Why Pandits Aren't Returning To Roots8 May 2011
Times of India
Jammu: Madan is one of the four lakh Pandits who fled Kashmir in 1990. Twenty years later, he has a home once again: a one-bedroom flat gifted by the government in a dust bowl called Jagti 10km from Jammu. Madan once owned a two-storey mansion in a small paradise called 'Haal' in Pulwama, among brooks and walnut orchards. In 1990, Haal emptied overnight. Today, the chinars, the glens and orchards are still there. But the houses are skeletal: burnt and looted. Madan sits in the stifling Jammu heat. In the last few months, separatist leaders on talk shows and in press conferences have been urging Pandits to return. 'I pledge that I shall protect you; come back,' said Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani recently. 'We're incomplete without the Pandits. They must return,' said JKLF's Yasin Malik a few weeks ago. Sajjad Lone and Shabbir Shah have expressed the same sentiment. They are all united in their love of Kashmiri Pandits. Then why is Madan not catching the first bus to Haal and instead making do with his family of five in a tiny flat in Jagti? The answer is simple. Madan, like most Pandits, doesn't believe Geelani, Malik, Lone and Co. The Pandits don't believe Kashmiri Muslims want Pandits back. The answer to their crisis lies in the reasons given for their 1990 exodus. Ask a Kashmiri of any hue why Pandits left, and there's a stock reply: 'Pandits fled because of Jagmohan. He scared them. Otherwise there was no problem. They were tricked by Jagmohan.' This statement is recorded in books and newspapers and mouthed in TV studios. The Pandits, though, will tell you another story: of murders and village loudspeakers issuing threats. Jagmohan is rarely the central figure that Kashmiri Muslim makes him out to be. Strangely enough, almost every Kashmiri also knows at least one Pandit family that was threatened or targeted; at least one neighbour who got shelter from militants; one Pandit colleague who was escorted to the bus-stand so that he could flee to safety. In Srinagar, everyone also knows at least one person who bought a house worth Rs 50 lakh for Rs 15 lakh; one person who acquired an established hotel or petrol pump for a pittance from Pandits. In rural Kashmir, it's easy to identify Pandit dwellings. They are invariably large and always burnt. From Tral to Tangdhar a trail of empty shells stand lifeless, mocking the statements asking Pandits to return. Their exile created a vacuum that got filled. Before Lassa Kaul, the director of AIR in Kashmir was murdered, 70% of the staff was Kashmiri Pandit. Today, it's 1%. The same is true of other professions. In Madan's village, he still has 160 kanal of orchards. Now he contracts them at a rate he doesn't decide. 'To say 'come back' and also imply that it was our fault that we left, shows insincerity. If Kashmiri leaders are honest, they'd say, 'We're sorry. We regret shouting from loudspeakers asking you to leave your daughters behind.' Until this happens, I'll not return,' says Madan's neighbour, an engineer, who fled with his five-month son in a quilt. Other Pandits agree. Says one, 'I thought of returning a few years ago. My neighbours welcomed me. There was TV crew. We hugged, cried and drank noon chai. It was like old times. Then the TV crew left and my neighbour asked calmly, 'Will you sell me your house?'