Shiekhpora (Budgam): A walled apartment complex for migrant Kashmiri Pandits in Sheikhpora village of Budgam district is a miniature model of sorts of a ‘composite township’ New Delhi plans to build in the Valley to accommodate more members of the community. It is also an example of why it is not worth to pursue the idea.
In 2008, a few months before an anti-India uprising erupted in the Valley over the transfer of land to a Hindu shrine board, the government apartment complex was thrown open for migrant families.
Initially, there were few takers for these apartments. A few Kashmiri Pandit (KP) families from Budgam itself who had not migrated to Jammu settled in three or four three-room apartments. Today, the KP population in the colony has reached between 1300 and 1400. On an average, two families share each of the 204 apartments.
A relatively peaceful period preceded the establishment of this colony under a government of India plan. However, two massive anti-India uprisings, in 2008 and 2010, and state repression that ensued, showed that an unresolved Kashmir was perhaps not ripe for settlement of a community that had left the Valley primarily because they could not relate to the popular anti-India revolt in the 1990.
Rajender, general secretary of the colony, said, “We feel caged here. Our lives have become monotonous. Families of some of us are in Jammu and such people have no relatives or friends to visit them.”
“We have no privacy here. Barring our bedrooms, we have to share kitchen, lobby and washroom. If we were to bring our sisters and mothers here, where shall we put them?” he said.
Rajender finds the proposed ‘composite townships’ a “flop idea”.
“If the government has not been able to make 250 Pandit families of Sheikhpora happy, how can they make the 70,000 others the plan to settle here happy,” he said.
Most of the persons living in these apartments have returned for jobs. Under a government scheme, if a Pandit applied for a job in Kashmir, he had to live here. Thousands of Pandits who were employed in government services and had left in the 1990s were drawing salaries and in their place, the government had to employ others, either permanently or ad hoc basis, creating a burden on the exchequer. Thus, living in this colony is a compulsion for most of its inmates.
On Sunday, most of them were in their apartments and crowded around this reporter. The dominant sentiment appears to be that in current circumstances they would prefer to be in Jammu or elsewhere. And even if they have to return, they will do so on their own terms.
“We won’t let our families to come here. If the government is serious about bringing us back then it shall let us decide. We won’t let any separatist party to dictate term to us,” said a man, who was in his early forties.
“We are Indians and we can die for our India. And no party which hates India can decide our fate. The memories of the 90s are still fresh in our minds.”
Aparna Kaul, who has been living in the colony since 2010 when her husband got a job, said, “Why has the Indian government thought about us suddenly. We have toiled hard and we are well settled in Jammu and other parts of India. Suddenly, we are being told to leave our properties and settle here? Do they think by creating separate townships we will mingle with the young generation (of Kashmir Muslims) who have no idea of what a Kashmiri Pandit is?” Aparna said.
Both communities do not hide the grudges they hold against each other.
Aparna said, “When we came here, our neighbours taunted us ‘aayi yim daali bate’. Kashmir has changed, so have its people. Our neighbours don’t visit us and we no more celebrate each other’s festivals. They do not invite us to their marriages, nor do their children play with our children. Yes, they do help when we need it. But the relationship is not like it was 25 years ago. We hardly speak to each other.”
“The situation is to blame. The Muslim youth do not know who we are and what our relationship was with their parents. Will the government guarantee that the bond we once shared will also return if we are settled in closeted townships,” she said.
Most Pandit men in this colony are keen on leaving than staying. In fact, to “liberate themselves from the bondage to the government job”, they are planning to launch a signature campaign whereby all employees will be asked whether they want to stay or desire their jobs to be transferred to Jammu.
Shivam (name changed), a young employee, said, “We don’t feel safe in Kashmir. People of Kashmir have not accepted us. They taunt us for being Pandits. Our women are being harassed at work places for their dress code.”
“Once, a couple of boys passed lewd comments at one our women. We couldn’t do anything. In Jammu, we could raise a cry and authorities will listen,” he said.
“If (Virat) Kohli hits a six, I cannot shout in joy or burst fire crackers. I recall that many young Muslims broke our window panes when Pakistan the cricket world cup semi final in 2011,” Shivam said.
The Pandits have their own baker and a grocery store inside the complex. A small temple has also been constructed. For other necessities they venture out.
Six police guards work in shifts to provide security to the Pandits of the colony. Still, the insecurity is widespread. The children of the inmates study in army schools.
“We don’t feel safe here. The Muslim children here eat beef and we consider cow our mother. How can we allow our children to even sit with the children who do things which are against our religion,” said an elderly man, who requested not to be named.
“Some people also try to convert us by calling us kafir. I don’t understand what right they have to lecture me. This is gross,” he said.
He said the community owes a lot to the people of Jammu and would like to settle there. And if at all they have to come to Kashmir, they must be settled in a manner that “they have nothing to do with Muslims”.
The Muslims have their own fears and grievances and grudges.
When told about some of the complaints of Pandits, Abdul Hameed Dar, a Muslim, said, “Ask them if any one of them was touched during 2008 and 2010 uprisings.”
“In fact, people try to avoid them because they can brand us terrorists and get us arrested. Once, two Pandits were fighting among themselves and I tried to pacify them. They labeled me as an agent of a militant group and accused me of fomenting trouble,” Dar said.
In fact, Dar said, a part of the colony, built over 60 kanals of land, has been built over the land sold by several people of Sheikhpora to the government.
“If we had any ill intention towards them, no one would have sold their land. The government still owes us money for the acquired land. They have paid us only 60 percent of the money,” he said.
The talk of township has stirred apprehensions among the Muslims.
“Pandits have always been blue eyed boys. They get preference in everything. The electricity to these apartments is free. The apartments are free. If more of them come, our children will be jobless,” said Nayim, a student.
“We rarely speak to them. We hardly share anything with them,” he said.