'Is there no place for Pandits in this nation?'

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Oracle, Apr 26, 2011.

  1. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

    Mar 31, 2010
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    Bangalore, India
    It is a Saturday morning and Vinod Dhar's door is locked. Children play cricket in the alley outside while a woman washes a pile of clothes outside her door with water from a rubber hose. "Do you want a chair to sit while you wait?" she asks politely with a shy smile.

    Dhar, a wiry young man, who has by now got word that he is being looked for, comes from behind the bathroom block with a bucket in his hand and clothes on his shoulder. Excusing himself till he finishes his morning ablutions, he disappears briefly.

    On his return he borrows two chairs and a stool from the neighbours and sits down outside as the children continue to play cricket a few metres away.

    Dhar is 27 and has been through a tragedy so gruesome that he hasn't been able to recover from that trauma, that grief. He works as a clerk in the state secretariat and feels life is a struggle from birth to death.

    He has a government job that many Pandit families in the camps look upon as the ideal employment, one that provides stability, a steady income and pension. Something that many young men who arrived from the valley two decades ago did not have access to, because they had either crossed the age limit or did not qualify.

    But Dhar seems some place else, far away, unaffected by the routine, the ritual of everyday living. As if cloaking his immense pain by going through the motions of a daily schedule -- get up, go to work, come back, eat, sleep, move to Srinagar when the government secretariat shifts there during the summer months, stay at the hotel, get into the vehicle that takes the staff to the Srinagar secretariat in the morning, eat at the hotel...

    "It has jolted me for life. It has left me scarred. People say I am lonely, that I should get married but I am not mentally prepared for marriage. No one can help mitigate your pain," says Dhar, haunted by January 25, 1998.

    It was the day before Republic Day. Vinod was 14 and had spent the afternoon playing cricket with his friends.

    That evening men dressed in army uniforms came into his home. They were offered tea by the family. Vinod was on the terrace when he heard the sound of sustained gunfire. When he came down, after the sound of bullets had ceased, he found the terrorists had gunned down his entire family -- parents, brother, sister, uncle -- and relatives from three other neighbouring Pandit homes.

    Twenty-three Pandits were killed in the Wandhama (Srinagar district, northwest Kashmir) massacre that shook the country and the Diaspora. Vinod cowered in fear, hearing the wails of his mother, sister and relatives before they died.

    "I remember that night vividly, especially when I am alone and weak. This wound will remain with me till I die," says Vinod, remembering how then prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral had visited him after the massacre and assured him that the government would look after him.

    "Since 1998 I was in government custody, I was put in a boarding school and then completed my graduation from Jammu University."

    When he became an adult, he says he realised that some relatives had cheated him of the ex-gratia payment that had been provided to him by the government. "I lost it all. Lucky are those who have parents. If the government had not looked after me, I would be nowhere."

    After grade 12, he had wanted to join the Shri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi. He says the government had told him to get admission in Delhi if he so wished but things did not work out and Vinod continued his education in Jammu.

    He has still not seen Delhi and hopes to make the trip there some day and asks if it is possible to get a copy of the photograph of him receiving the apartment allotment letter from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

    Dhar goes on to speak about his desire to join the J&K state administrative service, for which he had appeared earlier but had not qualified. "I want to keep trying. We all should keep trying," he says, once again looking at the sky.

    The state government has recently announced 6,000 jobs for Pandits in the valley, as a measure to attract them back to Kashmir. According to government reports 2,000 Pandit youth have joined posts in the valley, but many Pandits feel that though the government is giving employment, the situation in the valley still remains risky.

    "The situation changes so quickly in Kashmir," says Dhar, referring to the unrest in the valley last summer when, in sustained encounters between security forces and young stone pelters, 117 people had died over five months.

    When the government secretariat moves back to Srinagar, so does he. Dhar expects to shift into the government-allotted apartment at Jagti in two or three months and does not express much emotion about it.

    Home ceased to have any meaning since that Republic Day eve when his family was brutally killed, his home burnt.

