the-south-asian Life & Times                 January - March 2011




 Editor's Note


 Cover Story
 Kashmiri Pandits

 Eminent Pandits
 Neel Kashkari

 Veer Munshi

 Pradman Kaul

 Pandit Bhajan Sopori

 Photo Feature
 The Obamas in India


 100 years of aviation
 in India

 Mt. Kailash
 Stairway to Heaven

 In the footsteps of
 Smythe in Garhwal


 The Wild Ass

 By O P Dutta









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Kashmiri Pandits

– A 5,000-Year Heritage of the Valley

A SALT Feature

Pandit Mahanand Joo Dhar

The Kashmiri Brahmins, or Pandits as they are generally known, are the original inhabitants of Kashmir (India’s northernmost state known for its stunning natural beauty). Fewer than 500,000 in number, they are highly educated, and known for their progressive and secular views. Most are engaged in the medical, education, and government professions. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a Kashmiri Pandit. The Pandits' story today is one of the tragic and often overlooked footnotes of a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, and forced hundreds of thousands from their native land into exile in their own country.

In the early 1990s, most Pandits were driven out of Kashmir - their ancestral homeland of 5000 years – by a systematic campaign of assassinations and intimidation by the Islamic terrorists, often trained on foreign soil. The killings of prominent citizens became increasingly random and gruesome. A swift and organised blitzkrieg of "fear psychosis in the valley, orchestrated to inflict fear and insecurity amidst the minority community, began on the evening and night of January 19, 1990 – continued relentlessly until the following morning and extended into countless days of terror." Loudspeakers from mosques and elsewhere blared out threatening messages of Jihad, families were hunted and hounded out of their homes, and a mass exodus followed. An estimated 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced into exile.

Some members of this once vibrant community have now resettled in other parts of India and started new lives. Others remain in dismal camps outside Jammu, where they still live a life of hopelessness and despondency. A minority stayed on, counting on the assurances of their Muslim neighbours that they would be safe. But despite the goodwill of Muslim friends and neighbours, terrorists continued their ‘cleansing’ pogrom.  In March 2003, a group of terrorists killed 24 of the 52 Pandits living in the tiny hamlet of Nadimarg, about 35 miles south of the summer capital, Srinagar. The dead included 11 women and 2 children. Muslims from the area sat by the bodies of their Hindu neighbours, wailing, beating their chests and cursing the killers.

Despite the brutality and humiliation that Pandits have suffered in the past two decades, they have never resorted to, and repeatedly rejected, any form of counter-violence. Kashmiri Pandits have paid a heavy price for their nonviolent and tolerant behaviour. They have lost ancestral land, homes, property, businesses, emotional assets, family, neighbours, friends – and most of all - their way of life. Memories are what they are left with – of good and bad times.


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