KASHMIR, April 18, 2011: Though the Kashmir valley has for centuries had a Muslim majority, its Hindu population – commonly known as Pandits – were always an integral part of the community. Hindus claim their history here dates back thousands of years.
When a separatist militancy gathered pace two decades ago, up to 400,000 Hindus either fled or were driven out. But over the last couple of years, something special has been happening in Kashmir. Sanjay Tickoo and other members of the small Hindu population that remained have set about restoring the temples, shrines and other sacred places. He claims several dozen such places have been repaired or reactivated.
“After the mass exodus of the Pandits, around 98 per cent of the temples were not attended. Only 23 temples have remained in constant use,” said 42-year-old Mr Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, an NGO.”We are doing it to improve Kashmiri society. But when we say we have a 5,000-year history in Kashmir… the history belongs to me only because of my presence in the valley. My identity is directly linked to the temples. If they disappear I cannot claim we have a 5,000-year history in the valley.”
The plight of Kashmir’s Hindus is one of the overlooked tragedies of south Asia. While Kashmir’s Muslim population has attracted international attention for its long and often violent struggle for autonomy, which has resulted in the Indian authorities dispatching hundreds of thousands of troops and paramilitaries, the Pandits are often forgotten, even in their own country. Today, it is estimated there are fewer than 4,000 still here in the valley.