'We know the situation has worsened in the valley, but we are taking the first step.'
'We have lost 30 years of our life. We do not want to wait any longer.'
'The political class always said, you come down to Kashmir.'
'So, we are going to be there and we are going to demand a place to stay.'
'After all, it is our own land.'
On Monday, June 18, a group of around 150 Kashmiri Pandits who have been living as refugees in various parts of India from 1989-1990, when the onset of militancy drove them out of their homes, will start a journey that will end on June 20 with a prayer meeting at the Mata Kheer Bhawani temple in Tulla Mulla village, Ganderbal, about 23 kilometres from Srinagar.
The Times of India reports that the Jammu and Kashmir government has for the first time made special arrangements for the Hindu pilgrims to visit the temple.
On Saturday, June 16, Governor N N Vohra visited the temple to review the stay, sanitation and other arrangements for the pilgrims.
The state government has also provided for AC Volvo buses from new Delhi to ferry pilgrims to the temple and back.
"Remember, this yatra is only the beginning, the first step in our new journey," Satish Mahaldar, co-ordinator of the yatra, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
After almost 30 years, the displaced Kashmiri Pandits are planning a yatra to Kashmir at a time when the situation over there has worsened.
Every year we undertake this yatra.
Kheer Bhawani is the most revered place of worship of all Kashmiri Pandits. This is to seek blessings from the goddess Ragnya Devi coinciding with the festival of Jaisthya Ashtami.
You must remember that it has been almost 30 years and the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits as promised by various governments has not happened till now.
No doubt, there have been attempts, but nothing has happened on the ground, and we still live as refugees in our own country.
So, we thought we ourselves would take this up as an initiative and go there and search for our lost homes.
We know that most of our homes are not there now; some are burnt, some are taken away and some are destroyed in these 30 years.
In fact, we don't have any place to go.
You can describe this as our attempt to find our lost homes.
Is this a symbolic yatra, then?
Yes, it is symbolic.
Where our yatra ends is the temple that Swami Vivekananda got enlightenment in.
Adi Sankaracharya got shakti in this temple.
For Kashmiri Pandits, this is the most pious place and that is why we visit this temple every year.
But every year, you come back after the yatra. Why did you decide to call this year's yatra as 'back to your homes'?
Kashmiri Pandits have been living as refugees within our country for the last 30 years whereas refugees from Pakistan have been settled within the country.
Today, we have no other option, but to find our lost homes on our own.
One of the promises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party was to give Kashmiri Pandits their homes back, ensure their return.
Do you feel disappointed that even after four years in power, the Narendra D Modi government has not done anything to rehabilitate you in your own land?
So far, nothing has happened and that is the reason why we are attempting this on our own.
We are going to find our homes, but we do not know whether we will find our homes or (whether we) will get killed.
Is this an attempt to remind the state and central governments through this yatra that they have not fulfilled their promise?
Of course, we want to remind them that they have not done anything so far.
We held the flags of our country in our hands one day and shouted Vande Mataram, but today, even our own countrymen have forgotten us.
Can we say there is a political significance attached to this religious yatra?
There is no political significance, but yes, this is to remind the political class what has happened to a whole community.
It is a symbolic yatra to remind those people who had promised our return to our homeland and rehabilitation.
Is the J&K government helping you in any way in this yatra?
As you know, the J&K government is a coalition between the BJP and the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party.
The transportation facilities are provided by the J&K government.
You should understand one thing: 30 years is a long period in the lifespan of a man and we have been asking for a place where we can go back and start our lives again.
The state government can help us get settled in our land.
We are not asking for the moon; we just want a place to stay in our homeland.
Has the response been positive from the state government?
Whether it is the state government or the central government, all of them, irrespective of the political party they belong to, have been promising, but has anything happened so far? No.
It is back to square one always.
Do you feel the 2018 yatra will be the beginning of the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their own land?
Ours will be a fight, a fight to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits.
Since the government has not done anything, we have decided to fight our battle to see that all Hindus are rehabilitated.
Will it be safe now to return?
Even when it was reported that the situation was normal, did anyone help us return?
They always said the situation was not conducive. Everybody was ignoring our situation.
When is it going to be normal for us to return?
In the political drama that is happening there, we do not understand what they want to achieve.
We only understand that the lives of Kashmiri Pandits have been ruined.
You must be frustrated, having gone through this agony for 30 years now.
Yes, we are frustrated. We want to remind the political class that they have not fulfilled the promise given to us.
Most of the political parties have been promising a lot, but they have not delivered anything.
What is your feeling now that you are planning to return to your roots?
Some 150 of us from across the country are going on this yatra from Delhi and from Jammu, 2,000 to 3,000 people will join us.
We do not know what fate awaits us in the valley.
We have land there and a huge temple property too, but it is being used by others now.
First, we will go and see what the condition of our homes are, whether they can be repaired.
So many houses have been burnt.
We will organise a protest in the valley itself and demand shelter.
The political class always said you come down to Kashmir. So, we are going to be there and we are going to demand a place to stay.
After all, it is our own land.
It is going to be a huge struggle for us, for our survival.
The fight has begun, fight for our survival.
We do not want to listen to any more promises.
We are going back to our land, come what may.
What gives you the courage to go back now and fight?
We know the situation has worsened in the valley, but we are taking the first step.
We have lost 30 years of our life. We do not want to wait any longer.
Remember, this yatra is only the beginning, the first step in our new journey.