“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Pervez gives human shape to Kashmiris whom the valley has long forgotten

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 32, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Refugees in their own country (Report was published in the September 27, 2008 issue of the Sahara Time)

New Delhi: Ashok Kumar Munshi symbolizes the typical traumatic life Kashmiri pandits had to live following mass exodus of this religious minority of Jammu & Kashmir. While arranging the items of his makeshift readymade garments shop alongside a footpath at Yousuf Sarai area of south Delhi, he fondly remembers his elegant, attractive readymade garments showroom located at Nai Sarak in Srinagar. “ I was running an enviable business, my shop used to bustle with customers,” he sighs. 56-year- old Munshi remembers the horror of his migration from his motherland. “On the day of migration, we had to spend the night along with the small children under open sky in Sainik Colony Jammu.” Munshi blames nobody for his migration. “ Nobody threatened us, but the situation was uncertain, even Muslims were feeling unsafe. In fact a Muslim friend suggested me to leave home till situation improves…but that never did,” Munshi laments.

After spending sometime in Jammu, Munshi along with his six members family came to Delhi to search a livelihood. After hectic efforts, he got this NDMC structure allotted in his favour in 1991 at Yousuf Sarai. Since then he is trying to eke out a living by selling readymades. He earns by this readymade shop and also receives monthly four thousand rupees as government relief. “ Thank God, I manage to feed my family,” a contented Munshi says. After living at a rented accommodation for almost a decade, Munshi managed to buy his own flat at Patpadgunj six years ago. But owning a house in Delhi couldn’t fade the cherishable memories from his mind. “ We lived in a heveli in Aali Kadal area of Srinagar in the neighborhood of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, but here our seven member family is confined in two small rooms,” Munshi wails.

Asked if he wanted to return to Kashmir, Munshi replies with a question. “ I do, but is there any such possibility?” Munshi explains that after the Amarnath Shrine Board land transfer controversy, the chances, if there were any, of Kashmiri pandits’ return to Kashmir, have dwindled. Munshi’s all the three children; two daughters and one son are born in Delhi. “ My children are very eager to see Kashmir…I want to take them for a visit.”

The row of NDMC makeshift shops at Yousuf Sarai alongside the busy Mehrauli Road is known as Kashmiri market, as Kashmiri migrant pandits predominantly own them. To enable the migrants earn a living, the government has provided these structures to them rent-free. P K Koul runs his hosiery shop beside Munshi’s one. Koul, a resident of Habba Kadal Srinagar, was living an affluent life in Kashmir. The forced migration ravaged his life as well as a flourishing bisiness. The shop and monthly one thousand rupees government relief is his sole income. Since their desperate arrival in Delhi in 1991, the five-member Koul family is living on rent in Green Park. Koul sees no prospectus of returning to Kashmir. “ We are trying to establish ourselves here, we can’t afford to start our lives afresh in Kashmir,” he maintains. “ Our children are born and brought up outside Kashmir, they have no idea what Kashmir is at all,” he adds. Koul cites another example to prove his point. “ My shop in Srinagar has been occupied by a local, despite my legal efforts he has not vacated it,” he said. Koul fishes out a paper. It is an order (No.459-62/05/DM/MG/179 Dated: 24-07-2003) of district magistrate Srinagar directing tehsildar and SHO concerned to vacate Koul’s shop from the illegal occupant. “ Should I go to fight with him for resuming my business at my shop,” he asks. Koul complains that Kashmiri Muslims are not playing their part for the return of pandits. “ If they were interested in our homecoming, they would have created those circumstances,” he explains. He blames government for its “lackadaisical approach” vis-à-vis rehabilitation of pandits. “ Even the Kashmiri pandit organizations are furthering their own interests,” he says. According to Koul, the migrant pandits have just one priority at the moment. “Future of our children,” he says emphatically.

In Yousuf Sarai’s Kashmiri Market a polite and sober Kuldeep Parimoo has his own story to tell. Parimoo family owned a well-established medicine business in Srinagar. “After the migration, I had to work on footpaths,” 41-year-old Kuldeep states. Like some other fellows of his community, he acquired an NDMC shop at Yousuf Sarai and opened a diagnostic laboratory there. With this income, he is supporting four family members residing at Sahibabad,Gaziabad.

