Displaced Kashmiri Pandits have demande the right to return to the Kashmir Valley that they call home after completing 25 years in exile.
They left their ancestral homes in 1989 in droves when a bloody rebellion broke out against New Delhi’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Sanskrit name ‘Pandit’ means learned person. The Pandits’ roots in the Himalayan region go back about 5,000 years.
From the 13th century, when Islam became a majority religion in Kashmir, and until 1989, Muslims lived side-by-side with Pandits.
But nearly 250,000 Kashmiri Pandits left for safer places in India because of a sharp rise in killings of Hindus and attacks on their homes at the start of a rebellion by Muslim militants in 1989.
It was the largest migration since the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into mainly Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan.
Protestors shouted slogans and waved banners urging the government to initiate a white paper into the rehabilitation.
“Today, we ask both governments to immediately initiate a white paper on the matter on rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits. They belong to Kashmir, they want to stay here. Through the white paper, the government should allow the Kashmiri Pandits the right to social, political and economic expression and then we can come back to our homeland and settle here,” said All Parties Migrant Coordination Committee (APMCC) head, Vinod Pandit.
However, Kashmiri separatists have repeatedly urged Hindus to return to Kashmir where more than 43,000 people have died in the revolt, but have urged them to live side by side with Muslims rather than in “security zones”.
Though the government has been urging them to return for years, the Pandits have been deterred by a series of attacks by suspected militants fighting New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir.
In one of the bigger and more brutal attacks, guerrillas shot dead 24 Pandits, including 11 women and two children, in southern Kashmir in 2003, provoking outrage across India.