    "Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta (No one ever gets a perfect world)," he says quoting Urdu poet Nida Fazli, getting up to return the borrowed chairs to his neighbours.

    In two days Priyanka Dhar's grade 10 exam was to begin. Her books lie on the bed in the lone room she shares with her parents and elder brother. A sliver of the corridor is cordoned off for a kitchen where there is hardly enough room to stand in front of the gas stove.

    Her father asks her to make tea as he dashes out to his small shop to get some biscuits.

    No Pandit home lets you leave without offering tea and biscuits; if it is lunch time they will insist you stay for the meal.

    Bharatbhushan Dhar says he once had a three storeyed house with 10 or 12 rooms in Kupwara district, northwest Kashmir. His home of the last 15 years in the Purkhoo camp, Jammu city, is stacked with trunks one on top of each other, a bed, clothes heaped into piles, a broken cooler. On the wall hang framed pictures of Hindu gods.

    "It would have been better if they had given us a government job rather than a flat (apartment). A government job could have sustained an entire family. Relief is good for the aged, what the educated youth need are jobs," he says, pointing out that the government should have initiated a scheme whereby every migrant Kashmiri Pandit family would have been given at least one government job.

    "Or they should have given us some land where we could build a home with a loan against our properties left behind in Kashmir."

    Ten years ago, his kidney was removed. He shows the scar and says his health has been on the decline since.

    "There are some families with four members with government jobs, while others have none. Ek ghar mein chirag, doosrey mein andhera (There are some houses glowing as a result of government jobs; while others are plunged in darkness)."

    There are 40,000 educated Pandit youth. Recruitment for 3,000 posts were initiated under the prime minister's special employment package for Kashmiri migrants, out of which 1,906 were selected and 1,179 joined their new posts in the valley, says a brochure released during the prime minister's visit.

    "When our young Pandits take up these jobs they have to give a signed affidavit that they will not leave if the situation deteriorated; it implies that if they leave they will not get the job back," says Shaligram Raina from the Purkhoo camp.

    Ruing the marginal count of Pandits in politics and working as senior bureaucrats in the state, the group of men at the Purkhoo camp mention how the community did not have a single member in the state legislative council and barely one or two Indian Administrative Service officers.

    Vinod Kaul, an Indian Administrative Service officer who has been relief commissioner for the Kashmiri migrants for the past six years, says there are 17,000 Pandits employed by the central and state governments; of which approximately 4,000 are employed by the state government.

    Recently, state minister for revenue, relief and rehabilitation Raman Bhalla told a group of students from Chicago University that the situation was improving in the valley and about 4,624 migrant families had applied to return.

    Yet many feel things will never be the same again for them to return and there should be a separate state carved in the Kashmir valley where the exiled Pandits can be settled.

    "We want a Hindustan-like Kashmir in Kashmir, a land where people from all states can live in peace," Ravinder Raina, a resident at Muthi camp had said, referring to the demand for a separate homeland in Kashmir which envisages Union territory status, governed directly by the central government.

    His demand resonates at the Purkhoo camp, with a phiran-clad (kurta-like Kashmiri robe) Shaligram Raina, a man who speaks with a fiery passion that reflects his helpless pain.

    "Bharat is such a vast nation. Can't they find a tiny place for us Pandits in this vast nation?"

  3. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

    Mar 31, 2010
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    Bangalore, India
    A House for Mr and Mrs Raina

    After spending 20 years in squalid camps in Jammu, the Kashmiri Pandits, who fled their native Kashmir valley to escape ethnic cleansing, will finally move into a new township. But they are not home yet.

    Archana Masih reports from Jammu on the torment of the Pandits in exile, which remains one of contemporary India's worst tragedies.

    The tin doors run row by row, with names painted by hand, as if done by one of the family members themselves, a letter too small, another too big, a trickle of paint running down, a smudged fingerprint. Trying perhaps desperately to give the dignity of a home to the tiny, cramped, nine by 14 foot room allotted to each of them in a squalid camp settlement in Jammu.

