Today: Jun 19, 2024

The Plight of Kashmiri Pandits: Then and Now

2 mins read

(On the occasion of 19th Jan 1990-The Mass Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits)

The forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has left an indelible mark on their history, spanning nearly three decades and representing a tragic chapter in their lives. As the children born in the aftermath have come of age and the elderly have either endured or sadly perished, those who remained behind find themselves either lamenting or grappling with their fate. The gravity of the situation is such that the younger generation remains largely unaware of their birthplace, homeland, and the sorrowful circumstances that led to their families being uprooted.

While they may have heard stories from their fathers and grandfathers about their inherent Kashmiri identity, the events of the Nineties, which led to their displacement, continue to cast a long shadow. Unfortunately, successive governments failed to make sincere efforts to resettle them in the valley. Had the authorities taken the right steps at the right time, displaced Pandits could have been living peacefully in their homeland. Despite assurances and inquiries, no government has been able to definitively determine responsibility for the atrocities, heinous crimes, and brutal murders inflicted upon this patriotic community.

Forced to wander from place to place, this resilient community has forged its own path and determined its destiny. The three decades of exile have imparted valuable lessons to the educated and resourceful Kashmiri Pandit community. They have become self-reliant, strong, and adept at navigating life’s challenges. Despite being scattered, they have built a place for themselves wherever they are, relying on their hard work and adaptability.

Regrettably, this dispersed community, instead of consolidating its cultural heritage, is gradually losing its cultural identity. There is a looming concern that the pain of displacement may erode the distinct identity and pride of this community. Governments often focus on securing votes, prioritize projects that will garner electoral support. Unfortunately, the Pandit community, despite being an influential and emotionally charged constituency, has not received the attention it deserves since it is not a vote-bank for any government or party.

Social scientists argue that the trauma of displacement has not only made Kashmiri Pandits homeless but has also deeply affected their social fabric. Despite remembering their customs and traditions, there’s a noticeable trend of forgetting their language. Many question why Kashmiri Pandits who have migrated from Kashmir predominantly speak Hindi at home rather than their mother tongue, Kashmiri. The answer is simple: maintaining language and cultural traditions becomes easier when a community is concentrated at one place, fostering a sense of community and ensuring the preservation of language and literature. 

Moreover, community spirit strengthens language, and in times of dispersion and fragmentation, language and literature often suffer. Those who remain in Kashmir continue to speak their language, but for those who were displaced, preserving their language became secondary in the face of an uncertain existence. Fact of the matter is that in times of peace, language and literature flourish, but during periods of conflict and displacement, language often faces a decline or is on the verge of extinction.

The forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits stands as a poignant testament to the enduring struggles confronted by this resilient community. Although they have flourished in diverse regions across the nation, it is imperative for the government to undertake cohesive initiatives aimed at safeguarding their cultural heritage. This proactive approach is essential to ensure that succeeding generations maintain a robust link to their origins, notwithstanding the adversities of displacement. By doing so, Kashmiris, wherever and whoever they are, can foster a profound sense of identity and belonging for the Kashmiri Pandit community, acknowledging and addressing the challenges that have shaped their journey.

The writer is former Fellow, IIAS, Shimla.