The protesting Pandits say that the government has been providing jobs and opportunities to migrant Pandits, but they have been left to fend for themselves
The Pandits have sat on a ‘fast-unto-death’ strike untill their demands are fulfilled
Srinagar: As the sun sets in Haba Kadal, Vasundhara, a 26-year-old non-migrant Kashmiri Pandit packs her bag at Ganesh Mandir and leaves for her home, only to return again the morning, to join the Fast-Unto-Death.
Vasundhara, along with other representative members of Kashmiri Pandit families, has been following the same routine since November 22 when the Kashmiri Pandits Sangarash Samiti (KPSS), an association of non-migrant Kashmir Pandits, started thier Phase II of Fast-Unto-Death.
Three members of the KPSS are on a “Fast-Unto-Death” strike, including the President of KPSS, Sanjay Tickoo, Youth activists, Sandeep Koul and Bhupender Singh Jamwal.
The members have submitted a list of demands to the government, which they say has been falling on ‘deaf ears’.
“Providing of the necessary financial assistance and benefits of migrant welfare fund to the 808 non-migrant Kashmiri Pandit families living in Kashmir. Protection, preservation and restoration of temples and other religious institutions belonging to the religious minority in the Kashmir,” are also included in their demand list.
“This is the second phase of our Fast-Unto-Death strike and we will not stop until our demands are met. We are not demanding any extraordinary thing but we are just seeking our rights. Government has time and again ignored us though we have faced very harsh times compared to migrant pandits,” said Vasundhara.
Vasundhara was a year old when Kashmiri Pandits starting migrating from the valley. Her father too migrated to Jammu leaving Vasundhara and her mother back in Kashmir.
“My Parents separated after my birth and I don’t know the reason of their separation. My father left us here and he migrated to Jammu and since then I have not seen him. I and my mother were living with my grandfather who was the Pujari (priest) of this Ganesh Mandir. Our income was wholly and solely dependent on this temple. But after Kashmiri Pandits left, our income dropped drastically and we faced financial problems. No one including the government supported us in those hard times, are we children of a lesser god?” Vasundhara lamented.
After the death of her grandparents, Vasundhara and her mother did not have any source of income. Her aunt, who was a teacher in a private school in Srinagar, supported them.
Vasundhara completed her Master’s Degree in Electronics from Kashmir University and her tuition expenses were taken care of by an NGO.
“After completing education, I joined a private school to support my mother but due to the unprecedented conditions in Kashmir, my income was halted because schools do not pay their staff regularly during consistent lockdowns. We have no one here to ask for help. We have faced the ground situation of Kashmir as compared to migrant pandits. We along the Kashmiri Muslims have seen the worst phase in Kashmir, and are continuing to face it. We have not celebrated our festivals with our families and relatives like the migrant pandits have been celebrating.”
The protesting Pandits say that the government has been providing jobs and opportunities to migrant Pandits, but they have been left on their own.
Even as matric-pass migrant pandits are being given reservation in government jobs, non-migrants with masters and PhDs are left to fend for themselves, they say.
“The government should have included us in the package meant for Pandits, we have genuine demands,” Vasundahara rued.
She sayd that in the private education sector, there is lack of sufficient income which does not allow one to support their family.
“Many times in these two years I and my mother have skipped meals because we did not have money,” she says.
Dimpy Raj Kohli, another Kashmiri Pandit among the protesters says that her father has retired from his service and she wanted a secure job to support her family in the difficult times.
“Political conditions in Kashmir never remain stable, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. My father has retired and we don’t have any source of income other than his pension but it is not enough to live a comfortable life. The life and environment in Kashmir is totally different. The migrants who have migrated outside have lived a comfortable life without any stress. But here we are still facing a depressive environment,” says Dimpy.
In 2008, the Union government announced a rehabilitation and relief package for the migrant Kashmiri Pandits, however, despite assurance from the then government that non-migrants Pandits will also be included in the package, they say they have been ‘pushed to the wall’.
Later in 2013, a petition was filed in the Srinagar High Court by KPSS that 808 families of non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits should be included in the Prime Minister’s rehabilitation package for Kashmiri Pandits which will provide them job security and other financial assistance.
“In 2015, Minister of Home Affairs (MHA) gave in writing in the court that Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the Valley despite the turmoil are also eligible for the prime minister’s package. But state government again delayed its implementation. In 2017, government made SRO 425 under which we became eligible for the jobs and rehabilitation package,” Sanjay Tikoo told Free Press Kashmir.
He said that there are around 808 non-migrant Pandit families living in Kashmir currently and they have demanded that at least 500 government posts should be created under SRO 425 which ‘the government has ignored time and again’.
“On September 20, we started Fast-Unto-Death’ which continued till September 30 when district administration assured us that our demands will be taken under consideration, but nothing has been done on the ground which forced us to go for a hunger strike again till our demands are met,” Tikoo added.
Besides, KPSS also demands that due to the delay in implementation of SRO 425, a one-time age relaxation should be given to all over-age candidates with effect from May 2016, and accommodation to all deserving Non-Migrant families under PM’s Relief and Rehabilitation Package.
Free Press Kashmir tried to contact the Additional District Commissioner, Srinagar, but he was not available for comments.