Twenty-six years after Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Valley, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah has put the blame on them for not returning to their homes.
"They have to realise that nobody is going to come with a begging bowl and say come and stay with us. They have to make the move," he said.
He was speaking at the launch of a book of first hand narratives of stories of persecution and struggle by several generations of Pandits evicted from the state and who yearned to return to a peaceful co-existence with their Muslim neighbours.
Abdullah said that several Pandits who had made their homes in Delhi had come to see him when the J-K government asked them to return to the Valley.
"When the government made a move that the officers and doctors who are settled here should come back, they came to see me and said, look our children are now in schools here, our parents are ill and need medical care, we can’t leave them back. So for God’s sake let us live here," he said.
"Don’t wait till the last guns stop firing. Come home!", he urged, adding "Who are you waiting for? Don’t wait. You think Farooq Abdullah will come, hold your hand and take you there."
Noting that it was tough unless they make the first move, Abdullah said, "Yes, onus is on them to come home."
Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of their homeland in 1990 to live in exile and 26 years since then governments at both central and state levels have changed.
Myriad policies have also been formulated but "the rhetoric remains unchanged", said Varad Sharma, who along with Siddharth Gigoo edited the book "A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits launched here last evening.
Abdullah said he had made efforts to help the Pandits return to the Valley but they continued to remain skeptical.
"I met them as a Chief Minister and even after that, I have gone to their homes (to request them to return.) It’s not only me, but even Hurriyat leaders have come to you and told you to please come back," the former Chief Minister said.
There have been several attempts in the past to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley by proposing the erection of townships but that, Gigoo said, "will not be home. It will be nothing less than a house arrest."
According to Gigoo, Sharma and other contributers to the book, the Pandits essentially want "justice", which means getting back their way of life – a peaceful co-existence with their neighbours, i.e. the Kashmiri Muslims and more importantly, no threat to their lives.
Sharma suggests a "dialogue" to restore peace in the Valley.
According to Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, the major impediment in the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits lies in the fear of losing their lives and homes all over again.
"Kashmiri Pandits will find reconciliation very difficult because they have gone through a deep sense of hurt and betrayal," he said.
Despite assurances by authorities about "reduced militancy" in the state, Tharoor pointed out that the Pandits continue to reel under the post traumatic effect of their ouster that followed a massive devastation of property and loss of lives.
"Even though Farooq has his heart at the right place but even he cannot guarantee the security and nobody wants to be the guinea pig," he said.