It is indeed ironic that the tragedy of the miniscule population of this country the Kashmiri Pundits is remembered by the high and mighty of this country only when it suits them. Reams have been written and millions of words said about the on-going Indo-Pak CBMs (Confidence Building Measures). Money is being literally poured into Jammu and Kashmir to assuage the feelings of the majority community. All these are very welcome steps, and more needs to be done to bring peace and normalcy to the trouble-torn state.
But in this entire exercise, the very existence of Kashmiri Pundits seems to have been forgotten. Or is this a case of selective amnesia? The latter seems to be more true as they are remembered to score brownie points in international and local fora viz. the debates on human rights in Kashmir or in seminars and symposia organised by different NGOs or, at the most, during debates in the country'sParliament.
Today, the three lakh odd community, which was forced to flee from their homes and hearths in the wake of sustained pro-Pak agitation in the Valley and selective killings, is strewn across the country. But the more unfortunates among the unfortunates are ekeing out a miserable living in camps, mostly in Jammu.
Their plight has been very succinctly brought out by the J&K Centre For Minority Studies. The report titled ?Impact of migration on the socio-economic condition of Kashmiri displaced people? gives out cold statistics to prove what has befallen the community after it fled the Valley in the early 1990s. To quote a few of them?14 per cent of the migrated population, majority of whom belong to rural Kashmir, lives in the camps where the conditions are abysmal. They were dependent on agriculture, and have lost their only source of livelihood. Today they are dependent on government dole, euphemistically called ?relief ?. And, living in those one-room tenements has compounded the problems. With loss of privacy and wretched conditions, kids have fallen behind in their studies with drop-out rates having increased alarmingly. Another fall-out is the increasing number of divorce cases with most of them being filed by women who say their husbands are unemployed and, in some cases, have become drug addicts. One of them was frank enough to say that ?due to total lack of privacy, she could not establish a bond with her husband? and hence, wanted to separate.
The report is choc-a-block with what has gone wrong with the Kashmiri Pundit community, and that too, for none of its fault. Just because Islamic fundamentalists wanted to challenge the authority of the mighty Indian state, they made this docile community their target. There must be a very very few examples where a small community has become a refugee within its own country. In Africa, we have seen and heard of mass displacement of population, but that is more due to civil wars or drought and other calamities. But right here India is a case, where a miniscule community, which was forced to flee the Valley, been left in the lurch by all and sundry. Just because it does not figure on the electoral radar (read votes) of any political party, the community just has been all but forgotten.
There are already murmurs among the educated of the community that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be informed about their plight. This could lead to major embarrassment for the powers that be. These educated ones bemoan another fact. They say, people from among the community have been occupying positions in the government and political heirarchy that should be anybody'senvy, but even they, barring a few, have failed in their duty towards their ill-fated brethren.
The community is at the cross-roads of its very identity today and it will need a herculian effort to make it regain its lost glory.