Pandits, politics and rehabilitation

Hundreds of migrant Pandits have returned to Kashmir and are residing in newly-built colonies made by the government in different parts of the valley. Despite an initial phase of ‘identity crisis’ they are gradually finding their feet again in the land they once were a part of. Sameer Yasir reports.

Located amid the lush green Kiker trees on the banks of Jehlum near Baramulla, most of the 130 apartments meant for Kashmiri pandits are still under construction.  Only 50 apartments have been completed. For now, four people live in one single -room apartment.

Surrounded by high walls with coils of razor wire on top, the colony is gearing up to be a home for many pandit families who are returning to Kashmir valley.
Though it has been nearly two decades since a majority of Kashmiri Pandits left the Valley en masse but their attachment to the land of their ancestors is evident even among the younger lot.

 “It’s a temporary accommodation. We will soon shift into new ones (flats)” says Aditiya. He says he had had not a chance to visit Kashmir after their migration but the ‘perception’ has changed.

Aditya was 12 when his parents migrated to Jammu. “Whatever we were told by the elders got deeply embedded into our psyche. We never thought we would get a chance to come back,” he says.

Aditya is one of the many young Kashmiri pandits who were recently recruited under the “Prime Minister’s Employment Scheme for Kashmir migrant pundits.

Sunil Pandita , 37, works with the department of Relief and Rehabilitation and is involved with the ongoing work in the same colony where he also lives with his wife and two children.

“I work in several shifts because I want to see this colony completed as soon as possible,” he says. There is a dearth of space for the people so we need to complete the project very soon.”

Most young men residing in the colony speak fluent Kashmiri. A young inmate, Rahul, says that he feels attached to his homeland despite two decades of living out.  

“Most of the young people living here were born in early nineties. We have grown up listening to the stories of Kashmir- of brotherhood and tolerance and even the circumstances which finally led to our migration,” says Rahul .

Some 35,000 odd families had migrated to Jammu where they became refugees in 1990. About 21,000 families went to Delhi and other cities. The government has the details of nearly 57,000 families. Today, 16,000 families living in Jammu receive relief—Rs 5,000 per month per family—and the rest are in service or have retired.

“Although the youth are facing an identity crises and are uncertain about  their future, they are trying to adapt to the new situation. Majority of them wanted to come back but they needed jobs to survive,” says Rahul.

Presently there are 115 employees and their families living here. Nearly 90 per cent of them are teachers working in different schools.

Many living in this colony admit that the political contextualization by different groups have certainly affected the minds of pandit youth. The problem of human security and vulnerability has made them play into the hands of right wing organizations.

Kishore who was born in 1988, just two years before the armed uprising began in valley, says that Pandit psyche was deeply influenced by the people who have a “very rigid and one-sided” approach to Kashmir problem.

“In many Pandit colonies in Jammu and Delhi, the hold of right-wing parties is very strong which has deeply manipulated the thinking of the pandit youth.

Even most of the people who were responsible for 2008 blockade were Kahmiri pundits,” says Kishore. “There was a palpable anger among them, and they see Kashmiri Muslims as their adversaries.”

Despite four people having to share a single room, the returned pundits seem to be enjoying their stay in the valley. “It is better than Jammu” said Lokash Kumar, another young man.


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