Kashmiri Muslims Protest against the proposed Townships for Hindus. (Photo: www.tribuneindia.com)

Kashmiri Muslims Protest against the proposed Townships for Hindus. (Photo: www.tribuneindia.com)

Avtar Krishan used to own a large house and a successful fruit business in the Indian administered Kashmir.

But in the 1990’s he was forced from his home after an armed insurgency against Indian rule broke out in the region.

Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. The two neighbors, both nuclear powers, have fought three bloody wars to gain control over the region.

Avtar now lives in a small room with his mother, his wife and their three grown up children in a refugee camp in the northern city of Jammu.

“We have seen many ups and downs, suffered a lot but our emotional bond with Kashmir remains intact. That is the land of our ancestors, that’s where we were born and brought up, that’s where our language, culture and our unique history are based. And all at once, one day, we were deprived of all that and forced into a life of misery and misfortune. We live here but we don’t belong here and it is so painful to be uprooted like this,” he said.

300,000 other Kashmiri Hindus have a similar story. Kashmir Hindus say after the uprising they no longer felt safe in the valley.

The killing of some Hindus by the Kashmiri militants further reinforced their sense of insecurity triggering a mass migration.

Writer Simriti Kak who also left her home says they thought they would return.  

“We knew that we were coming back, every week we used to just shift the goal posts that next week, next month we are going to be backing home or at best six months. We thought the government would announce that the militants have all been flushed out and there’s no more tension, no more armed conflict so everybody who has left comes back home, nobody expected it to be this long,” she said.

Kashmiri Hindus make up nearly 5 percent of the valley’s total population.  

For centuries they have lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in peace and harmony.  

Their flight from the valley was thus a major blow to Kashmir’s age old tradition of tolerance and communal harmony.

It created a cultural void prompting calls from the Muslim majority for their return.

Zareef Ahmad is a Kashmiri Muslim poet.

“They are our own people, this land is as much theirs as it is ours, we have been appealing them to come back because this is our shared home and we are incomplete without each other. It is true that there is a political problem here but that can’t stop us living together,” he said.

Over the years, ordinary Kashmiri Muslims, political leaders and almost all separatist groups have been urging the Kashmiri Hindus to return to their homes.

But apart from a few hundred families the community remained hesitant citing security concerns.

Sushil Pandit is with the Kashmiri Hindu group Roots in Kashmir.

“We moved out because there was a threat to our life. Today we are not going back because there is a house all over again and a job and some cash thrown at us. The point is what kind of a Kashmir are we going back to and whether on ground your life is safe.  We are not waiting for an invitation to go back, whenever the conditions are fine we will go back,” he said.

Now the ruling Hindu nationalist party BJP wants to create separate townships in Kashmir where Kashmiri Hindus could live protected by government security forces.

The India government plans to resettle tens of thousands of Hindus in three new townships in Muslim-dominated Kashmir.

Jatinder Singh is junior minister in Prime Minister’s Office.

“The very idea of addressing the problems of the communities that have been uprooted is to ensure for them a place of rehabilitation with respectability. We as a party and as a government are committed to a respectable and dignified return of Kashmiri Pundits to their place of origin and there’s no going back on that,” he said.

But both mainstream Kashmiri politicians and separatist groups fiercely opposed the plan.

They argue that it will further divide the two communities and make peace almost impossible.

Mohammad Yasin Malik is Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir liberation front.

“It will be a recipe for disaster because it will create an atmosphere of fear and leave behind a legacy of hate and mistrust. Our coming generations who should go to school, play and grow up together instead they will remain strangers and might even become enemies. We won’t allow them to erect these walls of hatred and divide us,” he said.

The State government which initially approved the plan has now changed its position.

“A separate homeland for Kashmiri Hindus is just not possible. Whoever wants to come will have to live with us as before. We won’t create separate cluster like they did in Israel. We won’t allow our shared history to end like this,” said Kashmir’s Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Saeed.

Analysts say the government should instead focus on resolving the conflict. More than 100,000 people have died in Kashmir since the beginning of anti- India militancy two decades ago. The majority of those killed are Kashmiri Muslims.
 

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