Reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus in Indian-controlled Kashmir
Hindus who fled conflict in the 1990s consider a move home. Still, distrust runs deep as key questions of Kashmir's past – and future – remain disputed.
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He labels the few cases of group killings of pandits as "mysterious" and possibly a plot to blacken the name of the separatist movement. He says it's widely suspected in Kashmir that the exodus may have been orchestrated by the government "to portray before the world that it is a communal frenzy rather than a genuine freedom movement."Skip to next paragraph
The thaw begins with contact
A few pandits have stayed in Kashmir since 1989. One of their leaders, Sanjay Tickoo, says 651 pandit families remain in the valley. He advises pandits not to migrate home in the absence of a political settlement.
If they come back, says Mr. Tickoo, they should integrate with the majority population. Over the past year, the Indian government has given jobs to more than 1,000 young pandits who agreed to permanently relocate to Kashmir – but they are mostly housed in walled-off compounds. "We know when there were crises in the past, our cordial relationships with our neighbors [helped]," says Tickoo.
Many pandits cannot simply return to their former houses. Kichloo, like many pandits, sold his home after fleeing. He needed the money to pay school fees so he sold cheaply. Housing prices have since soared and his old home is now unaffordable. He supports the idea of a pandit homeland.
The controversial idea of a homeland would ensure that if pandits returned they would never again have to flee, argues Ramesh Manvati, the vice president of Panun Kashmir. He talks of mental scars. In the days before he fled, there was a move to set clocks to Pakistani time. He grew so afraid of being asked for the time by troublemakers that he stopped wearing watches; he still cannot.
Young people are starting to visit and build relationships. Earlier this year, young pandits and Muslims formed a Facebook group to start interactions. So far the group has led 13 pandit youths to Kashmir for week-long "home stays" with Muslim families. Vivek Raina, one of the cofounders, says another 100 youths have made their own trips to visit Muslim friends.
"There's a huge number of pandits and Muslims also in Kashmir who have grown up in isolation from each other," says Mr. Raina, a pandit.
"What has taken [root] in their mind," he says, "is the dominant narrative that's prevalent in the society [that is] driven by vested interests and filled with hatred and bitterness."
Raina says the group wanted to find a space beyond politics where Kashmiris could recognize their commonality.
"You can resolve differences only if you start to meet with each other," he says. "You start looking at them as human beings; and as soon as that happens, most of the thaw happens there."