Indian-Americans commemorate 30th anniversary of Kashmiri Pandit exodus


WASHINGTON: Indian-Americans, wearing “phirans” and the tricolour headgears, held several events in different parts of the US, including in front of the White House, to mark the 30th anniversary of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, recognising the resilience and noble spirit of the community.

In over three dozen cities and towns across the country, Indian-Americans held peaceful rallies, candlelight vigils and public meetings to highlight the ordeal of Kashmiri Pandits. Events were held in cities of New York, New Jersey, Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Sacramento, San Jose, Concord, Milpitas, Naperville and Edison.

Kashmiri Pandits wore “phirans” and women sported “tiranga” (Indian flag) headgears during rallies across the country. They held placards, candles and the Indian flag during the various events. A large number of members of the Kashmiri Pandit community from in and around Washington DC area gathered in front of the White House on Sunday to highlight their ordeal following their displacement from Kashmir. The event was organised by Kashmiri Overseas Association (KOA).

The night of January 19, 1990 is the one that no Kashmiri Pandit survivor who lived through the ordeal wishes to recall because of haunting bad memories. And this is a day that no Kashmiri Pandit expatriate will ever forget, eminent Kashmiri-American Vijay Sazwal said. We left to save our elders, our children, the honour of our women and perhaps ourselves. The Kashmiri Pandits, the indigenous Kashmiris have still not been able to return to their ancestral land three decades later. Kashmiri Pandits have a feeling of being disowned, dispossessed and uprooted, said Shakun Malik, who also took part in the event.

Swapna Raina, who was also part of the event, said that in 1989-90, more than 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus (known as Pandits), including her and her family had to leave their ancestral homeland. Braving sub zero temperature, the Kashmiri Hindu Community of Chicago held a candlelight vigil at Naperville City Hall and sang national anthems of both the US and India.

In Silicon Valley, over 200 Kashmiris and other Indian supporters gathered to talk about the ordeal of the Kashmiri Pandits and their contribution to the Indian ethos. A short documentary on the Kashmiri Pandit exodus was also screened. The participants also paid homage to the victims in Kashmir, including the soldiers who lost their lives.

There is a myth that 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits left Kashmir of their own in 1990. First and foremost, they did not leave the valley, as has been incorrectly elucidated; they were forced to leave by Islamist terrorists, some within and mostly from Pakistan,” Jeevan Zutshi, founder of Association of Indo Americans (AIA), said.

Thirty years ago, Kashmiri Pandits experienced “unimaginable devastation,” Hindu-American Foundation, which organized the events in multiple cities, said. The Pakistan-sponsored insurgency and campaign of targeted killings, rape, threats, and destruction of properties and religious sites spanned over many years. But events on January 19, 1990 reached a fevered pitch and culminated in mass panic and the forced displacement of 95 per cent of the Kashmiri Hindu population, it said.

In Houston, Kashmiri Pandits volunteered at the Houston Food Bank and donated major food supplies to the needy. They also held a candle light vigil, organised by Hindu American Foundation and Indo-American Kashmiri Forum, attended by various elected officials, including Congressman Pete Olson, US Representative for 22nd congressional district of Texas.

“30 years ago, today thousands of Hindus were forced to flee the Kashmir Valley, exiled from their homes and torn from their families. It was an honour to speak at the #KashmirExodusDay candlelight vigil in #TX22 tonight we will keep their memory alive!” Olson tweeted. The protestors also demanded setting up of a probe commission and to punish those responsible for the exodus. PTI

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