LANGAITE-KUPWARA: It has been 17 years since Vikas Kumar last saw snow. Though Kashmiri by birth, Vikas was just five years old when his ancestral house in Kupwara was burnt down by militants and the land encroached upon. Since then, the family lives in Jammu.
Vikas, now in his prime, has returned home. But playing in snow is not a priority. To fight the militants is, and for that he is willing to undergo the hard life. Vikas is one of several GenX Kashmiri pandits who, unlike their parents, are willing to take the battle to militants.
One among the first batch of 36 young Kashmiri pandits who have returned for the first time in 17 years to seek employment in the armed forces, Vikas says, “We are ready to lay down our lives for the motherland. We love our country and will not desist in eliminating the enemy, whoever he may be.”
A sentiment that Vinod Kumar, 24, of Purkhoo camp in Jammu echoes. “I want to get into the army only for two reasons: fighting militants and getting back to my roots,” he says. Unemployment among young Kashmiri pandits is also one of the main driving factors behind the desire to join the armed forces.
“For so many years, politicians promised jobs to unemployed migrant youths, but those remained pipe dreams,” Vikas says. “We get Rs 3000 a month as relief money. But with rising prices, it’s just not enough." Indian Army sources told DNA that more than 10,000 young Kashmiri pandits from all across the country have applied.
“We were exploited by all governments. Everybody provided lip service but nothing concrete was done,” Ratan Lal Bhan, the president of All India Kashmiri Hindu Forum, told DNA. “While we elders have been forced to reconcile with this bitter situation, the younger generation wants to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. The Army, police and Rashtriya Rifles are their windows of opportunity.”
The armed forces also appear keen to tap the energy and enthusiasm of GenX pandits. They have created a separate quota for pandits who have migrated elsewhere. “We are going to recruit one company in Kupwara,” explained Colonel Amar Sinha, commanding officer of 30 Rashtriya Rifles. “Around 10,000 people from all across the country have applied till now.”
The Jammu and Kashmir government is also aware of this trend. “It is a very good step. Not only pandits but even Muslims are joining the army,” Hakeem Mohammad Yasin, State Minister of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, told DNA. “We have also submitted a proposal to the Centre seeking special employment package for pandits. We are trying our best to provide jobs to the pandits because they have suffered a lot.”
Despite militancy snatching their homes away, the GenX pandits do not have any animosity against Kashmiris. “Everyone suffered here. Kashmiris are brothers no matter what religion they belong to,” says Anil Kumar of Zalora, who lives in a migrant camp in Jammu. “All of us want peace and it can be achieved when employment is provided to both Muslim and pandit youth. Real peace for us will be when pre-1990 days will return to Kashmir.”
Ishfaq-ul-Hassan, Saturday, February 11, 2006 22:42 IST