Next on the agenda: Making J&K safe for Kashmiri Pandits to return

Next on the agenda: Making J&K safe for Kashmiri Pandits to return. /IANS

Deepika Bhan

New Delhi, Aug 13 (IANS) A community forcibly thrown out of its ancestral land has a lot to mourn about. The tragedy brings multitudes of problems along with it and often people and communities succumb. But the Kashmiri Pandits have turned their dislocation from their homeland into an opportunity powered by their talent and perseverance.

The community did fall, but has risen again and today a majority of its members are well placed in all walks of life. It has spread out not just within the country, but are now scattered all over the world, doing well professionally and socially.

The community is progressing, much to the dismay of those who had raised the slogan of “Raliv, Galiv, Chaliv (Succumb, Get Killed or Flee)”.

Pakistan-backed separatists targeted the community en masse and when the then government in the state and the Centre failed to protect it, the Pandits had no option but to flee.

The late 1980s and thereafter have been the most torturous period for the community in recent history. When the first mass migration happened on January 19, 1990, the community was reduced to penury overnight.

From being owners of houses and land, Pandits found themselves struggling in torn tents on barren fields in the Jammu plains and in Delhi. Many in these camps succumbed to heatstroke, snake bites and disease, and some lost their mental balance. The sight was pitiful, especially the everyday struggle for food, water, clothes and a bit of shade.

In those initial years, the only thing that the community did not lose out on was education. In those tents and camps, even if the parents had no food and money, children were made to sit together and get literate and educated.

Those children grew up to become engineers, doctors, teachers, actors, writers, journalists, CEOs and scientists. Many have gone overseas and made a name for themselves.

The community of more than 7 lakh people today has thousands of individual success stories. These have rattled many who took no time in saying that the community is not interested to return to its homeland.

Will they ever return to the valley? That one question may be dismissed by some or joked about by a few, and many in the majority community in the valley may want them to return, but there are those who don’t want it to happen.

Targeted killings are as much a fact as the truth that the majority community in the valley was silend when the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits happened. No one, not even leaders such as Farooq Abdullah or Late Mufti Mohd Sayeed, stood up for them then.

Ethnic cleansing did take place and the community lost its native land.

With the now Union Territory under Central rule since 2019, and after Article 370 was abrogated, it was hoped that the situation would improve for Pandits. But targeted killings have petrified them. Terrorists are able to pick their targets and carry out dastardly crimes with impunity and at a place of their choice. The support system that continues to exist for these terrorists is what unnerves the Pandit community.

The long return to the homeland seems to be growing all the more longer and this is what is the cause of concern for the community.

“Where we love is home — home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts,” American jurist and legal scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr had said in early 1900s. And this is what the Kashmiri Pandit community also feels.

The community members have built their new homes in new places, and also temples that replicate Hari Parbat and Kheer Bhawani — the two most revered ancient shrines of Kashmir — but the longing to return to their native land is ever growing.

There are concerns that being away from the native land has affected their culture, language, rituals and food, which are rooted in the valley, and are slowly fading for want of space and place.

The younger members of the community, who were born after the exodus, have heard of Kashmir only in tales of betrayal and sorrow. Their connection with the valley is indirect.

Some have just not visited Kashmir; many have been to their former homes as tourists. But there is a growing number who want to reconnect with their ancestral land. And this is what gives hope to the community elders, who long to return and continue to wait for the right response from the majority community in the valley.

It has been a 34-year wait for the Pandit community and in the meantime the majority community has also undergone changes. Today, it appears to be difficult to convey to the younger generation in Kashmir the kind of relationship that the two communities had before 1990.

But then, this has not happened for the first time. History is replete with examples of the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits. It is said that during the Afghan rule between 1752 to 1819, Kashmiri Pandits were targeted for persecution. They were tortured to death unless they converted to Islam and ultimately only 11 families survived. And from those 11 families, the community rose again.

This is the story which has been passed on in Kashmiri Pandit families for centuries and has served as an example to not lose hope and keep showing resilience.

What happened to the community three decades ago was not a sudden attack, but the outcome of a plan that took root in the early 1930s with the formation of the Muslim Conference.

Its agenda was to fight Dogra rule and take away the land and jobs of Kashmiri Pandits, who had been doing well under Sikh and Dogra rule. The well-crafted plan finally took off in the late 1980s with the support of Pakistan, whose first targets in the valley were the Kashmiri Pandits.

Three decades later, the community, though scattered, is on its feet again.

The Kashmiri Pandit community is no vote bank for anyone. Politically, it is a small population and their votes do not matter to any political party. But their pain and suffering is a weapon for the BJP, an emotional and strategic connect for the Congress, and not much for the rest.

The Kashmiri Pandits are charting out their own course and have proved that they are not dependent upon any political party. But, in their hearts, their home will always be Kashmir.

(Deepika Bhan can be contacted at

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