By Saima Bhat
Fifty two-year-old, Santosh and her two sons are among the 651 Pandit families who didn’t migrate when the turmoil started in Kashmir. Their decision was taken by Hari Krishan, Santoosh’s husband, who died shortly after his house in Barbarshah, Srinagar was burnt.
The family says their house was burnt by some ‘miscreants’ as a reaction to the act of Indian troops who, to catch a militant, burnt down a shrine in Chare-i-Sharief in 1995.
While Santosh’s family survived the fire with the help of her Muslim and Pandit neighbours, the brunt of the loss they went through severely affected the mind of Hari Krishan. Their financial condition was affected for the worse. Krishan, a shopkeeper by profession, had to return his shop (a Masjid property). He was in no position to pay the rent. The family shifted to a neighbour’s house. It belonged to another Pandit but they had migrated to Jammu.
After her husband’s death the thought of joining her relatives in Jammu came to Santosh’s mind. Her elder son was the in first year of his graduation at that time. She changed her mind soon, “Some of my relatives suggested I come to Jammu, but they told me to sell off all my belongings to purchase things there. If they would have reassured me, I might have migrated due to poverty.” She says that nobody can feel her pain; nobody knows her struggle to survive all these years. She is close to shouting, and the emptiness of her eyes is her narrative.
After the death of his father, Vicky, Santosh’s elder son, started giving tuition classes. Vicky prefers to stay alone and has barely any friends. He has a different tale to recount. He believes if they had migrated, their condition would have been much better. “If we would have migrated at least we would have been getting 6000 rupees (130 USD) monthly; which the State government gives to migrant Pandits. I, too, would have gotten free education and found a place somewhere in the long lists of quotas; but even after being a post graduate, I am sitting idle at home.”
Vicky believes the State does step-motherly treatment with the Pandit families who haven’t migrated. And his mother adds, “We never got any help or relief from the State government, who are only bothered about those Pandits who have migrated and whose condition is much better than us.”
The house they are living in also speaks about their struggle. The house is in dereliction, they can’t even renovate it as it belongs to somebody else; neither do they have the money to afford it. The family survives on 5000 rupees a month. Vicky, the sole bread earner, also has the responsibility of his younger brother’s education on him.
The family is keeping their fingers crossed, because the owner of the house is planning to sell the house. They would be rendered homeless, if that happens.
The migration of Pandits from Kashmir has created two main problems for the Pandits who stayed behind. One is the overall cultural loss within this community, and the other is the social loss, they feel they lost their blood relations and what was left is done by the State government.
According to a survey done independently by Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS) in 2008, 651 Pandit families are living at 192 different places in Kashmir. After the Amarnath Land row, it is assumed some 56 to 70 families left Kashmir.
“The Pandit families who are living in Kashmir do not face any security threats, they all are living happily with the majority Muslim community, even in the Kupwara district which is severely hit by the turmoil in the State,” says a member of KPSS. He also says that there are other problems which they face; psychological and emotional turmoil and depression and an overall loss in culture. The major problem is of survival. Among these 650 families, 110 are living below poverty line and others mostly belong to the middle class. They believe all the jobs are provided to migrant families which has resulted in human rights violations for them.
To get a job under special quota exclusively meant for Pandits, one has to have an IDP certificate (internally displaced certificate) which is not given to those who haven’t migrated. Vicky too falls in the category after they were forced to shift to another house. 1700 migrant Pandits returned back to Kashmir under Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Policy (which included jobs and free flats). But he hasn’t been given the certificate. About 3000 vacancies were also created in Kashmir exclusively for Kashmiri Pandit migrants.
Sanjay Tikoo, the President of KPSS believes if they have returned for the love of their motherland they should have returned without any packages. Sanjay has even released a written statement in which he directly hits the State and has said ‘government is taking revenge from those families who didn’t migrate’.