Even before the current protests, these numbers told their tale:
140,000 – An estimated number of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley in the late 1980s
19,865 – The number of Pandits who left in the valley in 1998
3,400 – The number of Pandits estimated to be in Kashmir at present, at least until June. These include those rehabilitated under government schemes and those who stayed back.
Following the outbreak of violence after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 8, this number is estimated to have further gone down by another 1,000-1,200. While the community says this is an estimate; the government isn't keeping a record of Pandits fleeing the valley.
“Some angry youths pelted stones on our quarters and destroyed our property. The local villagers had assured us that no one will harm us, but this crowd is from other areas. Our vehicles were damaged. Our children were also injured,” Sunil Pandita, a resident of Vessu transit camp in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district, told ScoopWhoop.
Pandita, who works with the J&K Education department and lives in the camp along with his wife and ailing father, has moved to his family home in Jammu.
He said very few families are left in the transit camp at Vessu which has 220 houses.
Like Pandita, many of the Kashmiri Pandits currently in the valley are employed in various departments of the state government. They say their quarters in South Kashmir were attacked by protesters, creating a “fear psychosis” among them.
Many have fled to Jammu, and some staged a protest near the office of Relief Commissioner, demanding postings and settlements in the Jammu region of the state.
“When we brought the matter to the notice of police and administration, they assured us that we would be safe. But we were afraid and decided to leave,” Pandita said.
Many resettled KP youth from Mattan and Haal transit camps have also fled the valley, members of the community say.
They had returned to the valley with hope
Following the announcement of a Rs 1,600-crore package by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008, nearly 1,700 Kashmiri Pandit youths returned and were given employment in various departments of the state government. The Pandits say this number includes those who were rehabilitated under earlier government initiatives as well.
The youths who returned are among those whose families had fled the valley in the 1990s and were re-settled in five transit camps built across Kashmir valley.
“The total number of such employees resettled in the valley is 1,673, and most of them have come back [to Jammu],” RK Pandita, Relief Commissioner (Jammu) told ScoopWhoop.
Some say the state machinery was of help.
“Angry youths suspected us of video-filming them during protests. That’s why they attacked us with stones. Army and Police were aware of the danger we were in, but they didn’t come to our help,” Rakesh Pandit, who lived in a rented apartment in Anantnag district, said.
An employee with J&K Education department, Pandit returned to the valley in 2007 under a government scheme for unemployed KP youth.
“We want to be settled here in Jammu,” he said.
However, officials in Kashmir claimed that most of those who had migrated to Jammu are working in the education department and had merely left the valley for the summer vacation.
“They have to come back. The package made it mandatory for a KP employee to stay and work in Kashmir as it was a process of reconciliation and rehabilitation with the majority community. When the situation returns to normal, they have to report on duty,” an official from the administration said on the condition of anonymity.
Not all Kashmiri Pandits are fleeing
While the fate of the resettled youth from the community depends upon the government’s decision, there are many Kashmiri Pandit families across the valley who have no plans to leave.
Some insist the situation is not that bad for members of the community.
“There are some vested interests in our society who don’t want to see a Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit living peacefully. They are on the both sides,” Sandeep Mawa, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Reconciliation Front, told ScoopWhoop.
“The killing of Wani has given some people opportune time to create a divide between the people of J&K,” Mawa, whose organization works for the 'promotion of brotherhood and peace' in the valley”, said.
According to him, the migration of employed Pandit youth is a “human issue that has been politicised.” He said the migration to Jammu isn't just because of the current violence.
“There’s an inherent flaw in the rehabilitation package. Most of these KP youth have their parents and wives in Jammu. While the lack of facilities at transit camps doesn’t allow them to bring their families here, many youth always yearn to go back to Jammu,” Mawa, who lives in Srinagar, said.
“Many times, they have come to me with the same demand. However, I always told them it’s safe and they should live here,” Mawa said.
Some members of the community say that the response to violence of those rehabilitated, and those who stayed on despite the unrest of the 1990s, is very different.
“These migrating KP youth are those who returned to the valley under the package. They are not familiar with the situation in Kashmir. Those who stayed here during the 1990s are still here. There’s no threat to us,” Chunni Lal, a Kashmiri Pandit who stayed back in the valley during the 1990s, said.
“I never thought about leaving. Why should I? This is my home,” Lal, who is also the president of Hindu Welfare Society in Srinagar, said.