Emotions Run High As Kashmiri Pandits Come Home21 June 2010
The Economic Times
Srinagar: OVER 800 Kashmiri Pandit families, who stayed put in Valley and did not migrate, had massive influx of guests this weekend. Their relatives living in Jammu and other places across India as migrants had come for the yearly Khirbahwani festival and intended to have an extended holiday. But the situation in the Valley forced most of them to leave early. “I had around 20 guests,” said insurer B L Warikoo. “They wanted to stay for a few more days, but the deteriorating situation frightened them and all left in last two days.” Warikoo said the impression he had got during interactions with these guests was that most of them were willing to visit Kashmir frequently, if not return completely , in coming days. “They see Kashmir totally changed,” he asserted. Manmohar Lalgami, a scribe working with a local newspaper, said he had six guests on Saturday and some of them are still living with him in Sheikhpora. “For the first time, I see a possibility of the migrants actually returning home,” he said. Most of the migrants, who have no baggage, he said, have revived their contacts at the local level. “I think, they can return and settle down without anybody’s help,” he said. He knows a teacher who serves a remote village in south Kashmir. “I suggested him to stay with me and take a train to his school every morning, but I was amazed when he said he is living like a sadhu (saint) in the village and Muslims neighbours have made his life so comfortable that he has recently brought his family to the village.” “The only reluctance I felt was that they (migrants) apprehend the government may politicise their return which could become a problem,” Lalgami said. “They fear that vested interests in the system may not want them to return.” This year over 40,000 Pandits marked their presence at the festival that takes place at Tulmula, in Ganderbal . “It seems a different Kashmir this time,” said Indu, who is living in Delhi for the last 20 years, in a voice filled with emotion. “The situation seems to have improved. Now, I see people moving around, and traffic on the roads. When we left in 1990 it was totally deserted and haunted.” What impressed the pilgrims most, who came for the first time, was the hospitality that the local population extended. They greeted them with sweets and arranged all the pre-requisites for the traditional puja. The temple is dedicated to Ragnya Devi, one of the many incarnations of goddess Durga. As of now, said Jyoti Devi, we have come as tourists. “Situation is better but we know it’s not going to be easy initially when we return to live here,” she said. Authorities had made the routine arrangements for the festival. They arranged the convoys from Jammu to Tulmulla. Chief minister Omar Abdullah along with his family visited the shrine and interacted with the pilgrims. However, this year, the separatist leaders were missing. Most of them are in jail. Kashmiri Pandits, most of whom left Kashmir with the start of militancy, live as migrants in Jammu and elsewhere. Around 34,203 families live in Jammu alone. After over two decades of their migration, the central government is implementing a Rs 1,618-crore plan to rehabilitate them. This includes an employment package and 3,000 have been promised government jobs. The relief commissioner at Jammu has 4,400 applicants willing to return and live in Kashmir. But a vast section of the migrants are unwilling to return. Rajesh Koul, whose uncle was killed in 2003, said he fears Kashmir’s unpredictability. “Violence can break any time and I do not want to get killed like my uncle,” he said.