Kashmiri Pandit's protest demonstration against the clashes at different places in the Valley, outside the Relief Commissioner Office in Jammu
Kashmiri Pandit's protest demonstration against the clashes at different places in the Valley, outside the Relief Commissioner Office in Jammu
PTI Photo

Jammu: Though living in 'forced exile' within their own state for over three decades now, the longing to return to their homeland in the turmoil-hit Kashmir Valley has not waned among a majority of the Kashmiri Pandits in this Hindu-dominated town.

"I still am eager to set foot on the soil that we were forced to leave long back," said Shobha Kaul, an octogenarian woman living in Kashmir's winter capital since the 1990s.

She has been living in this town, ringed by forest-clad low mountains along with her family, since the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s, after fleeing their homes in the troubled Valley because of the terror attacks that were targeted against the community that time.

For them striking down of Article 370, which abrogated Kashmir's special privileges, by the Central government has nothing to do with their rehabilitation.

"Article 370 abolition will not guarantee evolving of harmonious relationship between the Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits. In fact, it is creating anger and unrest in a particular community," Kaul said

"Our brothers and sisters in the Valley should be honourably won over through non-discriminatory policies before ensuring our return to our homeland," she added.

Another woman Lalita Pandit said she was born in a small village on the outskirts of Srinagar. "I miss the snowy mountains and orchards," an emotional Lalita told IANS at the Raghunath Temple here, where she is a regular at morning prayers.

Jammu hosts thousands Kashmiri Pandit refugees, who have been living in newly build two-room tenements provided to them by the state government. Octogenarian woman Nirmala Bhatt said: "Before I die, I want to return to my first home that is now under illegal occupation of a Muslim family."

She said: "Every Kashmiri Pandit has hopes of returning to the homeland one day. I owe my gratitude to people of Jammu, where I have lived most of my elderly life." With fond memories of her homeland, the 81-year-old has raised a new generation and they too want to return to the Kashmir Valley.

"We have struggled hard to raise our children by initially staying in refugee camps for years. Now, I have grandchildren, who were born and brought up here and they too are keen to return to our homeland," she added. However, the children born and brought up in Jammu are more hopeful of returning to the Valley than the older generation.

"My parents and grandparents often talked about their cottages amidst apple and plum orchards by showing black and white photos of their happier times. We see a ray of hope of our return sooner rather than later," college student Nikita Dhar, who is living in Jagti, the biggest refugee housing complex for Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, said.

For the young generation like Nikita, returning to their ancestral homes, which they have never seen, is their dream now. "This is our aspiration and struggle too," she added.

Another Kashmir Pandit, S.N. Pandita, 69, said: "Before fleeing from south Kashmir's Shopian in the early 1990s, we were threatened and tortured by the militants. They destroyed our temples and illegally occupied our houses and orchards."

According to him, Kashmir is "our hometown and Kashmir can't grow minus Kashmiri Pandits, who are part and parcel of the Muslims for centuries".

He said before revoking Article 370 tension was lessening. "We see escalation of tension once again and don't know how much time it will take to normalise the situation there," he added.

For the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, the Centre had announced the Prime Minister's Development Package on November 7, 2015. Under this package, the Central government had approved the creation of 3,000 additional state government jobs for the Kashmiri migrants at a cost of Rs 1,080 crore, and the construction of 6,000 transit accommodations in the Kashmir Valley at a cost of Rs 920 crore for the stay of these employees. The aim of this package was to help the displaced community economically, and also to initiate a step towards their return to the valley.

-BY VISHAL GULATI

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