A Kashmiri Pandit’s homecoming to Srinagar, 29 years after he left the State, on Thursday was met with a rousing reception from locals, infusing hope for the peaceful return of the Hindu community that had to leave the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s in the face of raging militancy.
Roshan Lal Mawa, in his 70s, on Thursday threw open a shop selling dates in the volatile old city’s Zanai Kadal area, from where he hails originally. That Mr. Mawa will sell a variety of dates is also symbolic since the Muslim holy month of Ramzan is a few days away.
To his surprise, decision to reopen the shop, closed for 29 years, attracted jubilant locals and fellow shopkeepers. Mr. Mawa was welcomed with the tying of a white turban around his head, a Kashmiri tradition, and many hugs were exchanged.
“I have set up a thriving dry fruit business outside [Kashmir]. I lived a happy life in Delhi. But I decided to return [to Kashmir] because I missed the affection I have here, the brotherhood, the hugs and the Kashmiriyat (cultural values of the Kashmiri people). You can’t find these values anywhere in the world,” said Mr. Mawa.
He was among the hundreds of members of the Kashmiri Pandit community that was forced to migrate outside the Valley as militancy spread in the 1990s. Mr. Mawa’s decision to return was not easy, given the circumstances in which he had to leave.
“It was October 13, 1990. A youth entered my shop and asked for dry fruit samples. In the meantime, he pulled out a pistol and shot me four times in my abdomen. I survived. I, along with my wife, moved outside the State,” he recalled.
‘Yearning to return’
He said his return to his roots “reflects the general yearning of my community to return home”. But, Mr. Mawa added, “I oppose the idea of having separate colonies for Pandits. It will make us soft targets. I want my [Muslim] neighbours to take care of my children.”
Leaders of regional parties joined in welcoming Mr. Mawa. “Eventually, it will be this leap of faith taken by Roshan Lal and the warmth shown by his Muslim brethren that will strengthen ties and also encourage them [Kashmiri Pandits] to return home, where they truly belong,” said Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.