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.

Plight of the Pandits; Silence of the Pundits by Chidanand Rajghatta(TOI)

The World Refugees Day is coming up again on June 20 and Lalit Koul is
making the rounds of Washington DC wonks and writers, lawmakers and
legislative aides, just as he did before World Human Rights Day on December
10 and the Kashmiri Pandits’ Exodus Day on January 19. In a city where every
cause has a proponent, every √©migr√© and exile has an advocate, “we are
nobody’s children,” he complains. He can’t even rustle up a decent
demonstration on the Hill or in front of the White House. The best he can do
is drum up an occasional letter of support from a Congressman or schedule
the screening of a documentary to highlight his community’s plight. It has
an eloquent title: “...And the world remained silent.”

Some two decades after nearly half a million Kashmiri Pandits were
expelled from what were their homes for millennia, Koul and a small band of
his activist colleagues are fighting to keep world attention alive to their
cause. It’s hard; seemingly hopeless. In a city where Palestinians, Kurds,
Tibetans, Armenians, Burmese and dozens of other ethnic nationalities and
sub-nationalities are fighting for attention, the Pandit cause is just
another blip on the human rights radar. “We don’t have the backing of
Pakistan nor the funding of petrodollars,” says Koul, an info-tech
professional who heads the Indian-American Kashmir Forum, referring
obliquely to the support Kashmiri Muslims get from Islamabad and elsewhere,
“We are just falling through the cracks.”

Indeed, for the 1,500-strong Pandit community scattered across the
United States, it’s not so galling that they have no traction in America as
much as the neglect they say they suffer in India. When India itself is not
moved by half a million Pandits expelled from their homes and turns its back
on 50,000 lodged in refugee camps in the capital, why blame America — or
expats here, they say. It’s like Bhopal: when the people of

India, and their political and judicial representatives, sold them cheap,
why blame others? They rage against Indian civil society, which they say is
all a-bleeding about Kashmiri Muslims, but is unmoved by the plight of the
Pandits. And they note with more than a hint of bitterness that the
government of the day is pressing for rehabilitation of Tamil refugees in
Sri Lanka while concern for Pandits fades.

Their one hope is that like Palestine and Bhopal, the issue will
re-ignite somehow, catch world attention, and activists will pick up their
cause with renewed energy. The genocide of Kashmiri Pandits happened before
the internet age or instant 24/7 television. There were no TV cameras when
the judges and academics were murdered by Islamic militants with the stark
message — get out of Kashmir. There was no Facebook and Twitter and no viral

Now technologies and techniques are available, but they lack benefactors
and big name support. The 1,500 Pandits in the US came mostly as students
and professionals, not as political refugees, and so lacked the voice and
the drama that asylum seekers bring. Most of them are too busy making a
career and home to spare time and bandwidth for their homeland.

In fact, some years back there was a poignant situation when a certain
Vikram Pandit became the top honcho of Citibank. Initial joy that finally
one of their own had risen to top of the corporate ladder and might be the
benefactor (in terms of face and voice if not with finance) they were
looking for was followed by dismay when they discovered that he was not from
Kashmir, but from Nagpur; “a Pandit by name, not by blood.”

Indeed, there is a sense of irony that even as the Pandit issue is
fading from the world’s conscience, the term Pandit is more in use than ever
before in the US — where it is spelt “Pundit”. If Koul and his fellow
activists could collect a dollar for every time the term was bandied about,
they would be lolling in lolly. TV talking heads and op-ed columnists are
now routinely referred to as Pundits, and there is a whole new media
subculture of Punditocracy, a term used to describe a group of powerful and
influential political commentators. From a book titled Sound and Fury: The
Making of Punditocracy to the website, it is a much
overused term. Not a day passes without the tribe pontificating on issues
ranging from Obama and the BP oil spill to the Gores’ divorce to World Cup
soccer. Everything, except the plight of the people who gave them the word.