Asked about the return of Kashmiri pandits, Kuldeep has precise reply. “ I can’t say about others, but there is no possibility of mine to go back to Kashmir because I am not in a position to re-establish myself there.” Elaborating on this, he said; “ I have two priorities strictly on my mind: my children and my business. I see no future of my children in Kashmir and I can’t again set-up my business there…I can’t afford a second migration.” Though Kuldeep hasn’t any complaints against Kashmiri Muslims, but he is wary about their “collective behaviour.” “ Individual Kashmiri Muslim is honest and compassionate, I have all the love for him, but the sloganeering about jehad and Pakistan make me apprehensive.”

Like any other pandit migrant, Kuldeep narrates emotional reminiscence of cordiality between Kashmiri Muslims and pandits. “ After the death of my father in 1987, I had to shoulder the family business as my brother was paralyzed due to an accident. A Muslim neighbor gave me ten thousand rupees to run the business,” Kuldeep says and wonders in an emotional tone. “ Alas, what happened to that brotherhood, who created this chasm of mistrust?”

For Ramesh Sidha, 31, return to Kashmir is a dilemma. “ We don’t want to leave our birthplace, but it is not possible to live there,” says the business executive. Even though enjoying a settled life in Delhi and living in their own flat in Palam Vihar, Sidha, resident of south Kashmir’s famous Mattan town, says he is very nostalgic about his childhood days spent with Muslims friends. Why is he scared to return to Kashmir? “ Slogans of azadi and Pakistan scare me , as long as such slogans are there, I don’t see any space for my community there,” he observes.

Sudheer Koul echoes the viewpoint of young Kashimiri pandit boys, brought up outside Kashmir. “ There is a wide chasm between young generations of Muslims and pandits, we have no interaction amongst ourselves, how can we go there and live with them?”

28-year-old Sandheep Bhat was studying in 5th standard at the local school of Namtahal village of Budgam district, when pandits left Valley en masse. He studied up to graduation in Jammu and came to Delhi for a job. Marketing manager with a software company, he lives with his cousins in Laxminagar. “ I don’t see there is any possibility of ours to back to Kashmir,” he said, with Hindi accent overrunning his Kashmiri speech.

In Delhi, Kashmiri pandits have established around 350 shops and small businesses to earn their livelihood. INA market is one of the Delhi markets where at least 150 shops and dhabas are run by pandits. A visit to this market reveals the sordid saga of this hapless Kashmiri lot. Shiv Kumar Bhatt chief organizer of Kashmiri Migrants’ Market Association here speaks a mix of anger, apprehension, expectation and pragmatism. “Kashmiri separatists are living a lavish lifestyle, but befooling common Kashmiri with emotional slogans,” Bhat 43, avers. “ Kashmir Muslims and pandits are one blood, we can’t be separated,” Bhat says in an emotional albeit forceful tone. “ But I am surprised why Muslims don’t denounce gun and those mean separatist leaders.” An energetic, impressive Bhat has a word of advice for his Muslim compatriots-“ Kashmir has strategic importance for India, how my Muslim brothers believe India will let it go.”

About the return of pandits to Valley, Bhat said: “ We haven’t burnt all bridges leading to Kashmir, but we can’t return until gun is there!”

A mini Kashmir in Delhi

Kashmiri Pandits are nostalgic for the land they had to leave, but see no way to go back home, finds Pervez Majeed during a visit to Vitesta Enclave

I was very enthusiastic to visit Najafgarh’s Kashmiri Colony. “ It is like a mini-Kashmir in Delhi.” This statement of a Kashmiri Pandit increased my excitement. But I knew nobody there. The only address I had was Chandji. Kashmiri Pandit Kuldeep Parimoo, whom I met at his diagnostic centre in Yousuf Sarai, told me to meet Chandji for help who runs a provision store in Kashmiri Colony. However, I was anxious while traveling first time on the road to Najafgarh. Anxious because I was not sure inhabitants of Kashmiri Colony will be willing to talk to me. Moreover, a Pandit friend had cautioned me about the imminent offensive response of some young Pandits. “These days some Pandits, particularly the youth are belligerent over the recent developments in Kashmir, they vent their pent up feelings at any Kashmiri Muslim they meet,” he warned. “We are frustrated by the two-decade life in exile, majority of Pandits are upset over the latest uprising in the Valley,” my friend explained to me, adding,”you need to be prepared to face their wrath.”

