‘We are Kashmiris and they are Jammu–returned Pandits’

‘We are Kashmiris and they are Jammu–returned Pandits’

Shafaq Shah

Sheikhpora (Budgam): A cold war of sorts has been playing out for years in an apartment complex accommodating Kashmiri Pandits in Budgam district. Not between its residents, the Hindus, and their Muslim neighbours, but between “real Kashmiri Pandits” and “Jammu-returned Pandits”.
Bhushan Lal Koul, president of an association representing the 31 Pandits families that did not migrate, explains the dynamics of this discord and the reasons behind it.
“We greet each other only in the temple. Otherwise, we keep to ourselves,” said Koul.
“Indeed, we are the people of the same religion but our thinking is different. The main difference is that we are Kashmiris and they are Jammu–returned who do not like Kashmir. The reasons for their hatred are better known to them,” he said.
Koul, a survivor of the Sangrampora massacre, in which seven Kashmiri Pandits were killed in 1997, said when his house was set ablaze by unidentified gunmen, Kashmiri Muslims provided him shelter and persuaded him to stay.
“They (Muslims) looked after my family. But the government of that time gathered all remaining Pandits of Budgam district and forcibly moved them into the houses of the Pandits who had migrated in the 1990. We wanted to stay with Muslims because we felt safe,” he said.
Five to six families were accommodated in one house, said Koul.
“It was suffocating,” he said. The disdain for their migrant co-religionists started then.
The owners of these houses, who were putting up in Jammu and some parts of India, asked them to vacate the houses.
“They took no pity on the members of their own community who were homeless. Instead, they threatened us that they will kick us out along with our goods. I don’t like them,” said Vineet, a non-migrant Pandit.
According to Koul, the pressure forced them to appeal to the government to rehabilitate them. In 2008, 31 three-room quarters were allotted to the Pandits who had chosen to stay in the Valley.
They were soon joined by 170 odd migrant Pandit families from Jammu, whose main motive behind returning to their homeland was a government job. As per a government scheme, any migrant Pandit youth who is given a government job has to stay in the Valley.
“We meet Muslim friends and discuss our problems. We discuss religion, politics and personal issues at length. But we rarely speak to these Jammu returned Pandits…they left the people at the mercy of god when militant rebellion started,” said Vinod Kaul, a non-migrant businessman.
“They have government jobs and we are jobless. We lost our homes during the turmoil. The government can throw us out any time from these quarters,” he said.
Vinod said the government’s plan for ‘composite townships’ smacked of partiality because it never “talked of providing the same for non-migrants”.
About 19000 Pandits had stayed back while the rest of the 140,000-strong community migrated to Jammu and some parts of India in 1990. A sizable section of the migrant Pandits, especially the youth, have been heavily influenced by rightwing Hindu nationalist parties and demand a separate homeland for Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley.
Viny, a migrant Pandit woman who returned a few years ago, said, “The non-migrant Pandits have been allotted separate quarters, while we have to share an apartment with other families. This is sheer injustice.”
“In fact, these non-migrants don’t want to live here with us. They want to usurp the entire building and live with their Kashmiri brothers and sisters,” said Viny, a strong advocate of Pandit-only townships.
Koul dismisses the separate township idea, saying “our life has no meaning without Kashmiri Muslims”.
“And if the government has to take a decision on our settlement, they should consult Hurriyat as well,” he said.