Pandemic And Pandits

The ongoing pandemic hit the migrant Kashmiri Pandit community in Jammu, UP and Delhi so harshly that many think Covid19 killed more than the militants in 1990

The cremation of Makhan Lal Tickoo in Tahab village in Pulwama was carried out by Muslims on May 8, 2021. He along with 10 other families refused to migrate out of Kashmir in the 1990s and lived at his place of birth. Pic: Social media

On May 27, a Kashmiri Pandit (KP) activist, engineer Rajinder Pandita broke a piece of shocking news on his Facebook. He said a Pandit lady died at her Chandrigam residence in Kashmir. On hearing news of the death of her, her daughter, living in Jagti, near Nagrota in Jammu, suffered a cardiac arrest and died. “Mother and daughter left together,” he wrote.

Being scattered across India, KPs suffered heavily in the Covid19’s second wave. A Delhi based publication, Naad, a monthly published by All India Kashmiri Samaj, has done a quick survey (done by Anil Reshi) of the deaths that have taken place between April 22 and May 19, 2021. Shared by Pandita, it offers details of 367 deaths that have taken place in this period. His page has added at least four more bits of information about the deaths. Pandita says 80 per cent of these deaths were because of Covid19.

Analysis of the Naad information suggests that Jammu was the epicentre of KP losses in the four weeks as 148 KPs lost their lives there. Most of the migrants live in Jammu. Even if the younger ones are working elsewhere, most of their parents are in Jammu.

The second major state where most of the fatalities were reported is Utter Pradesh where 73 KPs were reported dead. Up, it may be recalled here, has remained a historic area for migrations ever since the mutiny took place in 1857. Pandit Nehru’s forefather’s had also migrated to Allahabad and a number of KP families are working there post-migration.

Delhi, the capital city, falls at No 3 in the ranking of places with high mortality. AS many as 52 deaths were reported from Delhi in the time period. Haryana falls at No 4 with 36 KP deaths in this period. There were as many as 28 deaths, which lacked any information about where they had taken place.

There were three deaths reported from Himachal Pradesh, four from Maharashtra, two from Madhya Pradesh, four from Uttarkhand, five from Punjab, three from Gujarat, one from Bihar and two from Rajasthan. Some deaths had taken place offshore as well. The listing includes a death each from Moscow, USA, Singapore, and Zambia.

Within Jammu and Kashmir, the list has mentioned a death each taking place in Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Udhampur and Samba.

Pandita’s page is a commentary on the crisis the community faced during these days. It is unabated!!,” Pandita wrote on May 22. “At least 10 community members are lost each day in this Covid..”

The community faced harsh times even managing the requirements of the needy. “KP volunteers group Jammu has been doing a commendable job for the community during Covid Times,” he wrote on May 24. “Today they launched ambulance service in Jammu after being refused the same by some organisations, to ferry Covid patients.”

It was this situation that led their Kashmir Overseas Association (KOA), a grouping of KP diaspora in the US to arrange 136 oxygen concentrators that were deployed in Jammu and other locations across India.

Mahaveer Thusoo

At the same time, there were some local movements by the KP youth to get into social work and manage the crisis. One of them was Noida based -Mahaveer Thusoo, a professional already working with industrial oxygen, who started assembling cylinders and supplying to the needy in NCR with some of his friends. This irked some people who had taken the KPs for granted and were making fortune by exploiting their crisis. As one of them attempted to discredit Thusoo, an infuriated KP community retaliated and roasted him.

In Jammu, it was Chenab Valley-based NGO, Ababeel that worked with the KPs at the peak of the pandemic. “KPs had huge morbidity because they were mostly aged with not many younger people at home to take care of them,” Syed Imran of the Ababeel said. “I got a call from Singapore in which in which one young lady desperately sought help to transport her aged Covid19 positive parents to the hospital,”  Imran said the huge mortality in KPs was because they lacked support at home as their children were working elsewhere.

In the last month, we deployed our oxygen concentrator with around 30 families. In fact, he said,  three of these machines are still with three families including a senior researcher whose parents are unwell. “In countless cases, we did manage food of these families because there were no attendants around who could cook and deliver food,” Imran said.

Member Parliament and National Conference President Farooq Abdullah interacting with Kashmiri Pandits during the celebration of Rama Navami and Maha Ashtami festival, at Durga Nag Temple in Srinagar on Saturday, October 24, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Though not many KPs live in Kashmir, those in need of help got it. “We had a request for certain things in Sheikhpora and we managed it,” a managing volunteer at SRO Kashmir said. “We got a request from Delhi in which an elderly person was in the terminal stage. We tried to locate help from there but we could not. So we sent a small machine for him from Srinagar and also transferred some cash. The person, however, died.”

Sheikhpora is a major housing cluster in Srinagar outskirts where non-migrant KPs live. “We are around 600 people here but when Jammu started suffering because of Cobvid19, we had some increase in the population as some of the relatives joined us,” one resident said. “An NGO, Sanjevani Sharda Kendra had kept a number of Oxygen concentrators, gas cylinders and other kits available that gave some confidence. We had one death but it was not Covid19.”

The numbers of the Covid19 deaths in the community, however, are expected to rise as the morbidity was quite huge across all the communities in Jammu, UP and parts of Delhi, three key areas where the migrant KPs are living. The pandemic did actually hit certain families quite hard. In Ghaziabad, one family lost two generations in a few days – the parent couple and the son and daughter-in-law, leaving behind two minor daughters. Now the relatives of the family have taken the minors to UP and closed the doors of their flat forever.

The huge costs exacted by the pandemic have sent many sensitive KPs thinking. Rajesh Bhat, one of the FB friends Pandita commented on his wall: “These figures suggest Covid killed more KPs than militancy.”

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