Altough the majority of Kashmiri pundits fled the valley, some stayed back under the protection of their Muslim neighbours.
The pundits are Hindu Brahmin. The community is believed to have been present in the Valley for centuries, living in harmony alongside followers of other religions and beliefs. But in the 1990s, the rise of militancy and the increase in violence in the region caused the majority of the community to migrate. Many pundits fled Kashmir fearing for their lives after members of their community got killed by militants. Today, over 400,000 pundits are in exile living in camps, settled in the Jammu region or in Delhi.
But there also exists another side to this dramatic story, that speaks of solidarity and mutual support. It is this story that Sajad, our Community Correspondent in Kashmir wanted to tell when he decided to report in Ichgaam village, where eight pundits and their families still live. At the peak of the militancy, these families decided to stay back because their Muslim neighbors assured them of their protection and support. Indeed, the families never had to fear for their lives, and communal harmony prevails there. The Muslim inhabitants even took the lead in constructing a temple, donating land and money to facilitate the project.
Sajad strongly wished to tell this story because it throws a different light on the situation in Kashmir, where trust and support win over violence and despair. “I was very young during the rise of militancy. But I remember that when I was a kid, our neighbor in my village was a pundit. I realized only much later that they were missing, and I took a long time to understand that they migrated because of the violence and the threat they faced during the 1990’s,” says Sajad to explain why he feels personally connected to this story. While making his video, Sajad had in mind one of the poem of Mahjoor, Kashmir most famous poet, “ Arise, O Gardener! And usher in the glory of a new spring. Create conditions for ‘bulbuls’ (a type of bird) to hover over full-blown roses. O Gardener!“. This poem, that was adopted as Kashmir national anthem during the freedom struggle, symbolizes the incompleteness of Kashmir without the Pundits community.
With his story, he wants to tell people that there is hope, and that different religious communities can live and support each other in peace and cooperation. He also wishes that this story will convince pundits who are still in exile to come back to Kashmir.