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But it's their home, too

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    But it's their home, too

    But It's Their Home, Too: Kashmir's Hindus


    They are critical players in any potential solution to the Kashmir problem. But the Pandits, Kashmir's castout Hindu minority, rarely figure in discussions about the disputed territory. Their small numbers--there are barely 300,000 of them--and tradition of peaceful protest make them easy to overlook. It doesn't help that the Pandits are poorly organized and splintered into numerous factions.

    For centuries, Muslims and Pandits lived together in storybook harmony. The seeds of discord were sown during the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, when the Hindu ruler Hari Singh signed his kingdom over to India; most of his subjects were Muslim and would surely have preferred to join Pakistan or become independent. The Pandits, however, found it easy to identify with the Indian state: after all, its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a Pandit. So, when the first rumblings of rebellion were heard in the valley in 1989, the Pandits made it clear they would have no part of it. Many Muslims saw this as a betrayal of Kashmir.
    As the rebellion gathered strength, the Pandits were frequently singled out for harsh treatment. "We were treated as spies for India," says Ajay Chungroo, who now lives in Jammu town, 300 km from the valley. Small in number and thinly spread across the valley, they were easy targets. By 1990, recalls Pyarelal Sapru, another Pandit, "we were surrounded by ill-feeling and suspicion." Many saw what was coming and left; others were hounded out by militant Muslims. Pandit homes and lands were seized, sometimes by Muslims, sometimes by the Indian military. Some Pandits wandered across India and settled among the Hindu majority. Some 25,000 continue to live in squalid refugee camps outside Jammu.

    With each passing year, the Pandits' hopes of returning to their old homes and old ways are fading. Some groups, like Panun (My) Kashmir, are now demanding a separate homeland, carved out from the valley. "We can no longer live with the Muslims," says Pran Nath, a Panun Kashmir activist in Jammu. "Not after what they did to us."

    The Pandits have a justifiable claim to a seat at the table in any negotiations for peace in Kashmir. Muslim leaders acknowledge that any settlement of Kashmir's problems must accommodate the displaced Hindus. Omar Farooq, leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, the pro-independence umbrella organization, says the Pandits "are our people--with as much claim on Kashmiri soil as any Muslim." But he will hear no talk of a separate Hindu homeland. "There will be no more partitions," he says. That might be the best deal the Pandits will ever get.

    With reporting by Meenakshi Ganguly

    The Indian government could resettle the villages, but it does not want to see more Kashmiris pulling up stakes. The Valley has suffered one mass exodus already.
    "I used to be a bus driver," says Manohar Lal, a gray-haired man in a pink wool vest. "I drove routes all over the state. Now I can't walk 50 meters from my house." Lal's family is one of 200 Hindu households sheltered at the Indian army's Third Battalion headquarters, about 10 miles from the front lines. The Hindus of the Valley, most of them Brahmins belonging to the Pandit caste, had lived at peace with their Muslim neighbors for generations. "We used to be bhai-bhai (like brothers)," Lal says. "Now there are no Hindu passengers, and if I drive to a Muslim village I'll never drive back."
    In the early 1990s, Islamist militant groups began terrorizing the Pandits into flight. Unable to defend such a widely spread community against guerrillas who could easily melt into the general populace, the government set up camps in Jammu and Delhi for Pandits and tried to maintain the fiction that 135,000 refugees -- virtually the entire Hindu population of the Valley -- would one day go back home.
    The prospect of Hindus being expelled from the Valley en masse would have seemed far-fetched only a dozen years ago. Kashmir had been a showcase for the ability of Hindus and Muslims to live in harmony, and even for the viability of India as a secular, multireligious nation. The architect of such an India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was himself a Kashmiri Pandit.

