HOMING IN: Settlements, from Vesu in Kulgam district to Hawl in Shopian, have been readied for migrant Pandits

Freny Manecksha | July 30, 2011, Times Crest

The row of spanking new modern buildings surrounded by iron railings presents an incongruous sight in the decidedly rural setting of mustard fields, apple orchards and mud and wood houses. These secured settlements, from Vesu in Kulgam district to Hawl in Shopian, have been readied by the Jammu & Kashmir government to accommodate migrant Pandit families who are slowly returning to the Valley as part of the special employment package announced by the Prime Minister.

At Mattan in Anantnag district, some of the families are already in residence but the heightened security cover – in the form of armed troops – makes it difficult to meet them. When one does manage to snatch a few lines in conversation, the mood is cautious and guarded. Some families, it is said, have already fled the “security” of these homes to stay amidst the other villagers.
Whilst the state takes credit in trying to resettle the Kashmiri Pandits through various economic and employment packages, the more significant rethink that has taken place in the Kashmiri mindset, facilitated largely by civil society, has not received the attention it deserves. This mood of accommodation and reconciliation is reflected in the old alleys of Ganpatiyar of downtown Srinagar where a handful of Pandit families continued to reside through turbulent times without any security cover, save for a bunker in the Ganesh temple.

Kalpana Pandita, a school teacher who chose to stay on, along with her husband who works in the courts, welcomes us cheerfully into her home. Unlike the reticent migrants, she is forthcoming. “We moved into this locality after our old house was burnt down in 1998, “she says. “We continue with our own traditions and have not faced hostility from the mohalla. We are invited to join the Id celebrations and weddings that take place in the neighbourhood. Yes, of course we miss the presence of our own community. I especially miss my son, but all things considered we are contented. ”

Her neighbours, Shaukat Hussain and Sharifa, affirm that the Kashmiri Pandits’ rightful place is in the Valley. “People must take heart from the fact that over the years these five families in our mohalla have continued to live without hindrance, ” says Shaukat. “Prayers are being conducted in the temple. The Ram Navami procession took place without any disruption. Since these Pandits feel secure amidst us surely larger numbers can be confident of returning. ”

Again, whilst much state and media attention has been directed towards the very vocal migrant Pandit population in Jammu and other parts of India, there has been little recognition of the aspirations and fortitude of the 3, 000-odd Pandits who chose to stay on in scattered settlements in the Valley. As civil society activist Khurram Parvez points out, there is even a lone Pandit headmaster of a local school in Kupwara, a district which has a heightened presence of militants. “He has stayed on obviously because of his own strong will and because of support of the local population, ” Parvez says.

Sanjay Kak, an independent film maker who has made a documentary on Kashmir and who is also a Pandit adds, “Without valourising them, it is important to recognise the fact that these families, too small and fragmented to be counted as a community, nevertheless survived in Kashmir after the main exodus through tenuous networks of associates and friends. It is also important to recognise the very different responses to what is going on in Kashmir, between those Pandit families who stayed on, those who are tentatively relocating and those who now live elsewhere. ”

He describes the government’s methods of resettlement as mere window dressing and says building enclaves is not the way to integrate the migrant Pandits back into Kashmiri society. One man, who believes deeply that it is the non-migrant Pandit community which kept the spirit of ‘Kashmiriyat’ (the centuriesold identity of Kashmiris as a people who did not let religious affiliations overwhelm their ethnic commonality) alive, is Sanjay K Tickoo, founder of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS). Tickoo, who stayed on along with his mother and other family members, founded the KPSS along with friends in 2005 as a social welfare organisation. Initially, its role was restricted to restoring links and keeping the community spirit alive by re-opening temples and conducting traditional rituals. Many of the temples like Puran Raj Bhairav temple in Sazgaripora and the Sheetleshwar Bhairav temple in Habba Kadal have become functional because of the support of the local Muslim population.

Later KPSS began to engage with both state and non-state players – with mainstream and pro-freedom political groups – in order to bring about a general consensus on reconciliation and other issues. Says Tickoo, “We, non- migrant Pandits have lived and experienced conditions at Ground Zero. We never shifted our loyalties to Jammu. We were threatened by Muslim fundamentalists and some Hindu fundamentalists called us traitors.

But we kept the pluralistic spirit alive. Now if the state wants to resettle the migrants it should take heed of our own example. The present Israeli solution of housing them in special camps is dangerous and can create tensions. The very presence of security troops can become a provocative reason for attacks and this will be fodder for Hindu fundamentalists to raise their voices and create more communal disharmony. ”

He adds that back in 2004 when then chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and interlocutor N M Vohra had mooted a Rs 37-crore resettlement plan in Mattan and Sheikhpora, he had vehemently opposed such isolation zones. But they still went ahead.
Tickoo and other activists believe that rather than armed troops, it is the mohalla groups and civil society that can best provide the security for migrant Pandits. “Living in such jail-like conditions and going from office to home will preclude healthy interaction with the majority Muslim population, ” he says. “If instead, they live amongst the people they can start sharing what the Muslims also experienced during the peak of the militancy. ”

He explains how the shared experience of crackdowns in the harsh winters and hours spent without food and water or the fact that both migrant Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims faced guns from both state and non-state players has initiated a spirit of reconciliation.

The process of understanding what really happened in Kashmir cannot be based solely on accusations hurled by either community but by a shared narrative. “We cannot say Pandits were not killed nor can we say that there were no custodial killings or enforced disappearances, ” says Tickoo. “If there has to be reconciliation by people on the opposite sides of the Jhelum then we have to find an angle where both sides meet. We have to bend a little. They too must bend as little. ”

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  1. […] Moving on – Return of the Migrants (kashmirsolidaritymumbai.wordpress.com) […]

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