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March 14, 2000
Pandits start to trickle out of Kashmir
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
While official plans to bring back Kashmiri Pandits are gathering dust, a renewed spate of migration by many members of the community has placed a big question mark on the possibility of Hindus and Muslims once again living together with traditional amity in Kashmir.
Four Pandit families, comprising 14 members, from Aqoora village in Anantnag district, who had lived happily with their Muslim neighbours despite the insurgency, left for Jammu on Monday. Two days back, some more Pandit families had left for Jammu from Pulwama district.
The recent attacks on guarded Pandit homes in South Kashmir have triggered off this round of migration, say police sources. Two recent attacks in Anantnag district, which resulted in the killing of four members of the community, have triggered off panic among the nearly ten thousand Pandits who continue to live in Kashmir's villages.
These Pandits continued to live in Kashmir despite the mass migration in early 1990, mainly because of the confidence reposed by them in their Muslim neighbours. "I will continue to live in my village even if others migrate. I am living happily with my Muslim neighbours. The government has provided us security but we trust our neighbours more," says a central government employee.
Other, however, say the attacks and the killings of Kashmiri Pandits continue despite the presence of police guards around the villages where the Pandits live. "The security situation has deteriorated recently. It is better to shift to Jammu, even if life will be difficult there," says Ashok Kumar.
After the Wandhama messacre, in which 23 Kashmiri Pandits were killed, the state government had provided the Pandits with area security. The Jammu and Kashmir armed police and Special Police Officers were also deployed. The recent attacks, however, have shaken the community and despite government assurances and security beef-up, the fresh migration is continues.
Early this year, the state government had finalised a plan for the safe return of Pandits to Kashmir. As a first step, the government identified 170 clusters in the vicinity of their original places of living where the Pandits were to be rehabilitated, and where they will return by April. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had promised to do his utmost to restore to the Pandits their home and hearth. However, like many of his government's promises, this also looks far-fetched now following the fresh round of migration.
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