Well, no holy book held a promised land for the Kashmiri Pandits after they were brutally expelled out of Kashmir in the Independent India. The cold, dark night of January 19, 1990, had stirred into life the worst nightmares of Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley. Screaming from loudspeakers and crowded streets was a message for the Sikhs and Hindus living in Kashmir –Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (either convert to Islam, leave the land, or die).
The threats had been coming in for a long time, but the night of January 19 is said to have seen a deranged attack of a different level. Even 29 years later, Kashmiri Pandits shiver remembering the night that forced them into exodus.
Sanjay, a Kashmiri pandit still remembers. It was a warm summer’s day in 1990 when he found a poster outside the wall of his home. It was written in Urdu, which Sanjay could not read, so he took it to his grandfather and asked him to translate it. “As he read it out to us, tears rolled down his cheeks … it basically ordered our family to leave the valley or die.”
Different accounts give different statistics of the total number of Kashmiri Pandits who fled their homes for their lives in the 1990s. While some say around 1, 00,000 of them had left the valley; others suggest figures as high as 300,000.
According to a number of authors, many of the Kashmiri Pandits have been living in abject conditions in refugee camps of Jammu. The government has reported on the terrorist threats to Pandits still living in the Kashmir region. In 2010, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir noted that 808 Pandit families, comprising 3,445 people, were still living in the Valley and that financial and other incentives put in place to encourage others to return there had been unsuccessful.
According to a J&K government report, 219 members of the community had been killed in the region between 1989 and 2004 but none thereafter. According to the surveys, the exiled community had hoped to return after the situation improved. They have not done so because the situation in the Valley remains unstable and they fear a risk to their lives.
In a recent gathering of the Kashmiri Pandits in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s Consul General addressed the audience by stating a number of assertions. Chakravorty said “ “I believe in our lifetime we will have our land back, our people will have to go back, because not everybody can live in the United States. Our Kashmiri Pandit brethren are living in camps, in Jammu, in Delhi, on the streets…”
However, the victims of the mutiny have a different story to tell and so many reasons to not go back to the valley. The Kashmiri Pandits seems to have “moved on”. Most of them no longer even wish to go back to the valley as they could again get outnumbered and overwhelmed.
When we speak of the “return” of Pandits, it is not a physical relocation we need to think of; Pandits cannot return to a Kashmir that is pre-1989, because it does not exist anymore.
A quarter of a century has elapsed since the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits took place. Most of the present Kashmiri Pandit youth were either not born then, or were kids with hazy memories, if any at all. One cannot expect students, professionals to leave their career midway and settle in Kashmir. There are no jobs, no industries in the region.
And which parent would permit their children to study in Kashmiri schools where every other day there is a shutdown, protest, agitation every second day? No to mention the terror attacks and living in fear again. Not Happening, says Sanjay!