Plight of Kashmiri Pandits Heard in Washington

via published on June 23, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Almost forgotten, the plight of Kashmiri Pandits uprooted from their homes and living in desolate conditions in Indian refugee camps since 1989, was brought to light again by a group of Indian Americans at a hearing on Capitol Hill June 9. A resolution adopted unanimously urged the Obama administration to make aid to Pakistan transparent and accountable and ensure it is not used against India.

There is hardly a mention of the tragic situation in which these Hindus are living in any major Indian newspaper these days; their cause has not been taken up by any human rights group. These helpless people numbering about 300,000 have become homeless in their own country and are living in crowded tents or one-room units with hardly any hygienic facilities for the last 20 years. They are victims of Islamic terrorism that forcefully threw them out from their homes in the beautiful Kashmir valley. They have received very little attention from the Indian government.

Led by Jeevan Zutshi from the International Kashmir Foundation and co-hosted by the Hindu American Foundation, the event was supported by the US-India Political Action Committee, National Federation of Indian American Associations, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, Indian American Friendship Council, Indo-American Community Federation, and United Hindu Front, and attracted nearly 40 people, including many staff members of the U.S. congressmen.

Speaker after speaker described the bleak conditions under which these Indian citizens are living in camps. Deepak Ganju, editor of Shehjar magazine and himself a victim of this tragedy, showed a documentary entitled “The Lost Paradise,” depicting the pitiful conditions of Kashmiri Hindu refugees living in camps in Jammu. He told the audience, “Human rights organizations, policymakers, and political parties have failed to express any serious concern at this great human tragedy.” He added that more than 60,000 innocent lives, including those of Hindus, Sikhs and nationalistic Muslims, have been lost.

Vijay Sazawal, a founding member of the Indo-American Kashmir Forum, narrated a detailed history of how Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and live in refugee camps with no amenities available to them.

Among others who spoke at the occasion were NFIA chairman Rajen Anand; Ishani Chowdhary, director of Public Policy at the HAF; Karttikeya Tanna of the IFK; and Samyuktha Shenoy from USINPAC. They all described the dwindling population of Hindus in the Kashmir valley, resulting in a large majority of Muslims.

In a resolution proposed by Zutshi and adopted unanimously, the group urged the Obama administration to ensure that U.S. military aid to Pakistan is used for fighting terrorism and not against India, and pressure Pakistan to reform its curriculum in the Madrasas (religious schools) that teach hatred of non-believers of Islam. The resolution impressed upon India to warn foreign terrorists of dire consequences of their barbaric acts, and eliminate all terrorist camps in Pakistan and bring the culprits to justice.

Although no lawmaker was able to attend the briefing, the message was loudly conveyed to them through their legislative assistants.

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