    In Jammu, fighters with fewer ties to the populace have been less discriminating, massacring ordinary civilians without compunction. Within days of the Pakistani withdrawal from Kargil, guerrillas slaughtered 20 Hindus in three Jammu villages. The previous two weeks had seen at least two dozen other grisly executions, including those of a 100-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife. The insurgents have also trained their gunsights on military targets, but the villagers of Jammu remain caught in the crossfire. In 1998 guerrillas launched more than 90 attacks in the Doda district alone, and may well set a new record this year.
    The Doda district is about three times as large as the entire Valley of Kashmir but has only one-tenth as many roads. It is almost completely mountainous, with settlements strung out along hillsides rather than clustered in compact, easily defended villages. The terrain is a playground for guerrillas, a proving ground for police.
    "The militants are fewer than in the Valley," says Muneer Ahmed Khan, superintendent of police for Doda, "but they are better armed, better equipped, and more ruthless than ever." Khan, a Valley Muslim himself, should know: while serving in his native territory, he had a bounty of one million rupees (about $25,000) on his head.
    Since the terrain is all but indefensible by standard means, local inhabitants have been organized into government-sponsored Village Defense Committees. Although Doda's 800 units together contain about 6,500 members, each hamlet has only a dozen or so defenders. And these few villagers are thoroughly outgunned. Their standard weapon is the Lee-Enfield .303, a World War II-vintage rifle that holds six bullets. Guerrillas usually carry fully automatic ak-47s or ak-56s with 20-round banana clips, often accompanied by rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.
    Outside the Doda police station, a man drops his salwar trousers and asks me to examine his buttocks. I decline, so he presents his evidence without visual aids. "This is what the terrorists do," says Ghulam Haider, leader of his hamlet's militia. "These scars are from a grenade. They threw it while my back was turned." Haider knew the guerrillas were radical Islamists from Pakistan: he'd spoken with them a few days before the raid. Join us, they said, or die. A Muslim who had protested the Gulf War by naming his son Saddam Hussein, Haider refused to be intimidated. When the militants returned, they killed Haider's brother, his daughter, and a six-year-old boy named after an Iraqi who had committed more than a few murders himself.

    A dozen other militia members, all waiting to petition the superintendent for better arms, nod their heads and add their own stories. Like the people in their hamlets, they are a cross-section of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The guerrillas target Hindus in an attempt to stoke communal hatred, but are equally willing to kill any Muslims they deem insufficiently supportive. So far, however, the violence here has not led to religious polarization: in most of Doda's villages, one sees signs for tea-stalls and provisions shops in both the Perso-Arabic script of Urdu and the Devanagari of Hindi. Neighbors of different faiths still seem to live as brothers, bhai-bhai. But a decade ago the same was true in the Valley.

    Jammu City, winter capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, has more gun shops than a Wild West frontier town. In the Purkhoo camp, a miserable slum several miles outside the city center, Bushan Lal and some fellow Pandits give a visitor the shame-faced tour. They left home the same year as the refugees across the border in Kamser, and after four years they too moved from tents to more permanent dwellings. But the unpaved alleys are rutted bogs, slippery from the trickling of sludgy gray sewage.

    "Most of us have skin diseases from the poor drainage," Bushan Lal says. A native of Qazri, a village in the south of the Valley, he moved his family out when fundamentalist guerrillas gave them the choice of conversion or flight. Prior to that, he recalls, Hindus and Muslims used to be bhai-bhai. The government now gives each refugee a monthly stipend slightly higher than what it pays renegade militants, plus free rations. The camp has two newly built schools, a provisions shop, and a temple, but all of the men here are furious.

    "Rajiv Gandhi let this happen," says one of the Pandits. "Nehru's grandson betrayed us all." Mention the BJP and the chorus of contempt becomes even more bitter. "All they give us is khali batchit (empty chatter)," a man says. "The Valley will never be safe for Hindus." Then why not make the best of their lives here, dig drainage trenches, burn the towering piles of garbage -- or just move to Delhi and build a new life? The men's indignation melts to muttered half-answers. "No Pandit will move back to Kashmir," one finally says, "but that is still our home."

    Perhaps the worst thing about Jammu, all the men of Purkhoo agree, is the hot weather. In June, Bushan Lal says, he dreams about the cool mountains every night.


      NOOOOOOOo its my home ONLY mine BUT you are welcom!!!
      TOO long post cant read all dont have time...


      Till next time***K_I_S_S***