Srinagar: When Rakesh returned home to his small village in Northern Kashmir, he didn't expect things to be the same. After 16 years, he was the only Kashmiri Pandit choosing to head back to Arin. But what he found was far worse than what he had imagined.
His land, his house, even the village's cremation ground had been grabbed by the local land mafia.
It was Arin's Muslim residents who became his support system. "They said I must assert my right. If someone has made fraudulent documents to become the owner of my property, it will not work. The people have supported me in every way, and I am very thankful,'' says Rakesh.
The land mafia has already built a shop and a house on the cremation ground. The villagers recently got together to stop the construction on a second house here.
''We are supporting the truth. We got Panditji here and told him that whatever is your right we will get it for you. And we are with you,'' promises neighbour Ghulam Mohiudin. "The bureaucrats at the tehsil and the district level take bribes and support land grabbers. That's why Pandits don't get back what their rightfully own,'' regrets another resident, Riyaz Ahmed Lone.
And so this lone Kashmiri Pandit's crusade isn't a lonely one anymore. Together, Arin is building pressure on the bureaucracy to withdraw the permissions granted to those who've taken over the cremation ground.
Despite the administrative negligence then, the support of people he's just getting to know provides Rakesh with the best example of Kashmiriyat, or the spirit of Kashmir.