries they had lived in Sangrampora, till unknown gunmen struck. The next morning saw seven Pandits dead, some more injured.
Politicians, bureaucrats, television crews and tourists descended on the village. The state government moved the survivors and Pandits from other villages of the district to Budgam town. They took shelter in the deserted houses of migrant Pandits, next to a Central Reserve Police Force camp.
Everyone forgot about them after the state gave them free ration and Rs100,000 as compensation.
"After the massacre I was in hospital for a year. I had to pay my bills and despite hundreds of visits to government offices, the job that I have been promised is not in sight," says Ashok Pandita, 35, who looks well beyond forty with his prematurely grey hair.
Pandita took a bullet on his left leg. He survived because he was lying motionless in a pool of blood and the killers thought he was dead.
His left his paddy farms, his cattle, his house in Sangrampora and shifted to a Pandit's deserted house in Budgam, like 25 other families.
Married with two kids, he can barely survive on the relief amount and the ration worth Rs700 that he gets from corrupt government clerks and petty officials, who invariably want a cut.
Many like Rita Koul and her two daughters do not even get that. But neither he nor Kaul thinks of migrating. "I wanted to live here and that is why we did not migrate in the early nineties, when most people left," he adds.
What keeps Pandits like him in Kashmir -- apart from emotional attachment to the land and the friendly attitude of his Muslim neighbours in Budgam -- is their poverty. They cannot afford to migrate. Most affluent Pandits have migrated to Jammu and Delhi. They have found roofs over their heads and continue with their lives. The poor are suffering in cramped camps; struggling everyday in hostile climates and living in constant nostalgia.
Dulari Bhat, who lost her husband and son in the Sangrampora massacre, does not want to migrate.
She lives in one section of Pandita's house. Her elder daughter, who works in the education department, is married and lives with her husband.
Dulari's younger daughter is married to an educated but unemployed youth from Pulwama, who lives with them. With no earning member, the family is living on a pittance. The testimony of their poverty comes from Dulari's shawl, which is patched with different pieces of cloth; her salwar kameez with torn ends; her sunken cheeks and sad eyes.
All she wants is a job for her daughter or son-in-law.
"There were some Kashmiri bureaucrats who took care of us after the massacre, but they were transferred. No politician, no bureaucrat has come here ever since, not even before the elections," she says.
Dulari and the other Pandits here shivered in fear when, on Monday morning, they got news of the Nadimarg massacre.
"We called the local administration at 8.30am soon after we heard about Nadimarg. We were very scared and it opened our wounds. Though the local Muslims were here to console and encourage us, the officials came only after four in the afternoon," says Nandlal Bhat.
To make matters worse, the owners plan to sell the houses in which these Pandits live. "Where would we go if the owners sell the houses? They come from Jammu in summers and then we do not even have enough places to stay. We have requested the government a hundred times to make a permanent arrangement for us. Even if that means camps like the ones that migrant in Jammu have," says Motilal Bhat, a retired policeman who lost his brother and nephew in Sangrampora.
The request has fallen on deaf ears. Bhat, his friend Nandlal and the rest of the Pandits here feel let down by both the state and central governments. On Tuesday Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani promised foolproof security to the Pandits. But his words have no meaning at this camp of around 10 houses on a foothill in Budgam.
The security arrangement here is anything but foolproof. A small CRPF camp has been here since 1992 and no extra arrangements have been made for the relocated Pandits.
"These CRPF men never patrol the colony. They keep to their camp. They are not guarding us but their own lives," says Bishambarnath, a retired revenue official.
Adds Pandita: "If the government does not do anything about us, then what choice do we have except to migrate?
"We have very cordial relations with our Muslim neighbours. None of them ever tried to harass us or threaten us. They are as helpless as we are. If we have some security it is that of our neighbours and god."
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