Srinagar: Of the 2,765 Pandits (651 families) left in 192 places across the Kashmir valley, a 100% face “identity crisis” and over 99% do not find their identity the same as it was before 1990. Over 62% of Pandits living in Kashmir, a survey has revealed, have a “compromising self-image”.
Pandits claim to be the oldest inhabitants of Kashmir but about 3,00,000 of them were driven out, most of them in 1990, with the eruption of Islamist separatist insurgency in Kashmir.
The Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) carried out a survey over two years in 2008-10 interviewing 1,326 Pandits in the age group of 13 to 80 years from all the 651 families that stayed on. The respondents included housewives, college students, and retired government employees.
KPSS president Sanjay Tickoo shared the survey findings with Times of India, which reported that the survey found 51% of the respondents as suffering from serious mental and physical illnesses. More than 70% of Pandits in Kashmir felt that the mass departure of their community members led to the breakdown of their traditional family structure; 74% felt that it had affected the marriage prospects of their children.
Due to their small numbers, the community’s youth do not find desirable matches in Kashmir. Almost 59% respondents said that their children were culturally alienated and chose to leave the Valley for higher education or employment. Islamic prayers in both private and public schools had affected Pandit children immensely.
The survey attributed the “dilution of identity” to the absence of community, social isolation, inability to celebrate religious festivals with the freedom as they once did, destruction of temples and shrines by militants, and the scarcity of priests to officiate at ceremonies.
The other major factor that led to the identity crisis was the “hostile” attitude of youth towards Pandits in the Valley. Girja Koul, a Srinagar housewife, said: “The older generation understands shared culture and identity. But the young boys here have no respect for who we are. They mock us on the streets. It is very insulting and painful.”
As per the survey, 82% respondents regretted the decision to stay back. “The government is concerned only about the displaced community, but those who stayed back are neither acknowledged nor looked after. Our 562 youth are unemployed and instead of absorbing them here, they are being forced to leave the Valley,” said Tickoo.
Avtar Kaul, a retired government employee, said the communal separatist rhetoric of the past 26 years in Kashmir had affected him psychologically.