    The residents behind those doors, driven out of their homes 20 years ago, have lived in these slum-like quarters since their escape. They have witnessed marriages, births and deaths here; have seen their children graduate from schools and colleges; have lamented the loss of their motherland and life as they once knew it; and have brought up a new generation with no memory of that place in the Kashmir valley they once called Home.

    For many Kashmiri Pandits this room is home now. There is hardly a door without a name.

    In the sea of migrant tenements, the tiny doors bear their family names; while inside abound traumatic stories of a people who fled their ancestral homes in the dead of night, some with nothing but the clothes they wore, trying to save their lives and families when Islamic militants unleashed horrific terror on them in the mad months of 1990.

    Long before Bosnia, there was Kashmir. The Kashmiri Brahmins, known as Pandits, who had lived in the Kashmir valley for centuries faced ethnic cleansing from Pakistan-supported militants to subvert the Indian State. Almost the entire Pandit population was forcefully expelled. Approximately 700,000 remain in exile since.

    In Jammu city, the displaced Pandits live largely spread between four migrant camps, from where, finally, after 20 years, they will move from these unhygienic, pigeonhole rooms to apartments in a Pandit township called Jagti on the outskirts of Jammu that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month.

    Mr and Mrs Ravinder Raina; Mrs Babli Bhatt, a widow; Vinod Dhar, whose entire family was massacred in his village home, the ageing Mr and Mrs Triloknath Below; an ailing Mr Beharilal Kheda are among those who received allotment letters from Dr Singh.

    They will move into their new two-room homes by the end of April.

    But the hopes of another new beginning remain clouded with apprehension, as the Kashmiri Pandits continue to confront the trauma of a painful collective past.

    Ravinder Raina was 22 when he fled his home in Anantnag district, western Kashmir, with his parents, five brothers and a sister.

    It was March 20, 1990. It was raining hard.

    The plan to escape was made secretively that afternoon, his father withdrew Rs 15,000 (now about $330) from the bank and they arranged for a truck for Rs 2,000 (about $44) to take the family out of the village at nightfall.

    "Fear is far more potent than hunger. You can survive hunger, but not fear," says Raina, now 43, looking back at those days when hate spat out of loudspeakers and posters, with hostility aimed at the community, were pasted on the village wall. News about Pandits being massacred was threatening their existence.

    The family undertook a dangerous 13-day journey, 11 days of which were spent stuck at the Banihal Pass, in the Pir Panjal range on the border between Jammu and Kashmir, before finally reaching Jammu city on April 2.

    They were given sanctuary first in Geeta Bhawan, a shelter where scores of other fleeing Pandits had congregated. Three months later they moved to a tent and were given a room in the Muthi camp in 1992, where the Raina brothers have lived all these years.

    "We had never thought we would get a new house after living a worse than worst life in the camp. Both my parents died here, I got married and had my kids here, this was home for almost two decades but camp life is not good," says Ravinder who has done odd jobs selling vegetables, manning a phone booth, assisted a thekedar (small-time contractor) in the absence of stable employment.

    "I have aged in these 20 years; our life has been ruined. politicians know that our numbers are too small to matter in their electoral make or break equations. We, who have upheld the flag of India in Kashmir, have been forsaken. The battle that Hindustan should be fighting is being fought by the Kashmiri Pandit alone."

    Raina is running a fever but his emotions run high and he speaks with passion.

    He is also a leader of the Pandit association in his camp. On the tin cupboard are stickers of the third World Kashmiri Pandit Conference and Chalo Amarnath, referring to the pilgrimage to the holy shrine.

    The bed that he sits on occupies three-quarters of the tiny room shared by his wife and two children. His sister-in-law from the neighbouring one-room house arrives with tea and biscuits.

    By the door is a television where India is playing England in a cricket World Cup game.

    Since his escape, Raina has returned to his native village two or three times. The first time he went back he found everything had changed, the site where his home stood looked like a cremation ground.

    He sat down and wept.

    Last year, his daughter went there for the first time, accompanied by her uncle. She returned and told her father that she did not like the place.

