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Pundits trickle back to Valley
- Community eyes path of return after invitation from Muslims

Jammu, Feb. 5: Thirteen years ago, fear of death had driven him from his home.

It was the beginning of militancy and, after a few selective strikes, Shadi Lal Koul — a Kashmiri Pundit — realised it was time to leave the Valley.

Today, he is ready to go back.

He is not the only one. More than 150 families of Kashmiri Pundits — a microscopic minority in the Kashmir Valley — are raring to return after their Muslim neighbours urged them to come back. The new government in the state has also promised them safety and security once they return.

“Yes, I am going back,” says Koul, who lives in a rented accommodation in Ploura on the outskirts of Jammu, close to the migrant camp of Muthi where he had spent nearly seven years from 1990 with his family of four.

There is a sparkle in his eyes when he talks about going back to Akoora, a village near Mattan, his home.

Koul is now waiting for the green light from the government. He is determined to say “goodbye” to Jammu.

His children have grown up here and have faint memories of the Valley, the orchards and the freshets, where they used to bathe during summer.

Life is turning full circle for Mahraj Krishen Bhat, too. “Life here is no good either. I am depressed here all the time,” he says. “At least, I would die in peace there.”

He has told his children that the family would be making its return journey to Mattan, the town of springs and where the mountains are steeped in Hindu myths.“This is parched land. My vale is beautiful, full of life,” he says.

“It is not an experiment but a trend that I hope would pick up,” says M.L. Koul, a retired officer who has prepared a blueprint for the return of his community members to the Valley.

For the Pundits, who have lived through traumatic experiences in dingy rooms and tattered tents with no basic amenities, the confidence to return follows a joint effort by the government and Muslim leaders of the Valley who extended their welcome at several interactions.

The meetings were arranged by chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s emissaries in December and January. Sayeed had promised to “restore Kashmiri Pundits to their homes in the Valley”.

Leaders of all hues, including Abdul Gani Bhat — the chairman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference — echo the same sentiment: that “Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pundits.” The Pundits are known for their intellect and are regarded as the best teachers.

The state government has promised liberal financial aid for their rehabilitation with soft loans and also promised government jobs on priority and extra security around villages and enclaves where they would settle. The Centre, too, has given Rs 111 crore for initiating the return.

“It is just a beginning,” says the chief minister.

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