As New Delhi woos migrant Kashmiri Pandits back to Valley with financial packages, those who stayed back through turbulent years were almost ignored. MAJID MAQBOOL reports.
In a ancestral three storied house made of Maharaji (small) bricks in Fatehkadal Srinagar, Pyari Koul and her daughters-in- law are busy in daily chores. Pyari and her husband, Shyam Lal Koul who died a few years back, chose to stay back in Kashmir when most of their Pandit brethren were leaving.
She continues to live in the house surrounded by Muslim neighbours along with the families of her three sons. In their neighborhood there were four more Pandit families. Over the years they also left, without telling their neighbors.
Kouls are among the hundreds of KP families across Kashmir that chose to stay back.
“He never wanted to leave this place,” Pyari Koul says about her husband. “This was his ancestral house and he lived here till his death some years back.”
Moreover, the family says their Muslim neighbours prevailed on them to stay back. “We never had any problem here. Our neighbours were always good with us. They didn’t let us go,” says Pyari.
Her three sons are married to women from Kashmiri Pandit families based in the valley.
Her son Roshan Lal, who works in SMHS, says Kashmiri Pandits who left have a totally changed outlook now. Many have sold their ancestral properties. “They should not have sold their houses here,” he says. “You never know, things can change anytime. Time is the biggest healer.”
Daughter-in-law Veena Koul is from Pampore. “There are many families of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in Pampore during conflict,” she said.
There too, she says, they live in peaceful co-existence with neighbours who did not want them to leave.
With her sons getting married, Pyari says, their family increased and limited space became a problem. “Those Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back, nobody thinks about them,” she says. “The government doesn’t come to enquire about our condition.”
Given the limited number of KP families left in the valley and their preference to look for a suitable match among KPs based in the valley, they find it difficult to find suitable matches for their sons and daughters in the valley. “It’s difficult to arrange marriages for our daughters in the valley,” says Pyari. “Girls from Jammu and Delhi are not willing to marry Kashmiri Pandit boys who live in the valley. We can marry off our daughters in Jammu and Delhi, but not our sons.”
When Pyari had to look for a match for her son Roshan Lal, it was difficult.
“I wanted to marry a Kashmiri Pandit girl whose family like mine was based in the valley all these years,” Roshan Lal said. He says Kashmiri Pandits are different from Hindus of India. “Although some festivals might be the same but culturally there are a lot of differences between the two.”
Their search took them to Lagama village of Uri where they found some Pandit families. Four years back her son was married to a girl from Uri. She speaks Urdu, not Kashmiri.
Neighbours attended and helped the family organize the ceremony. “That time all our neighbors came, worked and attended the marriage function,” says Roshan Lal.
Another son of the family is married to a Panjabi girl from Jammu. “We were looking for a KP girl from the valley but couldn’t find a suitable match as there are limited KP families left here,” said Pyari.
The KP families in the valley face problems at the times of marriages, or deaths. “At times of death in the family, we have to perform the ceremony which only a guruji can perform,” says Pyari. “We find it difficult to get them to perform our ceremonies as most of them have left the valley,” she says.
Last year, in the wake of Amarnath land row, one of the boys from their locality was injured in the protests. He received treatment in their home. Roshan Lal, who works in the operation theater of SMHS hospital, dressed his wounds. “What happened to everyone else in our neighborhood happened to us as well,” says Pyari. “We are equal in grief with our Kashmiri Muslim neighbors,” she says.
In nearby Habbakadal, Pushkar Nath’s family is the only Pandit family in the locality which once boasted of being the main Pandit centre. Their house is surrounded by Muslim neighbours. Nath died in 2004 at the age of 45. His wife Urmila Koul, two daughters and a son continue to live in the same house. They say all their Kashmiri Pandit neighbors have left and sold their homes. Younger daughter Kirti Koul is a final year student in Women’s College – the only Kashmiri Pandit girl in her class. “They (Muslim classmates) come to my home whenever I invite them,” she says in a matter of fact tone.
Urmila says they were many houses of Kashmiri Pandits in their locality. “Most of the Kashmiri Pandit families who lived here left in the 90s,” she says. “They never told us that they are leaving.” Once they left, she says, their houses were bought by the Kashmiri Muslims. But they never wanted to leave. Their neighbors, too, wanted them to stay back. “Our neighbors would tell us to be at ease, and tell us that there is no need to worry.”
When the family thought of marrying their elder daughter, they looked for a match in Kashmir. “We wanted to marry our daughter to a boy from a Kashmiri Pandit family living in the valley,” she says. Finally she was married in a Kashmiri Pandit family from Nuner Ganderbal. “We invited all our neighbours and everyone came,” she says. Even when her husband died, she says, the ceremony was performed well and all their neighbors lend a helping hand. “We never had any problems all these years,” she says.
Sanjay Tickoo, President of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, a socio political organization of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the valley, says KPs who are living in the valley have been ignored by successive governments as they are a miniscule minority.
He says there is a bias within state administration towards Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back. “Our youth who are graduates and postgraduates are not getting jobs in the government departments,” he said.
Their organization, meant to safeguard the existence of non-migrant KPs, came into being in 2005. In 2007 they issued their first press release appealing Syed Salahuddin and Syed Ali Shah Geelani to mitigate their problems.
Tickoo says they are opposed to having a separate homeland in Kashmir. He says in Bugdam, KPs have been isolated in the name of rehabilitation. “They are living in a jail. We have rejected that sort of rehabilitation. We don’t want Palestine and Israel in the valley,” he says. “When you don’t have a social context, it is better to die than to be put in those jails.”
He says whosoever is making policies regarding the KPs, they are trying to dislodge the social fabric of Kashmiri Pandits.
“They don’t want peaceful coexistence of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims in the valley,” he says.
Citing figures of census conducted by their organization last year, Tickoo claims there has been gradual decrease of KP’s living in the valley.
“In 1992 there is rough estimate that 32000 Kashmiri Pandits were living in the valley,” he says. “In 1998 the government has given a figure of 19,865 Kashmiri Pandits in the valley.”
According to Tickoo, “currently there are roughly 3,400 Kashmiri Pandits staying in the valley and within the past one year 17 Pandits have left the valley.” The birthrate of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley is going down as compared to 1998.
He says for the last 10 years only 21 girls from Jammu married to Kashmiri Pandit boys from the valley. “KPs are spread across 211 places in the valley. Not more than 5 families are at one place,” says Tickoo. “If Kashmiri Pandits are brought back,” says Tickoo, “It should not be felt that Kashmir problem has been sidelined.” “Ultimately Kashmiri Pandit have to come and live with his neighbors,” he says.
Tickoo says it is time to stop propaganda and blame game from both the communities. “Unless and until I will not endorse majority community’s misery, they won’t recognize mine,” he says. “It’s reciprocal. Every Kashmiri has suffered in the valley.”