Author: Saadut
•12:37 PM

In the recently concluded Panchayat elections in Kashmir while most of commentators reported the percentage of voters participating and the relatively incident free lower level elections, some small news made a big impact on presenting Kashmir. In Wusan village which has almost 99% Kashmiri Muslim population, a Kashmiri Pandit lady won the Pachayat elections. 51-year-old Asha Bhat wife of Radha Krishan of Wussan Village, Kunzer situated on the picturesque Srinagar-Gulmarg road, defeated her neighbor Sarwa Begum to become the first Pandit woman Panch of Kashmir.

Married to Radha Krishan Bhat in 1984, a village farmer who also runs a small grocery shop nearby, Asha Ji’s family did not migrate during the Kashmir turmoil and never did they regret their decision of staying back in Kashmir. "During the last 20 years we faced the same kind of problems which my Muslim neighbors had to encounter. During crackdowns by security forces, if their children were taken out, my children too were not spared," Asha Ji said to the local media. She has two sons, one of whom works in the police department. Villagers claim that there were ten Pandit families in the village out of which only five migrated and five decided to stay back. But interestingly none of the migrated families ever sold their land and the properties are intact. 

This election of a Kashmiri Pandit lady was not a one-off event in Kashmir, in Tahab village of Pulwama district another Kashmiri Pandit, Makhan Lal Zutshi won uncontested as Panch in the Panchayat elections. Pertinent to mention that South Kashmir has witnessed the worst of Kashmir turmoil, and also in this village the overwhelming majority of population is Muslim. Buoyed by the overwhelming support of his Kashmiri Muslim voters, Pandit Makhan Lal Zutsi has his eyes on the Sarpanch position now.  He filed his papers from Tahab Village after a Muslim acquaintance persuaded him to do so keeping in view his social commitment. There are 3300 voters in his village and even though there could have been many contenders for the Panchayat seat, still the village decided to elect him unopposed. Pandit Makhan Lal earlier worked as an employee in the government PDD (Power development department) and even after retiring in 2000 he and his family did not leave or migrate from the valley.

While speaking to local media Pandit Makhan Lal said “We have been living together since centuries and have collectively faced the problems and cherished happiness.” Adding further “We never left the Tahab village even during the peak of militancy. My conscience and sense of roots did not allow me to leave my home.  Nobody came here to harm us. The villagers took care of us. We never felt threatened,” Zutshi said.  “That brotherhood persists in Kashmir. There is no security threat. I appeal the Pandit community living outside to return.”

Many would argue ‘how does election of a couple of Sarpanshes from minority community matter among hundreds of them elected”. But the doomsayers forget that it is not the numbers that should be looked as the only positive indicators but the will of those Pandit’s who stayed back and the trust, goodwill between the two communities in remote hamlets of Kashmir where turmoil has otherwise left deep scars.  

There are numerous unreported stories of Kashmir Pandits who never left or migrated from the valley, only that they have never been highlighted by the media. One of the most prominent educationalists of Kashmir Dr. C. L Vishen who runs a group of educational institutions in Kashmir never migrated from the valley and his institutions operated even in the worst of turmoil period. His educational institutions have produced exemplary citizens, some of whom making it to prestigious civil services. Dr. Vishin continues to stay in Srinagar and contribute to the local society.

Last year the employees appointed by J&K government under Kashmiri Pandit migrant quota were welcomed in their respective villages by local Kashmir’s with open arms. In many cases it was the local Kashmiri Muslims who supported them and provided them accommodation till the Kashmiri Pandits could arrange for their own. Some of the young Kashmiri Pandits who had never earlier been to their homeland were astonished to see a different picture of Kashmir than they had been presented to them outside of valley.  

Kashmir Pandits are also finding space in the main political scene of Kashmir. The main opposition party of J&K, PDP (People Democratic Party) early this year appointed leading cancer surgeon Dr Sameer Kaul as the spokesman of the party. Dr Kaul originally hails from village Chakoora in Pulwama district of south Kashmir and is presently senior consultant surgical and clinical oncology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.

Such stories of Kashmiri Pandits choosing to stay back and live alongside Kashmiri Muslims and the support they received could give a boost to efforts of civil society to bring the other migrants back to homeland. There have been many efforts at the social level to create connections between various communities of Kashmir who migrated or were displaced during peak of turmoil.

Social networks have been extensively used for some time to search for friends and acquaintances lost during turmoil and in most of these cases reunions have been deeply emotional between the two communities. An initiative for connecting to school mates from a local school led to a chain of connections between Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit ex-school friends who had not been in contact for decades and subsequently materialized in mini alumni meets. There have been various efforts on social networks to connect and get together the two communities and one such effort is a Facebook group ‘Saariy Samav Aksey Razi Lamav’ (after a line from a verse by the Kashmiri poetess Lal Ded, which means “Let us pull the common rope together”). The group already boasts of more than 1000 members and has been arranging meetings between many of the members between the two communities. 

There have been other efforts on Twitter also by social activists to bridge the divide between the two communities and it can be only by the will and participation of civil society that these distances can be shortened.

June 20th 2011

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