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The lost Kashmiri Pandits in India

“The government should recognize it as genocide, an ethnic cleansing, and seriously order a probe into it"

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An Indian Kashmiri Hindu (Pandit) prays during an annual Hindu festival at the Khir Bhawani temple in Tullamulla, a village near Srinagar Image: Benarnews

Raj Kumar is a Pandit or Hindu from Kashmir, but he has never visited his ancestral home in the troubled region.

“Fear of religious persecution, or worse, being killed, has prevented my family from settling down, or even going there,” said Kumar, 23, a pharmacy student based in Chandigarh, which lies some 650 km (404 miles) from Baramulla, a district in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir from where his Pandit family hails.

The family moved to Chandigarh, in the northern state of Punjab, in January 1990, just months after an insurgency broke out in the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir, as separatist factions picked up arms to demand freedom from Indian rule.

Kumar’s family is among some 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits – Hindu natives of the region – who were forced to migrate en masse to various parts of India on Jan. 19, 1990, after facing repeated threats and bouts of violence from Kashmiri Muslims.

Kashmiri Pandits Image: wikipedia
Kashmiri Pandits. Image: wikipedia

A total of 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by Muslim militants before the minority group’s exodus from the Kashmir Valley, government records show. But the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a group of migrant Pandits, puts the figure at around 400.

An estimated 60,000 to 70,000 people have died since the insurgency broke out in Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, according to Indian government figures.

“Chandigarh is a nice city, but it has never felt like home. Our home is Kashmir,” said Kumar, who was born three years after his family was forced out of the valley.

“My parents tell me our house was destroyed by some people just days after they left Kashmir. But they say we can rebuild our house if the government facilitates our return,” he said.

Five demands

For the last 26 years, Kashmiri Pandits have regularly held protests and rallies in New Delhi, demanding measures from the Indian government for their safe return to and resettlement in Kashmir.

One such rally took place in Delhi on Jan. 19, the 26th anniversary of the exodus.

Kashmiri Pandits rally in Delhi
Kashmiri Pandits rally in Delhi, Wikimedia Commons

During the rally dozens of young Kashmiri Pandits, like Kumar, held placards that read, “I am a Kashmiri but I have yet to see my home,” and “I’m lost, please take me home.”

The protesters also submitted a five-point memorandum of demands to Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Among their demands, the Pandits are seeking assistance for resettlement, punishment for those who committed violence against Pandits, and revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir.

Article 370 grants special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but is considered a major roadblock in the resettlement of Pandits, because it prohibits people who live outside the state to settle there.

Also Read: Plight of Kashmiri Pandits

“We are hopeful that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government will take immediate steps to help Kashmiri Pandits resettle in their homeland,” Bhushan Lal, a member of the All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee (APMCC), which is spearheading the rehabilitation cause for Kashmiri Pandits, told BenarNews.

He was referring to the Hindu nationalist party that heads India’s ruling coalition.

“Several promises have been made, but neither the previous Congress government nor the current BJP government has taken any significant steps to address the demands of Kashmir’s minority community,” he added.

Multi-billion dollar rehab package

In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a package worth 800 billion rupees (U.S. $11.7 billion) for Jammu and Kashmir, which included money earmarked for the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits.

But members of the minority group say the government needs to do more.

“Our primary demand is of justice. Punish the killers of Kashmiri Pandits as only this can restore our confidence to go back. All steps for rehabilitation and relief will fall flat without it,” Pandit Rashneek Kher told reporters at last month’s rally in the Indian capital.

“The government should recognize it as genocide, an ethnic cleansing, and seriously order a probe into it,” another protester, Vijay Tikku, said.

“Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits was one of BJP’s election manifestos, but since coming to power it has turned a deaf ear to our issues,” Roshan Kumar, a 25-year-old Pandit who runs an electronics store in Delhi, told BenarNews.

BJP member R.P. Singh said his government was taking all possible steps toward rehabilitating Pandits.

“The Prime Minister has already allocated funds for the relief and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. But the process will take time,” he said while trying to pacify the protesters.

During a news show on NDTV on Jan. 19, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had said: “The onus lies with them (Pandits) to return. No one is going to go to them with a begging bowl.”