However, this apprehension couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm to visit Delhi’s “mini-Kashmir.” I was amazed to know that Kashmiri Colony was famous in the area. Miles away all the people, whom I sought help to reach my destination, guided me, for they knew the Kashmiri Colony. From the main market of Najafgarh , a left turn on a wide macadamized road leads to Kashmiri Colony. After traveling on around one kilometer stretch of this road, a signboard on a street on the right reads; “ Vitesta Enclave.” Vitesta or Veyth is Pandits’ name of legendary Kashmir river Jehlum, which originates from Veerinag in south Kashmir. Besides Srinagar, many other prominent towns are situated on the banks of Jehlum, before the river flows into Pakistan territory in north Kashmir. Kashmiri folklore and its history is abundant with the mention of Vitesta, with a lot of mythical tales associated with the river, revered religiously by Pandits.

I stopped at the Vitesta Enclave street corner and asked a bystander about Kashmiri Colony. He pointed towards the street. “ This is Kashmiri Colony.” Later during my interaction with the residents, I was told that they have named their abode, as Vitesta Enclave but is famous as Kashmiri Colony because of its inhabitants! It is a silent locality. Cars, motorcycles and cycle-rickshaws intermittently plying on its dusty lanes and by- lanes. Most of the houses are one or two-storeyed. Not only the name of the residential area but also the architectural design of their houses denotes Pandits are struggling to preserve their identity.

With the help of Chandji, I met Dawarika Nath Koul, president of Vitesta Enclave Welfare Association. Septuagenarian Koul is a compassionate person. After meeting him, my fears got alleviated. He is hospitable like a typical Kashmiri. We had a candid conversation over tea. Koul, a retired government employee, has three daughters and one son. All are married. Son is a prosperous builder and Kouls are living in the beautiful house. He has no complaints, no regrets. “Whether it is turbulent situation in Kashmir or our displacement, it is ill-luck of we Kashmiris,” Koul laments. During the conversation, Koul nostalgically revisited his past, talked about the beautiful life he lived amidst his Muslim neighbors.

So you want to return to Kashmir? I asked. He sighed and said: “ I want to die on the land where I was born.” I didn’t asked any further questions on this subject…emotional Koul’s body language conveyed more than his words.

Koul informed that more than two hundred Pandit families are residing in their own houses in the Vitesta Enclave. “ It was an open field. Years ago some Pandit bought land here and built his own house. Then it became a trend for Pandits to buy land and construct houses here, turning it into a Pandits’ habitation,” Koul said.

Even though residents belong to different areas of Valley and myriad family backgrounds, Vitesta Enclave is now a well-knit Kashmiri society and its demeanor is typical Kashmiri. Old men and women are seen strolling in the lanes in traditional Kashmiri attire. Shops cater to specific needs of a Kashmir village. A baker prepares Kashmiri bread in the traditional Kashmiri oven. “ We are struggling to keep intact our culture and traditions and impart them to our new generation,” Koul maintains. “ But children seem not imbibing them because most of their time is spent outside homes,” Koul observes.

He was right. Outside Koul’s home, I saw two kids playing in the courtyard of their home. Kajal and her younger brother Mayur have no idea about Kashmir. When I asked them what they know about Kashmir, they chuckled innocently. “ Vahan thandi baraf hoti ha,” this is all Kajal knows about Kashmir, who was born in Udhampur eight years after her parent’s migration.

During my stroll accompanied by Koul in the lanes of Kashmiri Colony, I had tête-à-tête with a number of young and old Pandits. They shared about their lives in chaste Kashmiri with me. Shopkeeper Bhushan Lal and his wife Phoolaji were all praise for their Muslim neighbors. But at the same time, they narrate how a militant commander forcefully made them to sell their house to him. “ We want to return but we can’t feel safe there because of gun,” they said. During the conversation, Pholaji couldn’t hold back her tears.

