Posts Tagged ‘Kashmiri Pandit’

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. ”

)”]kashmiri ladyBy Dr. Shah Alam Khan

16 September, 2010

To the north of the Indian peninsula, uncomfortably locked between Pakistan and China, lies the land mass of Jammu and Kashmir. To some it is home but to majority of us who sit a few hundred thousand kilometers away, it is a symbol of India’s unity and pride. The shinning crown. Unfortunately this symbol of vanity has been the focus of strife in all its sixty three years of existence with the Indian mainland. It has been inherited through war & blood and continues to be a painful bleeding sore on the forehead of India.

The events of last few months have further added to the tragedy of Kashmir. The spectrum of resistance in Kashmir has seen a new hue. The struggle for azadi (freedom) has new voices and so do the brutalities committed by the Indian state in the name of guarding sovereignty and national interests. The line between sovereignty and subjugation has faded. They want azadi and we want a hold on this strategic geo-political mass. Who is right and who is wrong? Are we really interested in the Kashmiri people or are our interests limited to Kashmir, the valley?

It is regrettable that as nationalist Indians we think of Kashmir only when the valley prods us with violent protests, custodial deaths or brutality of armed forces/the terrorists. Kashmir as an assimilation point in the mainland of India does not exist in our imagination. Whenever we talk of Kashmir it is ceremonial to quote a racist Persian proverb, “Gher qahet ul rejal uftand ba sey uns kum gheri, Yeke Afghan, doyam Kamboh, soyum badzat Kashmiri” which simply translated means even if there is scarcity of humanity, do not get closer to three subsets of people namely Afghans, Kambohs and the rogue Kashmiris. How convenient to disown a whole subset of people which have existed for thousands of years on the very land which we so proudly call our motherland.

The severance of Kashmir’s umbilical cord with India is near complete. We don’t think of them and they don’t assume us in their imagination. Do we care if villagers of rural Kashmir develop a unique psychiatric illness called the midnight knock syndrome (following late night searches by security forces)? Do we bother if psychiatric illnesses are the maximum amongst Kashmiri Pandits settled in Jammu? How many of us even know that one third of Kashmiris in the age group of 15 to 40 years have some form of substance abuse? How many of us would stand for the cause of a Kashmiri student who has been denied accommodation in Delhi due to his decent? Does it not bother an economist Prime Minister if Kashmir is ranked 22nd amongst the states of the Indian union in terms of per capita income (at Rs.20,604)? How come a Harvard educated Home Minister does not realize the perils of staggering unemployment rates in the valley? Kashmiris do not exist on the national agenda. How can we expect assimilation of Kashmir when we have opened so many veins which bleed the valley white? To be honest, we stand accused of injecting nihilism in the valley.

I agree that a large part of the problem has its birth in the Pakistan sponsored separatist movement of the 80s and 90s. But what we do not realize is the slow transition of this state sponsored separatist movement into a full fledged struggle for azadi by the masses of Kashmir. Cognizant ignorance of Kashmiri grievances combined with an incompetent political class has worked as a catalyst in the process of this transition. The use of force, application of draconian laws, fake encounters by security forces and apathy towards the common Kashmiri by the motherland has only given teeth to the call for azadi. India’s sovereignty and Kashmir’s azadi are at loggerheads in the valley. The human cost of this never ending war is phenomenal. The wailing of Kashmiri mothers, sisters and daughters has a deafening echo in the realms of civil society across the globe. Mainland India stands accused for this extraordinary situation. Every stone pelting Kashmiri killed by an Indian bullet gives birth to ten more protesters ready to die for the cause of Kashmiriyat. We do not realize that the role of Pakistan and of hate breeding jehadi terrorist camps from across the border is fast diminishing. Kashmir, the proxy war with Pakistan, is near over; we are now fighting our own people – young boys and girls fuelled by failure of faith on part of India. The accusation, humiliation, torture, rape and killings have only added to the ever swelling numbers of protestors who come out to face the frustration of the motherland.

The “ostrich syndrome” of burying our heads in the sand thinking everything is well, is not working in Kashmir. We have tried bullets. We have played the batons. The failure of force is too evident to be ignored. The monster is staring us direct in the eye. It’s time we blink. It’s time we think. The ignominy of forceful suppression in Kashmir is now beginning to show up. The bloody trail of the past three months should be discomforting for a nation which bears foundation of a non-violent freedom struggle. The call for azadi can be overlooked but can we ignore the smell of human flesh and blood? It is said that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. The Kashmir valley pleads for justice. The serenity of Chasme Shahi, the blue waters of Wular Lake and the dew drops on the pines is not what makes Kashmir an integral part of India. Beating hearts, free minds, aspiring thoughts and a mist of warm breath is what Kashmir is all about.

Dr. Shah Alam Khan
AIIMS, New Delhi