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Kashmiri Pandits did not leave the Valley because of money and are unlikely to return for the love of money. This is what Pandit after Pandit tells you in Jammu. “I had to leave because of this,” says Daya Krishan at the Purkhoo refugee camp on the city’s outskirts, displaying his sacred thread. The thread would turn into a noose for him in the Valley if he chose to return, he declares, clearly reluctant to leave the camp.
He was 31 when he left in 1990. Now retired, he tells Outlook, “We lived in a tent at Udhampur for three years. Later, we moved into a room provided by the government at Battal Balian. We got another room, kitchen and bathroom constructed at our own expense. But in 2008 we had to shift to Purkhoo because of increasing industrial pollution.”
He has travelled once to the Valley to take a look at the house he left. And his experience was not pleasant. “The new generation of Kashmiris sees us as intruders; our land and property have been encroached. So what is the point of returning?” he asks.
Deepika Singh Rajawat, a lawyer and human rights activist, was 10 when her family left the Valley. “Return of the Pandits should be of a permanent nature and not a temporary trickle,” she emphasises.
Others do not see it as an option at all. They have nursed bitterness for too long. Some of them allege that the erstwhile Shankaracharya Temple has been made the Takht-e-Sulaiman. Others say Muslim scholars have questioned the existence of poet-saint Aranimal from Baramulla, whose songs are still sung. The sense of ‘otherness’ has grown, hardened. They would like a clean break from the past. Hence the popular support for Panun Kashmir’s longstanding demand for a separate homeland in the Valley. “What Panun Kashmir has been asking for a long time, a Union Territory for the Pandits, is the only permanent solution to the problem,” says Daya Krishan, even as others around him nod vigorously in agreement.
By Ashutosh Sharma in Jammu