Sanjay Dhar was riding a motorcycle and stopped on seeing me. He met warmly. Dhar, who works in a private bank, says he proudly narrates the tales of communal harmony between Muslims and Pandits to his colleagues.“ But there is a wall of mistrust among the new generation,” he laments. Pyariji, 68 talked in an emotional tone. “ We wait to return to our janambhoomi, Muslims are like our eyes and ears, how can we live without them?”

However, Ajay Kumar,45, who runs a shop in New Delhi holds a contrary view. “ There is no hope of our return, we have spent the life, now we have to think about our children.”

Koul bid adieu to me while I embarked a cycle-rickshaw for the bus stop. He asked me to visit again. As I was on the bumpy bus- ride back home amid traffic jams, I thought Pandits’ homecoming is besieged with same circumstantial bumps and political jams. For them return to Kashmir is a conflict between emotions and reality, head and heart!

Leaders of two Pandit organizations holding divergent ideology, respond to a similar set of questions about Pandits’ return to Kashmir.

Agni Shekhar –President, Panun Kashmir

Q: Do you see any chances of Pandits’ return to Kashmir?
A: See, religious co-existence was rejected when Pandits were forced to leave their homes. So a separate homeland only can pave way for their return to Kashmir.
Q: Many say homeland formula goes against the spirit of traditional amity between Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims.
A: If Pandits are helped to return honorably by providing a political and administrative set-up and a homeland, the traditional harmony is inevitable.
Q: What is the hurdle in their homecoming?
A: Ideology of terrorism and extremism is the hurdle. This ideology dubs us as Kafirs. The sloganeering like Nizam-e Mustafa, azadi, Islam, Pakistan etc scare us.
Q: What are your views about the steps taken by state and central governments for Pandits’ return?
A: It seems Indian state is at cross with Indian civilization. Governments and political parties have failed us. We are treated as mere vote bank not a human tragedy.
Q: Some Pandits particularly youth say they are settled outside and their return to Kashmir will be like a second migration.
A: No, our return will be reversal of migration. Actually, Pandits are dying for Kashmir. But they don’t want to go to Kashmir in a situation where their lives are at stake.

Pandit Bhushan Bazaz-President, Democratic Forum

Q: Do you see any chances of Pandits’ return to Kashmir?
A: I hardly see any chances because the threat is embedded in their psyche now. They will have to live under constant fear. Moreover, most people are settled outside Kashmir.
Q: What is the hurdle in their homecoming?
A: The uncertain situation there! The Pandit families who chose not to migrate are not satisfied there. How can the others take risk to go back?
Q: Some Pandits organization see separate homeland a solution?
A: Homeland is not a solution. Pandits can’t live in enclaves aloof from the Kashmiri society. That is total impractical and illogical demand.
Q: What are your views about the steps taken by state and central governments for Pandits’ return?
A: They just make promises. Politicians capitalize on Pandits misery.
Q: Some Pandits particularly youth say they are settled outside and their return to Kashmir will be like a second migration.
A: They are right. In fact Pandits’ homecoming has become a complicated issue. The young generations of Muslims and Pandits are like aliens to each other. Twenty years of separation has battered the centuries-old harmony.

Box Items
For a Kashmiri Aura…

Syed Ahmad, working with Govt. Arts Emporium, is the only Kashmiri Muslim family living in, Najafgarh’s Vitesta Enclave. A resident of Rainawari Srinagar, Syed chose this colony as his abode in Delhi, as here only he can avail the Kashmiri aura. “We happily used to live with our Muslim neighbors in Kashmir and Syed’s house here gives us a feel of that nostalgic Kashmir,” says his neighbor Subash Chander Wali, a retired government employee. “I took care of the construction of his house as he used to be mostly out on job,” he adds elatedly. “ Many more Muslim families are expected to build homes here, one has already bought land for the purpose,” informs Dwarika Nath Koul, president of Vitesta Enclave Welfare Association.

Delhi- Oasis for the Homeless

For most of the displaced Kashmiri migrant Pandits, national capital proved an oasis. Out of more than 55 thousand families that fled Valley in early 90s, around 30 thousand families made Delhi their abode. “ Delhi has the second largest number of Pandit migrants,” says Kamal Haakh, general secretary of Panun Kashmir.