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No One Harmed Us Despite Militancy: Kashmiri Pandits in Pulwama

Kashmiri Pandit families thanked the entire Muslim neighbourhood for taking care of them, writes Daanish Bin Nabi.

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Violence in any conflict zone ultimately affects common people. When armed conflict began in the late 80s and early 90s in Kashmir against the Indian state, the Kashmiri Pandits were the first to bear the brunt.

One gets to hear many stories about the departure of Pandits from Kashmir. There were indications of intimidation and some people were even killed by unknown gunmen. But this in no way meant that Kashmiri Muslims are or were communal or wanted Pandits to leave Kashmir.

South Kashmir today is the worst hit due to militancy, but at least 10 to 15 Pandit families still resid in Tral, the hometown of famed Hizbul Mujahiddeen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani.

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Then there are a good chunk of Pandit families living in Habba Kadal area of Srinagar city and there is a Ganjoo family in Barbarshah Satoo area of Srinagar. Likewise, Pandit families are living in Anantnag, Kulgam and other parts of north Kashmir. There are around 3,400 Pandits families living in Kashmir with their Muslim brethren who do not need any “protection” of a so called “safe zone”.

A Pandit Family

I was born in Kashmir at a moment when armed rebellion against the Indian rule had started. One of the essential components of the Kashmiri community were Kashmiri Pandits. Both the communities always respected each other and the bonhomie between the two was always there till some vested communal interests played their part in vitiating the Kashmiri society.

To understand the social harmony that existed between the two communities, I went to Tahab, Pulwama. The district of Pulwama is the new hotbed of militancy nowadays.

Tahab village is the hometown of the ruling party Peoples Democratic Party’s youth president Waheed-ur-Rehman Para. The entire village wore a shabby look with dilapidated roads reflecting how the former political advisor to late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has failed to look after his own people and hometown.

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I met Sunil Kumar Pandit. We sat inside his humble dwelling. Sunil Kumar’s home is surrounded by five Muslim houses, all living in communal harmony. Sunil has a brother, mother, a cute little daughter (Divya) and a son. Adjacent to Sunil’s home, lives another vibrant Pandit family. The second home belongs to a former school teacher, Makhanlal Raina.

Kashmiri Pandit families thanked the entire Muslim neighbourhood for taking care of them, writes Daanish Bin Nabi.
Sunil Kumar’s family in Kashmir.
(Photo Courtesy: Daanish Bin Nabi/The Quint)

We were served with typical Kashmiri hospitality. First mango juice, and then Lipton tea with all sort of snacks and dals were served to us.

In between our conversation, cute little Diya was making all childish fuss which irritated her father and others in the room. Her cuteness overshadowed the gloomy discussion when she inquired in an infantile voice about me. We all laughed and after few a few minutes of silence, resumed our discussion on daily affairs.

Kashmiri Pandit families thanked the entire Muslim neighbourhood for taking care of them, writes Daanish Bin Nabi.
A member of Sunil Kumar’s family.
(Photo Courtesy: Danish Bin Nabi/The Quint)
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Sharing their stories, both the families first thanked the entire Muslim neighbourhood for taking care of them in tough times.

Makhanlal has served in various government schools of Pulwama town. He retired in 2002. He says,

We have had a great time during the 1970s and 1980s, but then in the 1990s everything changed. We did not leave Kashmir because we did not want to leave our hometown. There was no threat to us either. No one threatened us. But the government never played a constructive role regarding Kashmiri Pandits. They only talk about those Pandits who migrated. There are also Pandits who did not migrate, what about them? No one talks about us. They talk of packages, but we have seen none so far.
Makhanlal, Resident, Tahab village in Pulwama
Kashmiri Pandit families thanked the entire Muslim neighbourhood for taking care of them, writes Daanish Bin Nabi.
Makhanlal Raina
(Photo Courtesy: Danish Bin Nabi/The Quint)

Sunil Kumar agrees with Makhanlal. In a very inviolable voice he lashes out at New Delhi and the state government for failing to provide them proper jobs and uplifting their village. He says,

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We have no fear of living among our own people and no one till date has harmed us, not even when militancy was at its peak, but please make me understand when they talk of rehabilitation of Pandits, where do we fit in these scheme of things? They do not know how many Pandits still live in Kashmir. They have plans and rehabilitation schemes, but that all is for those who migrated and not for non-migrant Pandits.
Sunil Kumar, Resident, Tahab village (Pulwama)

Sunil’s wife, Nitu Kumari, agrees with her husband’s views. “Be it Sonia Gandhi or Modi, no one did anything for us. They gave it to the migrants and not to us.” Nitu raises the issue of the social boycott they face within their own community. She says,

Almost every Pandit migrated to Jammu. They do not marry our girls or boys because they say we did not migrate with them in the 1990s. We are facing a lot problem whenever we have to marry our children. There is a sort of social boycott we face from our own community.
Nitu Kumari, Resident, Tahab village (Pulwama)
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“Who Cast an Evil Spell on Kashmir?”

Talking about the militancy in Kashmir, Makhanlal shared an important aspect of the crisis with me. He says,

A number of militants in our village were my students. I had taught them in various schools in Pulwama district. Whenever they saw me, they would change their routes. It was respect they had for me. They would not dare to stand or walk in front me even when they had guns.

Weeping Makhanlal says, “Is Kashmir ko kiski nazar lag gayi (who cast an evil spell on Kashmir?)”.

After spending almost four hours it was time to say goodbye to another face of the Kashmir conflict. Although, I was in no mood to leave and wanted to hear more and more from them, but my guide (a Kashmiri Pandit) did not want to stay any further.

Upon leaving the house of Sunil Kumar, Makhanlal held my hand gently, but I did not know another story was waiting, the story of Sunil Kumar’s neighbours, a mother-son duo, Fairaji and Waseem Ahmad Wani.

When Makhanlal stepped out of the house, Fairaji came and greeted him with all humility, so did Waseem.

Makhanlal said, “This is my security. I do not need anyone to protect me.”
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Makhanlal hugged both Fairaji and Waseem.

Then Fairaji said, “My father died in 2015. Now whenever I see Makhanlal ji, it is as if I see my father.”

At this moment both Fairaji and Makhanlal had teary eyes, so had everyone who was standing with us there.

While observing these scenes of bonhomie and brotherhood in a village marred with militancy, I wondered from where to start and what to write about this personal experience.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist. He can be reached at @DaanishNabi . This is the first part of a three-part series on Kashmiri Pandits. You may want to read the second part and third part.This is an opinion piece and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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