As the controversy over establishment of separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits is gaining momentum, more than 35 Hindu business families are living safely among Kashmiri Muslims in the heart of north Kashmir's Kupwara town.
It has been more than 21 years since they voluntarily returned from Jammu after their brief migration in 1995, but these families say they never experienced any kind of violence or threat here. They celebrate festivals together with their Muslim neighbors and attend weddings and funerals, and are an integral part of the local community.
Manoj Kumar, the president of SanathanDharamSabhaKupwara, said the demand or idea of establishing separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits is "unjustified and illogical." "It will further alienate them," he said.
Kumar, who is also General Secretary of Traders' Federation Kupwara, said "it's better to live in Tihar jail than reside in separate colonies."
"This proposal means that under tight security cover, Pandits will have to live separately at specific locations and remain completely segregated from rest of the Kashmiri society," he said.
"The government cannot provide security guards to all Kashmir Pandits. They (employees) have to attend their duties in rural areas, they have to visit the markets and their children have to go to schools. Hence the idea of separate colonies is absurd," Kumar told Greater Kashmir.
Vijay Kumar, another businessman, said: "Settling Kashmiri Pandits in separate colonies will make them more isolated in their own land. It is nothing but negative politics to exploit Kashmiri Pandits for vested interests."
"A majority of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, Delhi, Chandigrah and Mumbai are content with what they have. They are well settled and not ready to come back. They have highly paid jobs and their wards have got admissions in different professional colleges across India. So there are least chances of their return," Kumar said.
The Hindu businessmen here said: "We have a message for Kashmiri Pandits from Kupwara. 'Please come back to their motherland but with honor and dignity and behave as positive stakeholders'. Your only protection and security are your Muslim majority neighbors."
About 35 Hindu business families along with thousands of other Pandit families moved to Jammu in late 1990s when there was mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. But all the Kupwara business families—finding it very difficult to adjust to Jammu climate—returned to Kupwara in 1995 on the assurances from their Muslim neighbors.
"After remaining in Jammu for five years, we returned to Kupwara in 1995. On our return, we found our houses, temple and shops intact and untouched. We didn't ask or waited for any package from the government; we didn't ask for protection from government; we returned voluntarily as we could not run our businesses in Jammu and our neighbors in Kupwara assured us of our protection" they said.
"Our three generations lived among Muslim brothers in Kupwara in amity and brotherhood and earned their name in Kiryana business in the district," they said.
Manoj Kumar, who looks after the affairs of Traders Federation Kupwara, said: "Our grandfather CharanjeetLal migrated in 1947 from Hatyanbala village of Muzaffarabad, who later settled in Kupwara for his business and my father Ravi Lal look the business after the demise of my grandfather, Now walking on their footsteps, I am continuing the same business," he said.
"We always help each other both in times of joy and grief. This is something which symbolizes the communal harmony and brotherhood between Muslims and Hindus," Manoj said, showing his photograph with Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
"I have met Geelani sahib several times and we even collected relief from traders here and later distributed it in flood-hit areas of Srinagar in 2014," Manoj said.
He said: "Government of India is showing double standards towards Kashmir on all fronts. When Kashmiri students are harassed in other states of India, no one visits them but when there are some arguments among students over a cricket match in NIT Srinagar, ministers of central government visit the Valley; the biased Indian media as usual blows the issue out of proportion to spread communal tension and people like AnupamKher try to give a communal color to get the political mileage."
"There are more than 400 Pandit teachers, some of them females, who are putting up in houses of Muslims in Kupwara town for the past four to five years. They are posted in far-off areas of Kupwara and these employees without any fear attend their duties and never asked for any security from the government," said GulamMohi-u-din, a neighbor of Manoj Kumar.