Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kashmiri pandits blame govt for exodus-Rashme Sehgal - The Asian Age

Findings of a five year survey by Rekha Chowdary dispels myths created by separatists...
New Delhi, April 23: Putting to rest several conspiracy theories that have done the rounds, Kashmiri pandits whole-heartedly lay the finger of responsibility on the collapse of state authority for triggering off their exodus in 1989-90.
Instead of formulating a strategy to prevent them from leaving, the administration itself was so "totally paralysed" that it made no attempt to stop them. This paralysed reaction was evident in its "inability to deal effectively with militants or the Kashmiri Muslim majority who had taken to the streets shouting slogans of freedom".
A five-year survey conducted by researchers in the University of Jammu under the supervision of Prof. Rekha Chowdhary highlighted how the state authority was openly challenged by gun-wielding militants and by the public at large who had taken to the streets demanding freedom.
The researchers, who undertook extensive meetings with Kashmiri pandits residing in migrant camps in Mishriwala, Mithi, Purkhoo, Nagrota, Kathua, Udhampur and Batal Ballian, also served to dispel the notion that then Jammu and Kashmir governor Jagmohan was responsible for encouraging them to move.
The respondents countered this question with the reply that the decision to leave had been taken in haste and often even their immediate neighbours were not informed about it. How could the government then have been in the know of their decision to move.
Most of them saw it as a temporary move and had believed that they would return to the Valley once the situation normalised. Seventy per cent of those interviewed admitted that they had not returned to the Valley even once after 1990. Many admitted they remained traumatised by the horrendous experiences they and members of their community had suffered prior to their departure.
Interestingly, the majority of the over 300 respondents interviewed insisted that relations with Muslims who were their neighbours and friends had not deteriorated. Some admitted that these same neighbours had assured them that they would take care of their property in their absence. But as conditions in the Valley worsened, it resulted in their houses being gutted and, in many cases, illegally occupied.
The loss of these properties is one of the major grievances of the pandits, the majority of whom have to continue against tremendous economic odds. The report highlights how the state government has admitted that over 635 houses and 2,000 kanals (1 acre = 8 kanals) of the migrants’ land continues to remain under illegal occupation. Also, state government records show that from 17,000 houses that were left behind, over 5,870 have been gutted or damaged. Some respondents, however, admitted their property continued to be looked after by their neighbours but their number is quite low.
From those interviewed, 122 admitted to their property being destroyed, 93 complained about not receiving any compensation while only 29 claimed they had received some compensation.
The report highlights how migration has created an identity crisis for pandits. They feel that their identity was tied to the Valley. Therefore, loss of territory has resulted in their belief that their entire "Kashmiri" character now stands endangered.
A major concern is that their children no longer want to learn Kashmiri. As one interviewee Tusha Rani said, "Here (Jammu) we have found that everything has changed — language, dress, even marriage ceremonies. Our marriages used to take place during the day but now Kashmiris are following the customs of Punjabis and Dogris by having marriages in the evening."
The report highlights how displacement and uncertainty about the future has generated a new mindset among pandits. Many pandits have begun redefining their history as that of an "oppressed" community. This present exodus is not an isolated phenomenon but a continuous process which has been taking place over the centuries, they now claim.
Militancy has also brought about a change in inter-community relations. Pandits now view Kashmiri Muslims with greater suspicion. They are also sceptical about the increasing role of religion in politics and the increasing space being given to fundamentalist forces in the Valley. Another sore point with the pandits, highlighted in the report, is the lack of employment opportunities open to them. The state government had failed to create any job openings for those living outside the Valley. After the retirement of those pandits with jobs in the state services, the representation in government jobs has now come down drastically.
But the greatest loss in their departure has been the change brought about in the syncretic nature of Kashmiri society.
This article also appeared in The Asian Age National Edition on 23rd April 2008.