Tuesday, January 20, 2015

They Left the Valley 25 Years Ago. But for Kashmiri Pandits, Wounds are Still Fresh

25 years after he fled Kashmir along with thousands of other Kashmiri Pandits, Vimal Sumbly has trouble answering his young son's questions.   

"He says despite being a Kashmiri, he has never seen snow. What do I tell him?" said Sumbly. "The sad thing is you have to explain even to your own countrymen what happened. People still don't understand."

On 19 January, 1990, in the face of rising militancy, many families like Sumbly's left their homes overnight to escape death. The night is etched permanently in Amrita Handu's memory.

"In the middle of the night, the whole of Kashmir was on the roads. You felt you were going to die. I can never forget those slogans outside our homes," she said, voice choking as the memories flooded in.For these people living in virtual exile in their own country, the wounds are still fresh. That night, not only did they lose their homes, they also lost their identity.

More than the loss of home, it is the loss of identity that troubles many who fought against all odds to stay on their feet."We belong neither to Delhi, nor to Kashmir," said Rahul Mahnori. "Politically we don't have the force."

Five years ago, an urge to go back home made Sanjay Safaya leave his lucrative job with a multinational firm in Delhi. Today, sitting in his damp, two-room tenement in Budgam's Sheikhpora, he regrets the decision."We thought we would get a substantial package, but nothing substantial has come up," he said.

Safaya, 35, was among the 1,200 Kashmiri Pandits who returned to the Valley in 2010 as part of a much-publicised government attempt. They were resettled in five colonies and were given government jobs. But not much else. Essentials like ration cards and Aadhar cards have been a struggle. And this election, they couldn't even vote.