    "We have lost our homeland. Our language. Our culture. My generation lost its youth. The government is giving us a new flat (apartment), which many of us had never expected to happen but that house will not build my future," says Raina. "The government can give us a home, but can it return us our youth, our childhood?"

    'It's like folding the bedsheet we had spread on a spot that was given to me 13 years ago and being told to take my bundle and move to another place," says Babli Bhatt, a widow who lost her husband in a bomb blast in Jammu a year after her wedding.

    She found out about the tragedy only a day later, when he did not return home.

    "That new flat (apartment) belongs to the government. What if in time to come they ask us to vacate and move again? The government has made us into a showroom. Hamare se siyasat chalti hai (the Pandit cause is an emotive issue that keeps their politics alive)."

    Babli lives in the Muthi camp with her daughter who is in Grade seven. She supplements the Rs 1,250 (approximately $27) she and her daughter each receive every month as relief from the government by working as a beautician to the women in the camp.

    The ledge in her room is lined with bottles of nail polish, lipsticks, creams and more, that she uses for her patrons, whom she seats on the floor when she attends to them because her home has no chair.

    The camp is a maze of one-room homes with haphazard extensions. Some have added a bathroom, a kitchen, while the rest use the common bathroom and toilet in each block. Each family is provided Rs 5,000 (approximately $110) per month by the government along with nine kg of rice, two kg of flour, one kg of sugar per person up to a maximum of four per family.

    Often two families' parents, son, daughter-in-law and children share the same cramped room; living, eating, sleeping, studying, praying within those confines. A father mentioned how he had to step out of the room to give his young daughter some privacy to change her clothes.

    It is an undignified, humiliating way to live, but there are some who are reluctant to leave. For them, this has come to mean home in many ways.

    Jagannath Raina feels he is better off in the camp than living in an apartment in a small building. At least there is a patch of open space outside, between his front door and his extended home, where a tree gives shade from the hot summer sun.

    "That will be like a prison where one person can just about stand in the balcony," says Raina, who once had orchards of apple and walnuts in his village in Kupwara district. This Shivratri, one of the most important festivals for the Pandits, when walnuts are presented as an offering to the gods, Raina bought walnuts for Rs 400 (about $8) a kilo.

    "We don't know who our neighbours will be in the new building. We make a small living here running odd shops. Don't know what we will do there. It would have been better to rehabilitate us in Kashmir itself."

    When he left his home in the valley, he had hoped to be back in three or four months after the situation improved. He hasn't gone back since and feels things will never be normal enough for the Pandits to return.

    "They call us migrants as if we are cattle. Even if Ram Rajya were to come we Pandits will live like beggars because we have no property left," says Shaligram Raina, among the group of men assembled on the gabba, a thick Kashmiri rug on the floor in Jagannath Raina's home.

    The bright embroidered rug is common to almost every Pandit home in the camps, spread on the floor with cushions propped against the wall. Wandering salesmen from the valley stop by at the camps to sell these rugs, knowing the Pandits still cling on to these remnants that were once part of their everyday life.

    In the group of men is a quiet young man, who had served the elders tea and biscuits. Recruited as a constable in the Jammu & Kashmir police force a few days ago, he speaks fluent English and Kashmiri, and says he had wanted to become a journalist and had even freelanced for a year but unemployment forced him to apply to the police force.

    "We Pandits never want to pick up the gun, but one can't remain unemployed," says Pawan Bhatt, 24, who hopes to be posted to his home district.

    His family has never returned to see the home they left behind when he was just a toddler.

    There is not even a photograph for Pawan to see what his family home had looked like.

  4. GPM

    GPM Tihar Jail Banned

    Mar 5, 2011
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    Pundits? Who are they? Are they Hindus? If so, then why bother? On top of that, are they Brahmins, as is suspected? Then do they even have a right to live?

    Once they might have been a minority in J&K, now they are not, after ethnic cleansing. Their houses, lands and properties stand declared as ABANDONED, Lawaris, and usurped by the state govt and allotted to Majority people in the state.

    Paupers they are. But they have brains, and shall live on.

    Long live our sickular democracy.

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