Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kashmiri Pandits living in exile stage protest, demand IDP status

Govt Ignored us, Kashmiri Pandits allege 

Protest on World Refugees Day

Ruchika Rai - The Times of India

New Delhi: On the occasion of World Refugees Day, members of Roots in Kashmir — a worldwide youth initiative of Kashmiri Pandits — came together at Jantar Mantar to protest against the indifference of the Indian government to their plight. It has been over two decades since the Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their land, following the atrocities of Islamist terrorists. However, both the government and political parties have ‘‘ignored our cause because we are scattered and less in number, thus not fit to be an important votebank,’’ said Rashneek Kher, founder member of Roots in Kashmir.
     The protesters demanded the status of Internally Displaced Persons. ‘‘This will get us international access and aid. The government has turned a blind eye to the exodus of over five lakh Kashmiri Pandits. At least international agencies should be allowed to look into the matter and save our identity. A committee should be constituted to probe into the matter and bring out the true story,’’ said Kher.
     The agitators also urged the media to take up the issue with more vigour. ‘‘The media is full of stories about refugees from all over the world. Only we are ignored. This is a case of ethnic cleansing and the attack on Kashmiri Pandits was indeed an attack on the presence of India in Kashmir,’’ said an angry Lalit Ambardar, who has been pursuing the cause for many years.
     Payal, a banker by profession, was there to support her husband. ‘‘I am a Rajasthani but I can relate to my husband’s struggle to go back to his homeland. Even as a parent I want to make sure that my children have a sense of belonging to Kashmir. After all, that’s where they belong.’’
     And the issue is not only about those who were ousted from the place of their birth. People who were educated enough were able to find jobs in the cities and are living a near-normal life, but almost 50,000 Kashmiri Pandits, who did not have the resources, are still living a miserable life in the valley. ‘‘There is just one toilet for every 100 persons and the death to birth ratio is as high as 14:3. We need an answer to all this,’’ said Kher. 

A Kashmiri Hindu or Pandit attends a rally to mark the "World Refugee Day" in New Delhi June 20, 2010. Two decades after they were forced to flee Kashmir, thousands of Hindu Pandits seek to return to their ancestral homeland, their hopes lifted by a fall in Islamist rebel attacks against New Delhi's rule.

Photograph by Reuters

Displaced Kashmiri Pandits seek special status


Over 150 Kashmiri Pandits, along with members of civil society, held a silent protest at the Jantar Mantar here Sunday and demanded that the government recognise them as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The protesters, including children, students and professionals, were dressed in their traditional firhan attire and wore headbands. The children wore dresses with 'Born in exile' written on them.

'We wore white firhans which signified the death of this (Kashmiri Pandit) community and headbands on which was written 'Ignored'. This is how we feel, ignored and left out,' said Rashneek Kher, one of the organisers from Roots in Kashmir, a global youth initiative of Kashmiri Pandits.

The group demanded that they be recognised not as migrants but as IDP's citing the fact that they were forced to leave their homes and did not come to Delhi or other cities willingly.

'The IDP recognition will help us get international attention and our rehabilitation and relief work will then be taken care by the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and not the government of India, which has not done much for us since the last 21 years of our forced exile,' added Kher.

'We want to be identified,' was written on many placards amongst others held by the protesters.

Amal Magazine, a protester, said that by terming them migrants, the Indian government was robbing them of their identity.

'We are refugees not migrants. Give us that identity. If the prime minister can ask the Sri Lankan government to give the Tamils in the island country IDP status, then why not us? We were thrown out of our own homes just because we called ourselves Indians,' Magazine told IANS.

'I am very worried about the new generation. Using guns to do the talking is not a part of our culture. The impression that the young get now is that our silent protests is of no use. When there is violence, people wake up. If the government doesn't pay attention to us, there may be serious repercussions,' said Veerji Wangoo, another protester.

There are around 100,000 Kashmiri Pandits in the Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).

'According to government figures, there were approximately 4.5 lakh who were displaced during the exodus in the early 1990s from the Valley. Some were not registered, so I asume there are more,' said Kher.

The protesters also demanded setting up of a commission to probe the exodus, its reasons and the exact number of 'refugees'.

Kashmiri pandits stage protest demanding IDP status

New Delhi, Jun 20 (PTI) Kashmiri Pandits today staged a demonstration here to demand status of Internally Displaced People (IDP) claiming that they were forced to flee the Kashmir Valley in 1990s in the aftermath of insurgency.
Clad in white firhans and sporting head bands, over 100 Kashmiri Pandits staged a protest march here against the"treatment meted out"to them by the Government."Today being the World Refugees Day, a lot of attention will be paid to plight of refugees in the country. Our main aim is to bring to public focus the circumstances Kashmiri Pandits live in today,"said Rashneek Kher, the founder member of Roots In Kashmir, a global youth initiative of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, that spear-headed the protest march.

He said that among other things, his team sought to push the government to grant IDP status. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits fled the Valley in the 1990s when insurgency was at its peak."In 1989, about 14,000 Pandits were in government job in the state and today their number is only 1500. These figures reflect the sad state of the community,"said Rashneek.

The protesters expressed their disappointment over the Government's"apathy"to their cause."We are still classified as migrants by the Government which is a gross violation of the UN Charter for Refugees,"alleged Amal Magazine, a Pandit residing in Faridabad.

"A migrant is someone who has willingly come out of a place but the truth is that we have been pushed out of the state. The administration should show a little more consideration,"he added.

Many of the protestors also pointed to"disparity in the differential treatment"by the Government to the refugees in the country."Sri Lankan Tamils were given refugee status within six months, while we are being ignored for the last two decades. It was the Government's duty to protect the Pandits in Kashmir. Since they failed to do that, the least they can do is grant us the refugee status,"said Sincad Kachroo, a member of Roots In Kashmir.

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