Kashmiri pandits: So near yet so far

Kashmiri pandits: So near yet so far

Migrants forced to live in government huts

For 30-year-old Sanjay Kumar, it is only a 10-minute walk. He can reach on foot his ancestral home from a government hut in which he is now living at his village, Hall, in the Pulwama district of south Kashmir. He cannot go there as the home is in a bad condition and also the prevailing situation does not permit him to live alone there.

Sanjay was in third standard when he and other members of his family had to migrate from Hall to Jammu like other community members after the eruption of militancy in 1990. Five months ago, Sanjay got a government job under prime minister’s employment package for Kashmiri migrants and was posted in Srinagar.

Later, th+e youth had to return to Kashmir from Jammu and live in the pre-fabricated hut at his village. Like Sanjay, about 150 other migrant Pandits from Pulwama district have been residing in huts, guarded round-the-clock by the policemen, after they secured government jobs under the PM’s package.

The migrant Pandits leave for work places without any security and return much before evening. “It is very painful that instead of my own house, I have to live in the government hut in my own village. We live like prisoners here and do not enjoy the freedom, which a human  being is entitled to. Since police guard our structures, we can not move out after 7 pm,” lamented Sanjay.

Once in the beginning he almost decided to give up the government job and
return to Jammu. “I got very much frustrated. But when my childhood friends (Muslims) came to meet me, I gave up the plan. They came to know about my return and met me. I could not immediately recognise them as I was only nine years when we had migrated.

My friends introduced themselves and related some incidents of our childhood. It brought tears in my eyes,” Sanjay recalled.  The Pandit youth’s Muslim friends make it a point to meet him whenever they get a chance. “On Sundays we go for outing to some tourist spots. My friends take me also to their homes and I stay with them for some time.

When I am with them, I feel happy and when I am back in these structures, I feel lonely and like a prisoner. I badly miss my family living in Jammu,” he said. Sanjay wants to get rid of the “prisoner-like life” and wishes to live in his ancestral home with other family members. “We have our own home here, why can’t we live here? I am optimistic about our dream to return to our homes coming true soon. Local Muslims are keen on our
returning to villages. The separatists also now make statements favouring our
return,” he pointed out.

Vinod, also a migrant Pandit youth, is  living in a government hut at Hall. He was appointed as a teacher in a government school in a village in Pulwama district in March this year. Vinod has his ancestral house in the same district. Unlike Sanjay, he goes home and stays there for a few days. But in view of the security situation, he prefers spending more time at Hall village.  “We do not have adequate drinking water and electricity. Two have to share one bed room. We wish we have enough accommodation so that we can bring our families here,” he said.

The  employees do not have piped water supply. Water is supplied in tankers. They do not have special transport facility to reach their work places. “We have to travel in overcrowded buses,” Vinod rued.

Vinod’s father had decided to stay back at his village in 1990 when other members of his family migrated to Jammu. “My father was a government teacher and he was living alone. He retired in 2009 and then shifted to Jammu. As our father was here we occasionally used to visit him in Kashmir,” he said.

Vinod married last year and has a son. “I was in seventh standard when we migrated. Those were very tough days for us,” he said. The Pandit employees sometimes visit the local temple and offer prayers. The temple was almost closed there. In 1990 when Pandits migrated, two families in the village decided to stay back. Later the state government set up a security camp at Hall village, which exists even now.

Interestingly, a temple was reopened at Saali village in Anantnag district in south Kashmir on July 17. With the help of local Muslims and Pandits, the temple was reopened by the All Parties Migrants’ Coordination Committee (APMCC).

A mass “Yajnopavita” ceremony was organised for Pandit boys living in the Valley. A big Shivlinga was also installed on the temple premises.  “We have initiated a movement for
reopening and renovating the abandoned Kashmiri Pandit shrines and temples in Valley. We renovated the hundreds of years old temple at Saali and reopened it for prayers,” said Vinod Pandit, head of the APMCC. He added that without the help of local Muslims the reopening of the place of worship was impossible.

Not only at Saali but in other parts of Kashmir also, a number of temples were reopened by some other Pandit organisations this year. The process is going on with a hope that the emotional bonding between local Muslims and Pandits will soon completely bridge the gap of two decades and hundreds of kilometers.

(Names of the migrant Pandit employees have been changed on their request)

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