Kashmiri Pandits: Refugees in Their Own Country

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave his country because of war”. Ironically, the Kashmiri Pandits happen to be the members of the only community, who have become a refugee in their own country!

The community was harassed, tortured and forced to flee from Kashmir, their motherland, to save their lives. It can be called a tragedy or just sheer irony that the pandits were forced to flee from a place, where they were born and lived for most of their lives.

Kashmiri Pandits are the original inhabitants of Kashmir and have been thrown out of the valley by some fundamentalists of Kashmiri origin, with the help of other foreign forces. Both the state and the central government have yet not been able to control the situation.

The exodus of the Hindus from the valley has indeed been one of the deadliest that this world has ever witnessed. Even after 18 years in exile, more than 50,000 of these Kashmiri Hindu refugees are living in hellish conditions in inhabitable refugee camps all over the country.

After the British withdrew from the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and India and Pakistan emerged as two separate countries,  the princely states were given an option to choose the country they wanted to stay on. In the case of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh was the ruler, apprehending that Maharaja might opt for an accession to India, Pakistan prepared for an aggression in order to capture the state. Secular forces headed by the then popular mass leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, fondly known as Sher-e-Kashmir, motivated the Kashmiri people (Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs) to strike back and stand united. They countered and frustrated the enemy who was marching to the capital city Srinagar, indulging in bloodshed and mayhem.

During the night of October 21, 1947, thousands of Pakistani army personnel disguised as local Muslims and tribesmen invaded the state. Ever since, the occupied area came to be named as Azad Kashmir (Pakistan occupied Kashmir), which is separated by rest of the county by Line of Control (LOC).

Kashmir is a target of externally sponsored religion-based terrorism. The terrorists aim to divide people on the basis of sectarian affiliation, thus weakening the secular fabric of the country. To escape persecution, more than 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus have left their homes and hearts back in the valley.

The public support to the ‘Jihad’ is now diminishing and the movement is now being run by some individuals for personal gains.

The migrant population of Kashmiri Pandits is living a very miserable life. Many of them don’t have a home and a job either and are forced to live in refugee camps. The Pandits have rejected several rehabilitation proposals and jobs, if they return to the valley. But Pandits want the assured security and are just not willing to become cannon fodder for politicians.

The one thing that perplexes me is the fact that everyone is talking about the upliftment of the various castes, religion, community but have forgotten those. The issue is that they need an immediate attention. They have lost everything from job to home to money. Many of them are begging to find two meals for themselves. And yet, our politicians are not willing to talk about them. There are no concrete plans to resettle them. Generations after generations have passed and these helpless people are still waiting to get what they deserve – the right to live a happy life in their own country.

Rishabh Srivastava

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/babasteve/992469818/]