Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Valley of no return

SPECIAL REPORT

KASHMIRI PANDITS

Anil Pandey - The Sunday Indian Magazine

Reduced to refugee status in their own land, uprooted Kashmiri Pandits live in the fond hope of a better tomorrow

The pain of deracination is writ large on 67-year-old Manohar Nath Raina’s face. Memories, two decades old, come rushing back. His eyes turn moist. And his voice chokes. But as he regains control of his nerves, he opens up, “My body lives here but I have left my soul on the chinar trees in my village in Kashmir”.

Raina, retired principal, wants to return to Kashmir, but the situation in his home state is still too precarious. He owns a mansion and stretches of land in Kanihama village, 19 km from Srinagar. But he now lives in a dingy one-room janta flat in Dwarka, a Delhi suburb. “I want to see my village once before I die,” says Raina.

Raina’s wish is shared by many other migrant Kashmiris who abandoned their land in fear and haste. It started in the late 1980s when local militants, fresh from training camps from across the border, targetted Kashmiri Pandits. Many died. Those that survived decided to flee. Shanties and decrepit tenements in Jammu became their new abode.

Though safe, Jammu offered little hope. Within years, a second exodus took place. Many left for other cities in north India. And so did Raina. Two of his sons, along with their families, came to Delhi and settled in the refugee camp at Balbir Nagar. Four years ago, the Delhi government allotted him a one room flat in Dwarka.

Bharat Bhushan, head of Kashmiri Sabha, a group of displaced Kashmiris, says, “Pandits are a learned lot. But we have no jobs. Our houses were snatched long ago, and now, without jobs, our youth are in despair. If the government wants to help us, it must provide jobs to economically backward youth.”

The jobless Bhushan had a flourishing business in the valley. The company he initially worked with in Delhi shut down. After a long struggle, he joined another firm. Then the recession struck. He was the first to be retrenched. His immediate concern is not how to return to Kashmir. His son’s school fees are his first priority.

This is a common story in every refugee camp you visit. Because of their education levels and acumen, they once dominated the government job scene in Kashmir, but no more. When the exodus started, there were more than 15,000 Pandits in government jobs. The corresponding figure after two decades is merely 3,000. If we accept the figures provided by Panun Kashmir, an organisation working for the rehabilitation of Pandits, only 400 Pandits have been offered state government jobs.

Of the four lakh Pandits who left Kashmir, two and a half lakhs reside in refugee camps and rented homes in Jammu. One lakh reside in Delhi and other north Indian towns. Many of them want to return to their land and Panun Kashmir has a plan in place. It has submitted the detailed plan to the government. It suggests declaring a portion of the state a Union Territory where Pandits can be settled. “Most of the plans regarding resettlement and reinstating Pandits are gathering dust in government offices. The government always goes back on its promise. It talks about returning our land and houses and yet protects terrorists,” says Utpal Kaul, vice president of Panun Kashmir.



Link to The Sunday Indian Magazine - http://www.thesundayindian.com/30082009/storyd.asp?sid=7599&pageno=1

1 comment:

Sanjay Peshin said...

Lakhs of Raina's there struggling for their bread & butter.Keeping big hopes from the Govt..

But deep within their heart,it's not only the pain of their livelihood..they all want to return their motherland..& me too...