Srinagar, March 31: Their fair skin, aquiline noses and black eyes leave no scope for a visitor to discern their religion. But as they speak, it becomes clear they are Pandits.
Kashmir today took a giant step towards reconciliation between its Muslim and Pandit communities which, for the first time in two decades, came together on a public platform — without any gun-wielding men in uniform around.
The convention was organised by the Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, which represents the few Kashmiri Pandits left in the Valley, to enlist the separatists support for the protection of temples.
Each side raked up the perceived wrongs committed by the other — but the over 100 participants did so politely. They asked tough questions, but also had the magnanimity to heap praise.
The participants included JKLF chairman Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umer Farooqs spokespersons Saleem Geelani and Ayaz Akbar, and leaders from Syed Ali Shah Geelanis Hurriyat factions. Geelani couldnt attend as he was under house arrest.
The Pandits Samiti had put dozens of pictures of the damaged temples, a reminder of how they had suffered at the hands of at least some from the other community.
Kashmiri Pandits are fed up with lip service. Where is that Kashmiriyat you talk about? We need concrete steps by the majority community (Muslims) for the preservation of our temples, said Sanjay Tickoo, the president of the Samiti, adding that no more than 3,000 Pandits were left in the Valley now.
There were grievances on the other side, too. The JKLFs Malik accused the Pandits living outside the state of unleashing a propaganda war against Kashmiri Muslims by trivialising their suffering.
Malik said the differences between two communities arose from economic conditions, not religion. Despite the differences, the participants showed a rare resolve to restore the damaged temples.
But a bigger issue, according to Malik, was the return of Kashmiri Pandits. We have to ensure their return and once they come back, these temples will be illuminated again.