Kashmiri Pandits: 25 years of exile, no hope of return to the Valley

Srinagar: For centuries, they were living in the Valley before a mass migration forced almost three lakh Kashmiri Pandits to leave when the first wave of militancy erupted 25 years ago.

But there are those who were not swept away by the wave of violence. Kamlesh Parimoo's family is among the 35 families which stayed back in Habba Kadal in the old Srinagar city and the hub of Pandit population.

The family of eight took the tough decision to stay back after their Muslim neighbors assured of help. But staying back came with a price: almost complete exodus of their community has forced Parimoos into seclusion.

"The greatest setback was that we lost touch with our relations. There was no communication between us and our relatives," Kamlesh Parimoo said.

There are close to 3000 Pandits still living in Kashmir. But the government has no plan for them: they don't have jobs or compensation unlike the ones who migrated.

"We also should get the same rights like those who migrated because we have also witnessed the same turmoil the Pandits who migrated faced. We are isolated and our children could not get proper education," said Kamlesh Parimoo.

But there is hope amidst the despair. The younger generation may be the link that keeps its history, culture and language alive.

11-year-old Yash, Kamlesh's nephew, does not want to leave his homeland. He is not like the children of displaced Kashmiri Pandits born and brought up in Jammu camps who have only heard about the Valley.

"I don't like Jammu. It's very hot. But Kashmir has both cold and hot weather. I play with snow and make snowman," the boy said.

Most of the Kashmiri Pandits who left settled in the transit camps of Jammu. But living outside the valley is a hard battle for survival.

When Somawati and her family migrated from Anantnag to Jammu, they were allotted a one-room tenement in the Muthi migrant camp on the outskirts of the city.

10 years after their migration, her husband died. She sold off her walnut orchard in Kashmir to marry off her three daughters. Now she lives alone on Rs 1650 she gets as compensation.

"We had an orchard and everything else. Our needs were always fulfilled. We can't even tell the problems we face here, but we have to bear it," Somawati says.

Old age, illness and loneliness have crushed Somawati. Hard on resources, Sonawati's daughter living in jammu and her neighbors are her only source of support left.

"When she needs a doctor, we take her to one. The moment people from our community know anything about her, we swing into action. If needed, we also collect money to help her out", said her neighbour TN Koul.

Cluster accommodations were constructed for Pandits in the Valley and a full-fledged township in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu. But the resettlement projects seem to be failing in the absence of a definite time table for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir.
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