Hope lingers on for Kashmiri Pandits as they celebrate Khir Bhawani festival
The festival offers a platform to both communities to meet and help in the ongoing reconciliation process.
“I do not think, we are in a position to take a call whether we should return or not,” Vijay Kumar, now living in Delhi said. “It is not about security but because last 25 years have led us to have new homes far away.”
Kumar said a new dispensation has taken over and it required some more time to explain how it wanted to undo tragedies of the past. Though Modi’s predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh had announced Rs 1,600 crore package in 2008, it has availed by only one family so far. The state government is now seeking an increase in the package and making it more lucrative, a decision the Modi government may have to take.
Ashok Kumar lived in Khrew when militancy broke out in 1990s. Now he is a proud resident of Sinore in Jammu where he owns a house. “Both my sons are working, one is in Gujarat and another is in Chandigarh” Kumar said. “I stay in Jammu and that is where the family reunions take place.” He said even if the situation encourages the family to consider return, “it will never be complete.” Disentangling the generation next from the socio-economic integration would be a major crisis for the community, once it starts seriously considering a return.
Rajnath Bhat sees no reasons for return. “I had some land in Srinagar that the family had inherited and we sold it off,” Bhat, an erstwhile resident of Draygam in Budgam said. “This money has gone into settling my four kids and now I live in a flat that government has set up in Jagti.”
The urge to return, at least for summers, is more in the people who lived in Kashmir’s periphery and own agriculture land. In most cases, it is the eldest lot that has not allowed memory to fade out by time and crisis.
In the heart of the temple shrine, after many years, organisers had arranged a folk singer. Housed in a sprawling tent, it was massive sweating crowd surrounding him. There were more video cameras recording the event than those listening and enjoying it. “We access Kashmiri music through internet,” one young man, refusing to identify himself, said. “It is fresh, original and live. I am recording it as a souvenir.”
The festival offered emotional sights of reunion of Pandits and Muslims. In the afternoon, an old Pandit lady was escorted by two local youth to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. “This lady was our neighbour and had helped our parents while we were growing up,” a young man with a long beard said. “We are doing our bit now.”
Since 1990, when Pandits flocked out of Kashmir, this festival has been offering them a chance to move around and interact with their erstwhile neighbours. The festival offers a platform to both communities to meet and help in the ongoing reconciliation process. This year, however, devotees were less in number, compared to earlier years.
Authorities have been offering a free ride to devotees from Jammu. It has remained a security-intensive affair but now threat perception has reduced phenomenally. Some pilgrims visit their ancestral homes after the festival is over, only to find them in ruin and decay.
The host Muslim population stays actively involved. Apart from counters and booths that political parties and various institutions set up to offer water, locals help devotees and offer them the material required for Puja that include traditional earthen lamps in a thali along with flower petals.
The petals are thrown into the water that comes out of the spring. At the end of it, the immersed petals change the colour of the spring. It is supposed to foretell the future: Black means darker days and sky blue an auspicious future, according to Pandits’ beliefs.