Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Return of Kashmiri Pandits

Two mostly well-meaning editorials barely scratch the surface on actions that the civil society in Kashmir must advocate to open political, social and economic space for Pandits in the valley

Return of KPs (Rising Kashmir)

Peaceful conduct of Dusehra festival in Kashmir should prompt a gradual return of Kashmiri Pandits

On the eve of Ramnavmi the dummies of Ravana and his cohorts were inflamed in Srinagar amidst the traditional fervor. It is an important development. But the most significant part is that the event was organized jointly by Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims and a large number of Muslims representing various civil society groups were present in TRC ground near Lal Chowk when the devotees symbolically celebrated the victory of the truth over the falsehood. Though Shivratri (The night of shiv) has always been the key Pandit festival in Kashmir, Dushera too used to evoke attention for all the associated fun in the form of crackers and burning of giant dummies of Ravana.

Shivratri used to be a mass celebration while Dusehra was a sort of organized event. India’s various Hindu organizations including Sanatan Dharama would organize Dusehra but Shivratri, like Eid, used to be a spontaneous mass festival. Pandits had a tradition of collecting first spring rains, preferably on the eid of Nouroz (21 March), put the seasonal walnuts the pitchers carrying this water and preserve them till Novratri that would fall toward the end of summer. Those rain-dampened walnuts would serve a lovely bonding between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits. Muslims in Kashmir have been craving for such camaraderie ever since the Pandit community chose to leave Kashmir following some murders of individuals who belonged to the community. That the entire community was terrified by those attacks is an indisputable fact. But the fact remains that the state, especially then governor Jagmohan administration added fuel to the fire rather than trying to prevent a community from getting uprooted.

Now that both sides are letting bygones be bygones, both the civil society and the government must play a positive and constructive role to dispel the chronic perceptions of distrust and suspicion. While the civil society must remain guard to the saboteurs the Pandit community itself should de-link their struggle from the grand fanatic rhetoric that has been harping on the “separate homeland” for the Pandits. On its part, the government too should review its policy of settling huge townships in Jammu’s border region in the name of rehabilitation. This goes without saying that the real rehabilitation of Pandits will be their restoration in the essential abode not their rehabilitation on some alien land.

Return of Migrants (Kashmir Images)

It is heartening to note that shedding their reservations and exhibiting their willingness to return home, majority of the organisations of Kashmiri Pandits Wednesday decided to cooperate with the Jammu and Kashmir government in its plans for their return to their homeland. It may be mentioned here that an apex committee was formed comprising of 35 members drawn from different groups of Kashmiri Pandits. The committee was formed following the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Rs.1,600 crore package for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits living as migrants in several parts of the country was , mostly in Jammu.

Wednesday’s meeting was first such meeting to discuss the issues related to the return of migrant Pandits to their homes in Kashmir Valley in the context of Prime Minister’s package. Though the issue may not be resolved in a jiffy and may demand more meetings and more brain storming, the very fact that 30 out of 35 members attended the meeting is in itself the success of Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah’s initiative. While Panun Kashmir, a radical group, that is advocating carving out a separate land for Pandits in the Valley abstained two other members couldn’t attend as they were indisposed. The meeting discussed issues like creating accommodation for the migrants in the valley till they renovate their deserted residential structures and also offering jobs to the unemployed Kashmiri migrants were discussed.

The Prime Minister has already in his package announced Rs. 7.5 lakh financial assistance to any family which will undertake renovation or reconstruction of their houses located in the Valley. They will be given accommodation by the government till they complete the reconstruction of their houses and in case any family would like to stay in their chosen rented accommodation, the rent will be reimbursed by the government.

Migration of Kashmiri Pandits is a humanitarian issue and needs to be resolved without playing politics. True that several Pandit families are well adjusted outside Kashmir Valley; they have established their business; constructed good houses and are living comfortable life but even today, thousands of Pandits are living in shanty towns in the peripheries of Jammu city and some places in Delhi. These people are living in pathetic and unhygienic conditions. They don’t have proper access to pure drinking water, electricity and their children are not able to have proper education as their one-two room shanties are overcrowded. They have been living in these pathetic conditions since they migrated from Valley in early 1990 and despite tall claims by the respective governments, their living conditions have not improved.

Interestingly most of these people are the ones who originally hail from rural areas of the Valley. As most of them were agriculturists and solely depended on their agricultural and horticultural produces, they had no immovable properties and therefore were never in a position to buy homes outside the Valley. In fact these are the people carving for returning to their homes. They couldn’t fit in the alien atmosphere, culturally, climatically and socially. But unfortunately they have become victims of politics. Now that an initiative has been taken, let the dirty politics take a back seat and the issue be addressed purely on humanitarian grounds.

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