Source : Times Of India
Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu Camps(in Kashmir Affairs)
Kundan Bhan’s anguish commenced way before her migration to Jammu in April 1990. Married at the tender age of 10 to a man 25 years her senior, her married life which was striven with poverty, ended soon after her husband suffered a heart attack in February 1986. Unable to bear the poverty and the burden of living with her Uncle who made his annoyance known to her, she went to live in Srinagar with her three sons on rent in 1988/9 only to migrate to Jammu soon after to live in even more deplorable conditions.
She remembers her short stay in Srinagar consisting of hartals, crackdowns, firings, processions with slogans, and bombs, adding that some Pandits were also killed and gave grace to Bhagwan [God] as she recounted her story of how her son Raju was saved twice from the obliteration of the bombs.
However, it was the fear and the threat from these proceedings which led her, and many of the other Kashmiri Pandits interviewed to make the sudden decision to flee the Valley leaving their property and possessions behind.
Roshan Lal Tickoo, a 56 year old originally from Bijbehara, who is a fellow resident at Mishriwala Camp and migrated a month before Kundan Bhan, left after his Hindu neighbour was gunned down and described his experience of the night he had to leave; "Our neighbours advised us to go as they couldn’t protect us any longer. We didn’t think we’d be here so long so I only got one trunk, a few beddings and utensils. At that time I only had one daughter of a few months. We left in secrecy in a private truck with 4-5 families, a truck belonging to a Muslim and when they came back, the militants blasted this truck for helping the Kashmiri Pandits." Since then he has never been back to Bijbehara and has no idea what has happened to his property.
When RL Tickoo, first came to Jammu, he and his family lived in tents for 8 years before the government made rows of "pigeon hole" like bricked one room tenements, one for each family, with the sanitation gutters flowing openly in the narrow lanes between the rows. These single room abodes serve as a lounge, a kitchen and a bedroom for all members of the family. RL Tickoo has seven people living with him; his wife, three teenage daughters, one son and his mother. As one of his daughters served us tea and sweets, he described a list of problems he has encountered; "I find it most difficult sitting in one room with seven people, and when we have guests they also have to stay in this one room. We had space back there with our own house and rice fields. Second, the smoke pollution from the brick kilns around us has led to poor health and has affected my chest particularly. Nor does the weather suit us, we are unable to tolerate it coming from temperate conditions, my mother is ill as a result and many other elders have died of strokes from the heat. Some have also died of snake bites, we also have to keep our eyes open 24 hours for snakes." He spends much of his day reading the newspapers stating that this idleness was contributing to his tensions, finally adding "health is wealth."
The living conditions in Muthi camp were much more pitiful; smaller and less well structured tenements with no windows, and unlike the other camps where each family had there own wash and toilet area attached to their tenement, in Muthi camp they had to be shared with dozens of families. Whilst being filmed, Janti Devi, a retired teacher from Pahalgam spoke passionately and tearfully about the politicization of their affliction; "This is our living quarters; Muthi camp. What is it? Muthi camp. We don’t have anything; roti, clothes, houses. We suffer in all ways; eating, drinking, sitting, getting up, living. …We ask the government to give us just the amenities to live a basic life and organisations come and go to see our suffering but we don’t get anything. On our name, the money does come from above [the government], but who are they giving it to? The Muslims and the bureaucrats. And on our name these people are building a name for themselves. Thus, these irresponsible government officials know our plight, even Sonia Ghandi came and saw."
The young teenage girls interviewed explained the awkwardness of getting changed with their brothers and fathers all living under one roof and the difficulty in studying with noise coming from all walks of life in the congested surroundings. As for the younger children, who were born and lived all their lives in the camp, they gathered excitedly in front of the camera in their school uniforms with smiling faces, ignorant of any better way of life.
Roshan Lal Raina lives in Purkhoo camp, the largest one in Jammu and is Member of State Apex Community for Migrant Affairs. He is a 48 year old former teacher from Pulwama and migrated in February 1990 after he was openly threatened in his residence stating "my neighbours openly threatened me, thank God they did before killing me. …3,000 people were killed before leaving the Valley. We are the aborigines of Kashmir Valley, if you look at history; nothing belongs to Kashmiri Muslims."
He described living on the road side even on his initial arrival to Jammu even before the government gave him a roof under which to stay. From there he started to struggle for his family’s future again but explained the difficulties of Kashmiri migrants getting jobs; "How can I get a job here? 12,000 Kashmiri Pandits have retired here but in the last 17 years only about 300 Pandits have been employed to replace them, there are currently only 4,700 Pandits in government jobs. ..if this rate stays the same then in a few years
Kashmir Pandits will have no jobs. And our educated youth remain mentally retarded. It is the greatness of the locals in Jammu that they have accommodated us and given us resources, but will they tolerate us if we replace their jobs?"
Those previously employed by the government receive a migrant salary, but not the full pay or benefits as other government employees. Others receive much less.
Kundan Bhan’s source of income is a pension of Rs.1000/month and the wages of her son Raju who is a driver but only works for a few months a year due to limited work availability.
Roshan Lal Raina and his family in Purkhoo Camp Sadly, most of their income is spent on medication. "I cope with Rs.1000 on myself; I spend very little on food and drink. I have a heart problem, a back problem and pains. Before I was very strong and did a lot of work with no help from anyone at all. My Raju was also plump before, now look at him, so skinny, I worry so much for him, I don’t know what to do with Raju, even he is finished with tension." She sheds tears as she talks about her son and shows me the 6-7 types of tablets and in addition the 3-4 bottles of medication she spends her meagre monthly income on.
Two months ago, Kundan Bhan, now in her late forties, went back to her home town in Kashmir Valley for the first time and spoke reminiscently of how well she was received by Muslims. When I asked her what she thought the last 17 years of the turmoil in Kashmir was about, she aptly replied "Who knows, …who even knows who’s firing the bullet."