Kashmiri Pandit families(HT Photo)
Kashmiri Pandit families(HT Photo)

‘Kashmiri Pandits could have been brought back by govt’, says Businessman Vijay Dhar

Prominent businessman and entrepreneur Vijay Dhar, who runs Delhi Public School in Srinagar, talks about the exodus of Pandits, the evolution of the community after being forced to leave, and what justice means to them after 30 years.
By Zia Haq | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2020 07:11 AM IST

Prominent businessman and entrepreneur Vijay Dhar, who runs Delhi Public School in Srinagar, talks about the exodus of Pandits, the evolution of the community after being forced to leave, and what justice means to them after 30 years. Edited excerpts:

Could you briefly explain the history of Pandit-Muslim relationship before 1989?

I think I’d probably go back to 1947, if the Kashmiris joined the rest of the country here, it was primarily because of secularism. We chose a secular India to a Muslim Pakistan. And this secularism continued right up to 1989, I would say. Then in 1989 I think…actually there were various forces playing since 1986, I would say. And after that, these forces erupted and, I may be wrong, but at that time, when the Kashmiri Pandits left, they could have been brought back.

And for me, for example, I came out in 1990…April or May, I was one of the last to leave. In 1992, my mother took ill. In the hospital she asked if she could go home. I said sure we could go home. So, she got well, I think it was August-September, we decided to go back and take my mother. The impression that I was given, the then home minister and the Prime Minister’s Office, they said nothing doing…you cannot go because of security reasons. I said look, I have promised my mother, I’ll take her. Anyway, so there was a compromise. We changed our names. My name was changed, my mother’s name was changed and my wife’s name was changed. We got into a flight, the moment we landed in Srinagar, the reception that we got from everybody was really really very warm. When we left the airport, the security that they given us was so pathetic that it made me feel that Pakistan had no other business but to shoot me. There were cavalcades in the front and in the back. When we reached home, the telephone started ringing and our friends said, “Please don’t come to our house and we will not come to your house, but we will leave the tiffin at the gate, please collect it’. So, we were there for five weeks and we were so overwhelmed, we did not even make our breakfast. And this was a bad time…1992,1993 and 1994.

What exactly happened in 1989-90 that made Pandits leave?

You know, this thing, as I said, was going on for a long time, for almost two-three years and then you had a scare for the Pandits. There were slogans of ‘go out’. Even my own staff, which was looking after us for 20 years or so, told me that, “Saab, you have to leave. We cannot protect you”. Two years later, the same staff welcomed me. But in between you know, there were burning properties for whatever reasons, so that kind of a scare had come up. Then they packed up and left. Those were very sad circumstances. But as I said, they could have been brought back after six months or one year.

Looking back, who would you now blame for this?

If you look at it from 1986 onwards till 1989, you had the last phase of Rajiv Gandhi and the initial phase of VP Singh…I think when VP Singh took over, they were still grappling with the situation. Nobody except Arun Nehru understood the situation. And then they decided to send Mr Jagmohan and Farooq Abdullah left in a huff and a puff, so you had really nobody at the helm of affairs, except for the governor. I can’t put the blame on A, B or C but the turn of the situations did not give anybody time to think about Kashmir.

Could you describe a bit about the evolution of the Pandit movement?

Pandits were a handful, maybe 400,000 people who left at that time or maybe even less. The only person I would say who helped Kashmiri Pandits at that time was Bal Thackeray. They went from door to door, asking for help. When they went to Thackeray, he said ‘do you want money, they said no, do you want land, they said no. They said please protect the future of our children’. And this gentleman got up and he said I’ll give 1,000 seats in the technical colleges of Maharashtra without capitation fees. That was the revival of the Kashmiri next generation. So, if you have got Kashmiri Pandit engineers all over the world today, they should owe it to Bal Thackeray.

Will the abrogation of Article 370 help to bridge the divide or widen the gulf further?

I don’t think the relationship between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims have been bad. Temporarily, over a period of time, yes. Today, you have a lot of Pandits who are trying to come back and build a property there. I, for example, set up a school and I must say the amount of encouragement that I got was phenomenal. There are 5,000 children studying in it and 40% of them are girls. I have never felt any communal discrepancy. Secularism is still alive in Kashmir.

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