A better home

A township for migrant Pandits in Jammu will provide them with a reasonable accommodation and a better option especially to the ones living in the one room tenements. Sonika Raina reports.

The popular adage goes that a generation changes in two decades. But not much has changed for Amit Pandita and his family who are living in the Mishriwala migrant camp since their migration from the valley in early 1990s. The only thing that changed was the six by eight feet tent, in which they lived for four years, to a 10 by 12 feet one room tenement given by the state government.

Amit and his family like many other Kashmiri Pandit families left Kashmir, leaving behind their house, cattle, farms and immovable properties with the hope of returning in a few months. Amit’s family took few things in a truck and left the valley. But those few months turned into years and years into decades.  And somewhere down the line the discourse on the return became phony, less pragmatic and mere rhetoric.

Though the government’s decision to shift over 5000 displaced families to Jagati, a township built in the outskirts of Jammu under the Prime Ministers Rehabilitation Programme has brought some excitement to the folks but still the question remains – Why it took two decades to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits?  

“When we migrated to Jammu we stayed in a school for some time then we were shifted to tents where we were exposed to the hot climate, rain, snakes and insects. There were many cases of snake bites, skin allergies, sun strokes and much more. But we had no other option,” Amit, who works in a multi-national company, says, “I still remember the windy and rainy night of 1993. It was raining so heavily with fast winds, that our tent just flew away from its base, and then were we again under the sky with no shelter. I can never forget that night”.

However, the government took a step towards the welfare of the community and constructed one room tenements in Jammu with a life of five years. But those five years stretched to 16 years.

The migrants that will be shifted to Jagati have only one complaint that if the step would have been taken 10 years back then the condition of migrants would have been improved by now.

These migrant camps, that are considered to be the hub of Kashmiri Pandit community for the last 21 years are now going to be dismantled soon by the government and these migrants will be shifted to Jagati as a part of their rehabilitation. Dissolution of these camps has brought excitement accompanied with the fear of shifting to a far-flung place among the community members. .   

Renu Raina studying in MAM College said, “My world starts from the camp in Muthi as I was born here and have seen my world in these narrow lanes only. It is my own place and it will be quite difficult to adjust at a new place”.

“Government is planning to shift us to Jagati in March, but the township is located in a rural area. I am of course excited to shift to a spacious place but doubtful about the security at a place which is located in such remote area,” she added.

Children who have spent their childhood in the narrow lanes of the camps are worried about losing their friends.

Akshay Raina, who was born five years after the migration said, “We are seven members in a family and all live in a single room.  I don’t have any problem with the congested place but do not want to lose my friends as shifting will scatter all of them. If the government had taken this step earlier than it would have given more benefits to us”.

People of these camps are skeptical about the facilities to be provided there and the environment of the new place.

Sushma got married in 1995 and started her married life in this camp only. A single room accommodation which was decorated by a bed on one side and Kitchen on the other, a small shop run by the husband, and five members of the family was her new world.  No separate room, no privacy. She says that it was “difficult in the initial years now it is a routine”.She said, “I am not worried about myself but want safe and secure future for my children. Shifting to a remote area will affect their education. I want better place for them but at the same time I want their bright future also”.

Deepak Bhat said, “I do not know the meaning of a better place as my world moves around this single room. Good or bad, but this is the place where I have been brought up. If government is planning to shift us to some other place, they should first confirm the facilities there”.

However they were also very skeptical of the rehabilitation plan.Rattan Lal, a retired government teacher from Pulwama and presently living in Muthi camp said, “On one side, government is making big claims and promises on the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley; and on other side, they are spending thousands of crores of rupees for making a township in Jammu”.

 “If government really wants the Pandits to shift back to Valley and live peacefully as they lived before 1990, they would have to come up with a township in Kashmir Valley and settle Pandits there. It would have been truly a welcome move”.


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