This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Preetika Bhateja. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why Kashmiri Pandits Deserve More Than Just ‘Packages’ To Facilitate Their Honourable Return

More from Preetika Bhateja

By Preetika Bhateja:

“On June 23, 1989, pamphlets were distributed in Srinagar. It was an ultimatum to Muslim women, by an organization that called itself Hazb-i-Islami, to comply with ‘Islamic’ standards within two days or face ‘action’. Pandit women were asked to put a ‘tilak’ on their foreheads for identification. On September 2, the 300-year-old Baba Reshi shrine was gutted in a fire under mysterious circumstances. Everything was toppled in Kashmir in the next few weeks. Within a few days, the whole scenario changed and it was a catastrophe on the night of January 19, 1990.” This is a blistering account by Rahul Pandita, author of the book ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’.

Picture Credits: dharma next
Picture Credits: dharma next

There was unrest in the Valley since 1987 but on January 19, 1990, the insurgency that centred around the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) escalated. Hundreds of schools were burnt, and shrines destroyed. India deployed thousands of troops in Jammu and Kashmir and on January 20, CRPF open fired on a group of Kashmiri protesters at Gawakadal that killed 50 people. January 19 became the catalyst which propelled into a mass upsurge. After that, hundreds of young men came out in support of secession and crossed the borders to receive arms. Local mosque told pandits to leave their homes that led to a mass exodus. One of the Kashmiri Pandits recall “They (militants) said be a human shield for us because there was curfew.” The Pandits were not the only community thrown out, Punjabis and Dogras faced the same fate.

Most of the Kashmiri Pandits who left, settled in the transit camps of Jammu, NCR and other parts of India. Once elite Pandits, who monopolized most of the government jobs and lived in posh colonies of the Valley were thrown out, their property was either charred down or taken over by the militants. The Pandit families who chose to stay in the Valley amidst insurgency were supported by their Muslim neighbours but this was a rare scenario. 40,000 Kashmir Pandit families left the Valley during that time. Home for them was a make shift plastic tent. Their population declined drastically because of the difficult living conditions and a fall in the birth rate.

25 years after the exodus, the Kashmiri Pandits are still not willing to go back. Kashmir now houses less than 3000 of Kahsmiri Pandits. When asked about his return, Suresh Koul, a retired government official said “Kahsmir ki bahut yaad aati hai…kaun bhool sakta hai.” Scratch the surface and the rage comes out spilling, “Our ethnicity and identity is destroyed, we had to assimilate new cultures, our ethos forgotten. From birth to death Kashmiri Pandits have our own culture, our own rituals; you can’t be a Kashmiri Pandit outside of Kashmir. My children will never be able to go back to their homeland. They drove us out.”

In 2008, the government started PM’s special package for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, before this no authority paid heed to the plight of Pandit community. Under this scheme, the youth were offered jobs if they came back to the valley with their families and Rs 7.5 lacks for re constructing their ancestral homes. Around 1445 young people were given jobs as part of this package. Special flats were constructed in Sheikhpora and other colonies. Rahul Bhatt (name changed) is one of those living in Sheikhpora, he says “Before joining, employees are made to sign a bond that allotted accommodation for them and their families. Under the terms of the package, they could not request job transfers and will be immediately terminated if they left the Valley. Two families are made to share two bedroom quarters. We are cut off from the society and this is just bonded labour.”

This package failed to attract the Kashmiri Pandits. Pandits left in lakhs and came back in hundreds. Recently, Omar Abdullah admitted that to bring back Pandits, government needs to double its efforts for their return by increasing financial assistance and instilling a sense of security. A new package has come up that offers Rs 20 lacks to the Kashmiri Pandit families to re construct their homes. However, no Kashmiri migrant family has so far come forward expressing its willingness to return to the valley and avail the incentive. Kashmiri Pandits feel luring them with money won’t dismiss the fact that they were thrown out. “Such endeavors try to reduce our exodus from the Valley to some kind of a natural calamity, like famine, flood or earthquake” said a member of ‘Roots in Kashmir’. A group of Kashmiri Pandits staged a protest at Press Enclave with a six-point charter of demands that included passing of the Temple and Shrines Bill, probe into the encroachments of Hindu temples, special employment package for non-migrant KPs and more. Ashwani Charangoo of ‘Panun Kashmir’ said “the migrant community is not prepared to return to the Valley until the fulfillment of its geo-political aspirations which included carving out of an area with Union Territory status for Pandits within the Valley.”

This news has not gone down well with Kashmiri Pandits who didn’t migrate. There are close to 3000 Pandits still living in Kashmir. But the government has no proposal for them; they don’t have jobs or compensation unlike the ones who migrated. “We have also witnessed the same mayhem the Pandits who migrated faced. We are isolated and our kids could not get proper education” said Kamlesh Parimoo, who stayed back with her family in Habba Kadal in the old Srinagar city.

The moment this package was announced, the Grand Mufti opposed settlements for Kashmiri Pandits. He said Kashmiri Pandits are free to return back but no separate colonies and packages should be available to them. He said that settling the Kashmiri Pandits in security cover will lead to a divide in the Kashmiri society on religious lines. Some religious organizations are cautioning the Centre against any move to create separate settlements for migrant Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley.

With this new package, 70,000 families can avail the incentive but no family is interested in the money or the job. When we talk about rehabilitation in Kashmir, it isn’t limited to giving a job and a shelter. Security is a major concern. Blaming the then Governor Jagmohan, or Farooq Abdulla won’t help. Mufti saying that RSS members are being settled in Kashmir in garb of Pandits won’t help either. The murky politics revolving around this issue needs to take a backseat. Thousands of families lost their homeland and their return is necessary to restore the composite culture of Kashmir. But what will they come back to? If they reject the incentives, they will have to live away from their homeland and if they dare shift back to Kashmir, people like Mufti won’t let them live in separate colonies and small clusters. The last time they lived in terror, they were thrown out. How do we expect them to come back? It’s time government finds a way out and there should be a wider consultation. Somebody has to listen to what they (Pandits) are saying. They deserve a dignified and honourable return to their home.

‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ by Rahul Pandita

You must be to comment.
  1. Gaurav

    Excellent article. kudos to the writer to highlight the issue. the so called liberals who debate endlessly on other topics do not seem to understand the issue and its importance for all indians.

More from Preetika Bhateja

Similar Posts

By Taylor Guerrero

By Chiranshu Sihag

By ananya rajawat

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below