Pandits, Separatists Start Dialogue At Srinagar Meet

31 March 2009
The Indian Express

Srinagar: In a rare rapprochement, Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims - including separatists - met here on Tuesday in an attempt to open a dialogue and come to grips with the baggage of the past two decades. Though some-hard-hitting opinions were expressed, the discussion never crossed the line into hostility. While the leader of Kashmir Sangharsh Samiti, Sanjay Tickoo, talked about the suffering of the Pandit community, Muslims in the audience said the Pandits were indifferent towards the difficulties of Muslims in the Valley. JKLF supremo Yasin Malik, while acknowledging that the Pandits had been hit hard by the situation prevailing in the Valley, said, “The affluent Pandits living in Delhi and other parts of India are not interested in returning to the Valley. They don’t even want the return of the poor Pandits living in tents in Jammu,” Malik said. “There is a huge vested interest which is now rooted in the tragedy of the community.” The scene for the debate was an exhibition of pictures showing the plunder of Pandit properties and religious places in Valley over the past two decades. Tickoo said the Muslims termed Pandits as traitors and collaborators of the government and hence wanted them out of the Valley. “You (Muslims) say it was Governor Jagmohan who sent us out of the Valley as the violence broke out in 1990. But what about the thousands who had stayed back even then?” Tickoo asked. “They fled after the massacre of 23 Pandits in Wandhama. Now there are no more than 3,000 Pandits in Valley”. In response, Malik invoked history to assure the community that it will finally return to the Valley. “In the 14th century, Sultan Sikander had forced the community to flee the Valley. But Budshah who succeeded him as the ruler of Kashmir brought Pandits back,” Malik said. “I hope the spirit of Budshah will return.” Hurriyat hawk Geelani’s close aide Ayaz Akber also expressed deep regret about the desecration of religious sites and blamed the “black sheep” in the Muslim community. “Every community has its share of black sheep. Muslims have theirs,” he said. Other uncomfortable issues were raised. Some alleged that Pandit properties housed Army and paramilitary forces, which harassed the local population. “But both communities are same in appearance. When soldiers from these properties harass, they don’t differentiate between us. For them Hindus and Muslims are one,” Tickoo said in response.