January 2020 News

Kashmiri Pandits At Crossroads Of History

18 January 2020
The Tribune
Sumit Hakhoo

Jammu: On January 19, 2020, 3.50 lakh Kashmiri Hindus will complete 30 years in 'forced exile'. As the community will gather to recollect memories of its darkest hour, a cold wintry night of 1990, etched in collective memory of a generation when open threats were issued to minorities and anyone who stood for India in the Valley by rampaging mobs leading to mass migration of the Hindu minority, the community is still at crossroads of history. The exodus was the tragic consequence of failed policies of successive Central governments in New Delhi and inroads made by Islamic fundamentalist forces in Kashmir during the decade of 80s when the Afghan war was being fought against the erstwhile Soviet Union. Finding opportunity, Pakistan started training and arming of the Valley youths to annex Jammu and Kashmir, which culminated in the eruption of mass uprising against India and eruption of insurgency. The migration has left a deep scar on the generation brought up in the dilapidated camps in Jammu. With a 'migrant tag' attached to them, they remain nostalgic about Kashmir and ancient cultural and spiritual heritage. Thousands of families continue to live as refugees in their own country, as they enter fourth decade in exile. Despite several packages announced by the Central government during the past 15 years and political rhetoric of 'Pandits are an inseparable part of Kashmir's composite culture', plans didn't look beyond economic doles as political reasons of Pandits migration, players behind migration and their aspirations were never taken into account. Thousands of residential houses have been burnt down in turbulent decades in Kashmir's history. There are several misgivings between both communities. 'As another year will pass, our hopes are fading. Violence in Kashmir has not stopped and in these circumstances who will guarantee we will not be targeted? I don't think, my generation could see villages again and witness bonhomie of pre-militancy period', said partially deaf, TN Dhar, (80) originally from Handwara who resides in Jagti camp, 13 km from Jammu city. Looking back at the three decades after India witnessed one of the largest displacements of citizens post the 1947 Partition, the migration has left a deep impact on the psyche of Pandits who face an identity crisis. Its unique cultural traditions are on the decline as the new generation has lost its emotional connect with the Valley. Its religious heritage has been vandalised as successive governments have failed to provide safeguards to them. 'Historically, Pandits have been at the receiving end since the 13th century, but the past three decades have been the worst phase in our chequered history. Conflict uprooted us from our homeland and now return is a difficult path to tread,' said Sunil Kumar, a social activist. Promises made by successive governments since 1996 for the resettlement of Pandits back in Kashmir have largely remained unimplemented. From tents to transit camps sums up 30 years' of government efforts to resettle Hindus. Although Article 370 was not directly linked to Pandits and their rehabilitation, its abrogation has rekindled hope that it will clear impediments and red tape which stalled initiatives announced by the Union Government since 2004 to resettle minorities back in their homeland. The first serious attempt was made about 15 years ago in 2004 when the then Congress-led UPA government, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, announced major confidence building measures (CBMs) for Jammu and Kashmir. The then Chief Minister late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed approved the construction of makeshift transit camps to start phase-wise resettlement of displaced Hindus to end suspicion between Hindus and Muslims, shattered due to events of 1990s. In 2008, a Rs 1610-crore resettlement and rehabilitation package was announced by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a public rally in Jammu but its implementation was slowed down due to the fragile security situation as for three years, 2008,2009 and 2010, the government got embroiled in containing mass agitations, a new phase in the separatist insurgency. By the end of 2010, when the NC-Congress government in J&K, headed by Omar Abdullah finally executed the plan, about 3,500 youths returned to the Valley under employment component, but they were forced to live in a ghetto-like settlement, regretting their decision till now. The work on plans to construct Jagti-like townships in different districts of Kashmir, proposed during 2013-14, failed to move forward. Threats from militant groups, especially the Hizbul Muhajideen, and opposition from separatist groups in the Valley stalled the land acquisition process. The BJP-led Central government on November 18, 2015, approved a Rs 2,000-crore package of jobs and a housing project in the Valley. No headway was made in the plan. The construction of multi-storeyed housing units in the Valley is going on at a snail's pace. A major issue before the success of any rehabilitation package will be the identity crisis faced by youths who were born and brought up outside the Valley. They have almost lost connect with their homeland and have moved on for corporate careers and education outside the state. Due to rising religious radicalism in Kashmir, a majority of the families see a bleak future for their children in the Valley. The desire to return is still there, but looking at the changing security paradigm, there are apprehensions. 'Life in the refugee camps has been physically and psychologically shattering. Parents in the absence of employment opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir prefer to send their children outside J&K,' said Sumir Pandita, originally from Kokernag, South Kashmir. Inter-community marriages are rampant as youths moved outside Jammu. 'If we have to reflect about the social impact of migration, the situation has reached a point that 50 per cent of Pandit boys and girls are tying knot outside the community. In initial years after the exodus, it was normally unacceptable for parents but now, it has become a normal thing,' said Kiran Bhat, originally from Trisal village in Pulwama district. In three decades, a collective or unified leadership has failed to emerge. The only political group behind which the community rallied in 1990 was the Panun Kashmir (PK). Its 'Margdarshan' resolution of 1991 for carving out a separate homeland for minorities in the Valley became a political statement for a generation brought up in squalid camps of Jammu as dream of Union Territory in the Valley, a driving point of resistance against injustice. However, within a few years, the original Panun Kashmir got divided due to 'clash of egos' among founders, leaving lakhs of people leaderless. There are now more than 100 social and representative groups who are pushing their own agenda. A host of organisations claim to work on ground and represent the community, but there are differences of opinions on issues confronting the displaced population. However, Dr Ajay Chrangoo, chairman and founding member of the Panun Kashmir, blamed successive Central governments. 'Separate homeland was not acceptable to political parties who wanted to prop up pro-government leadership to toe their line,' said Dr Chrangoo. Since 1990, there has been a consistent demand by the community representatives to investigate factors and the role played by certain separatist leaders in selective killings of Pandits which led to the exodus of minorities. 'Justice has been denied to the community and families of victims have lost hope. Even the Supreme Court has rejected pleas of Pandits to open cases of crimes against minorities in the Valley. Proper investigation was never carried out, ' said Varad Sharma, author, whose family belongs to Akura village in Anantnag district. Sharma has edited anthology, 'A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits.' Among those killed in the Valley included several intellectuals, poets and lawyers gunned down in most brutal way. None of the over ground workers (OGWs) were ever prosecuted. Major massacres of Pandits: July 1, 1990: Ali Kadal: (4 members of a family killed); October 14, 1990: Rehbab Saib, Srinagar: (Family of 4 gunned down); June 6, 1991: Malpura, downtown Srinagar: (4 members of a family killed); March, 21 1997: Sangrampora (Budgam): 7 persons killed; June 15 1997: Gool (Udhampur): 3 persons killed; January 26, 1998: Wandhama, (Srinagar): 23 persons massacred; February 5, 2000: Telwani (Anantnag): 3 persons killed.; March 23, 2003: Nadimarg (Pulwama): 24 villagers executed by gunmen.