Kashmir Pandits return home a while to pray for peace
30 May 2001
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel & Iimtiyaz Bakshi
Tulmullah: IN the backdrop of the ongoing peace talks, over 20,000 Kashmiri Hindus congregated at Kheer Bhawani temple here today with hope and fear in their hearts. The annual Kheer Bhawani mela at Tulmulla, Ganderbal, provided migrants an opportunity to visit their homeland and pray for peace and an end to turmoil. Yet most don’t see a chance to return home for good. If the proposed Vajpayee-Musharraf talks usher peace, they can travel home often. And if talks bring a resolution to the Kashmir issue, they fear it could mean losing their homeland. ‘‘We love this place. We were born here and lived most of our lives here. We want to be back. Who would like to abandon his home and live a miserable migrant’s life thousands of miles away? But as the days pass, homecoming seems impossible,’’ Omkar Nath Koul, now a Delhi resident, said. ‘‘I would love to return. But it will mean another displacement for the family. We have settled after years of struggle. Returning permanently will be impossible for the younger generation,’’ he said. Koul, however, wished peace would return to the Valley, if not the migrants. ‘‘The latest developments on Kashmir are a topic of daily discussion at home. K.C. Pant’s dialogue is fine but the proposed Vajpayee-Musharraf summit has brought fears too.’’ An elderly woman accompanying Koul said: ‘‘It might seem a bit illogical, but let me explain. If there is peace, we could come frequently and fearlessly. But if the two countries decide to resolve the dispute, it could perhaps mean losing Kashmir. We don’t want to come home as foreigners.’’ Two other migrants, Rajinder Zutshi and Ashok Kumar Raina, said most of them prayed for prosperity and the return of peace. ‘‘We are migrants. We are homeless despite owning buildings. You know concrete buildings can never be homes,’’ Zutshi said. ‘‘We want peace to return but it should not lead to the separation of Kashmir from India.’’ Several people gathered there echoed the sentiment. As the migrants lightened their emotional burden, temple bells pealed and barefooted men, women and children thronged the temple. Many pitched tents near the temple of Goddess Ragni and took turns in worshipping and bringing back prasad. Securitymen were deployed in strength as families of police, BSF and CRPF officers visited the temple. Overhead banners of voluntary groups and doctors’ organisations welcomed the devotees offering their services and free first-aid. The sentries at the temple’s main gate were seen taking a headcount of visitors leaving the premises: 20,000 — The largest ever in 11 years of turmoil in the Valley. Some Muslim woman gathered around the temple looking for their migrant neighbours among the 20,000. Fata Bano said: ‘‘There were dozens of pandit families in our village. Now we see them once in a while.’’ Bano lives in Tullimullah and the shrine is no strange place for her. ‘‘We have a lot of faith in this place. We come here often,’’ she said. Villager Ghulam Mohammad Ahanger, accompanying Bano, said Hindus comprised more than 20 per cent of Tulmullah population before the turmoil began. ‘‘Now just one family lives here,’’ he said.