01 September 2003

Thirteen years on, Pandits face being wiped out

1 September 2003
The Times of India

13 years on, Pandits face being wiped out


NEW DELHI: Thirteen years after the Kashmir violence began, the Pandit community in the valley is on the verge of extinction: A recent survey by the Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir (HWSK) found there are only 8,865 Pandits left, spread across 270 villages and mohallas in the valley.

The exodus of the community — which began in 1990 — has already seen more than 95 per cent of the pre-insurgency population flee to Jammu or Delhi; the Pandits that remain live under the constant threat of terrorist violence.

Every targeted massacre — the last was in Nadimarg in March 2003 when 24 Pandits were gunned down — weakens the resolve of those still left. The HWSK worked hard to prevent a complete exodus after Nadimarg but its leaders ask rhetorically whether they did the right thing. ''We have made so many proposals about how to make the Pandits more secure, but our appeals fall on deaf ears,'' Moti Lal Bhat of the HWSK told The Times of India here last week. ''Neither the state nor Central government is concerned that our community is slowly going extinct''.

Bhat and the other Pandit community representatives say that there has been no improvement in the security situation since Nadimarg. ''Our Muslim neighbours have provided us tremendous encouragement, but they are powerless in the face of guns. The government has an obligation to provide basic security to its citizens,'' says Bhat.

The HWSK proposal is for the ''clusterisation'' of Pandits — resettling 10-15 Pandit families in clusters that are fully integrated with a wider Muslim neighbourhood. ''The security forces should then protect this wider neighbourhood,'' said M L Bhat. ''The plan can start with Pandits displaced within the valley. Gradually, families can be brought back from Jammu too.''

If the Pandits are saddened by the government's indifference, they are also angered by 'Hindu' politicians who have built careers by exploiting their situation. ''Since 1990, groups like the VHP and RSS have played politics with the fate of the Hindus of Kashmir,'' said Sanjay Tickoo, a young Pandit from Srinagar. ''Hamare naam pe dange karaye gaye Gujarat mein (Riots were organised in Gujarat in our name). But tell me, what do the poor Muslims of Gujarat have to do with our plight?''

The Hindu Welfare Society is also clear that the Panun Kashmir formula of a 'Pandit homeland' within the valley is deeply flawed. ''Kashmir is for Kashmiris — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. Kashmiri Pandits can't live without Kashmiri Muslims,'' says Tickoo. ''And what will happen to Muslims in this Pandit homeland,'' asks Badrinath Bhat. ''If there are pressures on the state government, I can understand,'' says Sushoba Barve of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, an NGO. ''But the Centre's apathy is not understandable."

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