However, a day later, he clarified that he did not intend to hurt the sentiments of Kashmiri Pandits, who are an “essential component of the pluralistic ethos of Kashmir.”

“It is sad that the Kashmiri Pandits had to leave their homes and hearths in 1990. I always wanted them to return but, at the same time, we can’t force them to return,” Abdullah said at a gathering in Jammu city.

‘No danger from separatists’

Kashmir separatist groups, too, said they would be happy to have the Pandits return to the state and that the minority group should not fear them.

“We are fighting for Kashmir’s freedom. That is our only agenda. The return of Pandits has nothing to do with our fight,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of 32 Kashmiri separatist groups, told BenarNews.

Farooq said that more than 3,000 Kashmiri Pandits were already living in the state and his group had been in constant touch with them to reassure them of their safety.

“I can assure the Pandits they are safe here. And if they want I am even willing to help them safely resettle in Kashmir,” Farooq said. (Benarnews)

  • Shubhi Mangla

    The government must take some steps for safe return of Kashmiri pandits

  • Pritam Go Green

    India is a land of cultural diversity. There shouldn’t be any room allowed for religious discrimination. People should rise above politics and should embrace their brotherhood.

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  • Shubhi Mangla

    The government must take some steps for safe return of Kashmiri pandits

  • Pritam Go Green

    India is a land of cultural diversity. There shouldn’t be any room allowed for religious discrimination. People should rise above politics and should embrace their brotherhood.

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Indian Government Spent Nearly Rs 4Kcr on Swachh Bharat Info, Education

“The Swachh Bharat mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest."

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swachhata abhiyan
The government's much publicised Swachh Bharat Mission -- which aims to enhance the level of sanitation in India and make the country open defecation free (ODF). Flickr

To make the Swachh Bharat Mission a success, India mobilised huge resources for information, education and communication (IEC) activities, with a new report estimating that the cash expenditure by the government, private sector, and the development community to be between Rs 3,500-4,000 crore in five years since the programme’s launch.

Of this cash spend, around 20 per cent was spent by the erstwhile Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, around 35 per cent by the state sanitation departments, around 25 per cent by other government ministries, and around 20 per cent by the private sector and the development sector collectively, said the report by consultancy firm Dalberg Advisors.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the government has shown remarkable ability to leverage resources across the public sector, private sector, media, and civil society, to make sanitation a mass movement in India.

In fact, the study estimates that the Swachh Bharat Mission mobilised a spend equivalent worth Rs 22,000-Rs 26,000 crore in monetary and non-monetary information, education and communication activities.

The researchers reached this figure by identifying the key activities and costs by different actors, modelling the number of “exposures” created, and estimating the investment required if the government were to “buy” these exposures in an efficient market.

An average person living in rural India was exposed to between 2,500-3,300 SBM related messages over the last five years, according to the study titled “An assessment of the reach and value of IEC activities under Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)”.

Young Indians
Young Indians want to strengthen the ‘Swachh Bharat’ initiative. Wikimedia Commons

A large majority of these messages were routed via newly constructed toilets, mass media, and the

Swachh Bharat logo. Other significant contributors included ambient media such as wall murals and hoardings, and other conventional channels such as inter-personal communication (IPC), digital media, and cinema.

Since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014, over 10 crore households toilets have been built in the country, leading to a significant improvement in sanitation coverage and reduction in open defecation.

Since 2014, engagement from the top political and government leadership, especially the Prime Minister, induced catalytic participation across segments, giving the cause of sanitation consistent attention and focus.

This translated into a mission mode approach where a range of government ministries, private sector organisations, the philanthropic ecosystem, civil society, and the media and entertainment sector participated to bring sanitation messaging and awareness to citizens at significant scale.

Also Read: Motorola Launches its First Smart TV in India

When Modi visits the US later this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will honour the success of Swachh Bharat that has transformed lives around the country.

“Globally, sanitation-related diseases kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of five every year. Yet despite its importance, sanitation has not received significant attention. A lot of governments are not willing to talk about it, in part because there are not easy solutions.

Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do. There is still a long way to go, but the impacts of access to sanitation in India are already being realised,” the Gates Foundation said in a statement.

“The Swachh Bharat mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest.” (IANS)