Twenty five years after they were forced to leave their homes, a few Kashmiri Pandits have returned to the Kashmir Valley, while lakhs are still unsure about going back to their state.
About four lakh Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee their homes in 1990 at the peak of extremism. That number has swelled to about seven lakh now and only about 1,500 have returned, that too for government jobs.
The government has tried to woo Pandits back to the Valley, increasing the cash assistance to each Pandit family for constructing houses to Rs 20 lakh up from Rs 7.5 lakh. But, ensuring a return cannot be pegged on economics alone.
“The entire system conspired for our exodus. It’s not possible to go back as the same system is there and, in fact, have become stronger with increased radicalistaion in the Valley,” said Ajay Chrungoo, chairman of Panun Kashmir, a Kashmiri Pandit organisation that is demanding a separate zone for Pandits in the Valley.
Pandits want an area of their own, one that will have a union territory status. Separatists like Sayeed Ali Shah Geelani oppose this demand for a separate homeland, saying Kashmiri Pandits are a part of Kashmiri culture and settling them in a separate zone is a conspiracy to divide the society.
Years of staying away and a charged atmosphere have also made many Pandits wary about returning.
“My son was six months old when we left the Valley,” said Avtar Krishan, whose son now works in Delhi. “Last year I took him there, but he felt suffocated in a radicalised atmosphere. He said it was fine to spend some summers there but not to settle down.”
Even the government’s promise of 3,000 additional jobs has failed to lure Pandit youth. Many of the 1,500 who returned for jobs have already resigned as one cannot seek a transfer outside the state. Many have gone for long leaves.
“Returning is possible if Muslims genuinely feel for us. Old timers may still accommodate us, but the new generation, who has not lived with Pandits may not like us,” said Ravi Krishan Raina, who migrated from Phalgam to Jagti, a township on the outskirts of Jammu.