When majority of the Pandit families living in Kashmir Valley emigrated in the early years of militancy, a few households from the minority community decided to stay put. All these years, they have been surviving the vicious turmoil with the support of their Muslim friends and neighbours.
Amidst the controversial proposal to resettle Pandits in the to-be-established composite townships in Kashmir, Vinod Kumar Bhat talks to Kashmir Reader correspondent Asim Shah about his family’s survival in the Valley post 1990.
KR: What motivated you to stay put?
Bhat: It was a mass migration. Almost every Pandit family left Kashmir; only a few families like ours were left behind. It was our neighbours who stopped us from emigrating by guaranteeing our safety. My father was connected to Muslims and he trusted them. And look at the results today: we are still living among the Muslims in Kashmir, safely and happily.
KR:Did you ever feel threatened during the last 20 to 25 years?
Bhat: During the peak of militancy, we never felt threatened, nor did anyone tried to threaten us. Instead, the militant groups like Al-Jihad, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) sometimes clashed over who would give us protection. I remember that militants once brought a kidnapped BSF trooper to our village. My father came to know about it and he went to ask militants to release the trooper. The militants listened to my father and released the BSF man.
But during 2010 mass-agitation, we felt threatened when some miscreants tried to sneak into our house. But their efforts were failed by the neighbours who rushed to our help.
KR: Did the attacks on Pandits at Sangrama, Budgam, or Wandihama scare you?
Bhat: Yes, those incidents did scare us. But again, it was the support of our Muslim friends and neighbours that didn’t let us panic. They told us that any harm would have to cross their path before reaching us.
KR: How hard has it been to live without the support of your community?
Bhat: The people who emigrated as well as the people living here, including Muslims, are our community. Sometimes it is hard, but the role our neighbours have played in supporting us cannot be explained in words. When my father Roshan Lal died, the Muslims here made arrangements for his last rites. They were so supportive that they even forgot that my father was a Pandit, and they recited “la illaha Illallah” while carrying his body to the cremation ground.
KR: Do you think Pandit migration was inevitable or should they have stayed back?
Bhat: According to me, they should have stayed back. It was the most emotional moment for this village when Pandit families left. We tried to stop them, but they didn’t listen to us, because they thought it was the need of the hour. Of the five Pandit families living here, four emigrated, leaving behind their houses and properties.
KR: Are their properties still safe?
Bhat: Their lands are safe, but someone set their houses on fire. They can still come back and start living here. Nobody has taken their lands nor did anyone attempt to grab it.
KR: Whom would you blame for the migration of the Pandit community?
Bhat: We ourselves are responsible; it is not the government or the public that can be blamed. I remember the scenes that made us Pandits believe that the time was against us. There was a message in the air that migration was the need of the hour. But we could have fought it out together.
KR: What do you think about the proposed resettlement of the Pandits in Kashmir Valley?
Bhat: The government should rehabilitate them. It should be a well-organised process under which they should try to settle them in the headquarters and then, when the atmosphere turns friendly, Pandits should be settled at their native places.
KR: Most Pandits have sold their houses. Where would they stay?
Bhat: The government should arrange houses for them.
KR: Do you think Pandits resorted to distressed sales of their properties?
Bhat: There were people who sold their houses at cheaper rates, because they thought they would never come back.
KR: What are your views about the idea of setting up composite townships for Kashmiri Pandits?
Bhat: Personally, I do not think it’s a good idea. It is a defective policy. If Pandits are going to live in separate colonies, what is the fun of returning to Kashmir?
KR: What is your collective message to Pandits and Muslims in Kashmir?
Bhat: We are brothers. Yes, there are times when we face ups and downs, but we should not lose hope. We should have a hope that we will be together some day. If our grandfathers could survive war-like situations in Kashmir, why cannot we survive this situation?