Pandits return to Kashmir to celebrate mela at Kheer Bhawani temple; emotional scenes seen as they meet their Muslim neighbours

As thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits arrived to pay obeisance at the Mata Kheer Bhawani Temple here, there were emotional scenes as the pilgrims were reunited with their Muslim neighbours. This prompted Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to call it the real “Kashmiriyat,” which needed to be restored.

Local Muslims offered soft drinks and water to the devotees, who arrived from the different parts of the country they migrated to in 1990.

“We are happy to see them [Kashmiri Pandits] as we had no chance to live with them like our parents or grandparents did,” said 21-year-old Khurshid Ahmad, who was among those offering drinks to them. “We are proud of this cultural ethos but unfortunately the link was broken due to militancy,” he said, adding: “Kashmir is incomplete without them.”

This was for the first time that nearly 50,000 devotees flooded the temple at Tulmulla in Ganderbal.

The Pandits met not only their Muslim neighbours but also many members of their own community after 20 years.

Sushma and Bimla, who were neighbours in South Kashmir's Tral area, had one such reunion. They now live in different places as migrants.

“I am here after a gap of 19 years. We migrated in 1991,” said Bushan Lal, originally from Anantnag and now settled in Delhi.

“I prayed for the smooth return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland. I hope the Goddess will fulfil my prayer,” he said.

“Today the Goddess will listen to our wishes. Today she will have mercy on us,” a group of women sang at the temple.

There are many like Mr. Lal who long to return to their homes, but some are sceptical. “I do not think it is possible for all to return,” said Shamboo Nath, adding that it was not possible to settle in clusters and without mingling with Muslims. “It is better to be where we are if we have to live separately here.”

Government blamed

Some blamed the then government for the exodus.

“The government at that time did not play a positive role; so did the successive ones. Our plight would not have been so bad,” said another Pandit migrant.

“I was half of my age when I visited this temple last. At this juncture, I feel I am 20. I feel I am reborn.”

The arrival of Mr. Abdullah and his wife Payal added more colour to the occasion. “I am so happy to see you here. This is what is called the real ‘Kashmiriyat,'” the Chief Minister said addressing the devotees inside the temple.

Speaking to journalists later, Mr. Abdullah blamed vested interests for damaging “Kashmiriyat” and appealed to the Pandits to play a positive role in restoring it.

Multi-pronged strategy

“Some vested interests were always on a mission to damage ‘Kashmiriyat.' This created a vacuum which needs to be filled, for which the Kashmiri Pandits need to play a positive role,” he said.

“A multi-pronged strategy is in place to facilitate the smooth return of Pandits settled outside the Valley. They left because their security was snatched. They started feeling insecure. Now we are trying to restore the sense of security to the Kashmiri Pandits,” he added.

On the rehabilitation process, the Chief Minister said: “We are also thinking about their economic rehabilitation. Recently, 2,000 posts were filled under the Prime Minister's Reconstruction Plan. More posts are being created.”