BOMAI (SOPORE): On the first visit to their village in 18 years, 11 Pandit families received a very warm welcome from their Muslim neighbours. The Pandits said they were ready to settle down here if the Government came out with an employment package for their wards.
In this village near Sopore, once known as the "capital of militancy," the scene on Wednesday was one of peace and brotherhood. The Pandits were profusely garlanded by their Muslim neighbours, and tears rolled down the eyes of everyone present. This was the first social dialogue between two the communities, organised at the initiative of Congress MLA Haji Abdur Rasheed Dar.
While 10 persons, including four women, are living in the house of a Muslim neighbour, Lassa Bhat, nine others are staying at the Sopore Dak Bangalow.
All the families, according to Chuni Lal, had a "great time in the village," though they were accompanied by security persons. "We did not find the place different as the people have not changed, though the face of the village may have," he told The Hindu . "The people are the same; so is their warmth."
``It is like our home, and we are thrilled to be back," said Piyari, a middle-aged woman who is exploring ways and means to settle here afresh.
The Pandits were all praise for Mr. Dar, who also heads the Handicrafts Corporation.
Apart from sharing their experiences, the Pandits also paid obeisance at the local Zenipora temple.
"The temples are in a bad shape as nobody has taken care of them in the last 18 years," said Mr. Chuni Lal, who works at the Asia Hotel in Jammu. But Mr. Dar has promised to get them renovated. While the Pandits urged the Government to announce an employment package, they were categorical in saying that "we do not need any security cover here."
"We only want a place to live, and the Government should help us in rehabilitation." According to C.L. Bhat, if the youth were given jobs, "their families will also be forced to return."
Ghulam Rasool Mir of Logripora, who studied with Mr. Chuni Lal, was in tears to see his neighbour and recalled that 65 Pandit families used to live in the area. In fact, Mr. Mir is taking care of Mr. Chuni Lal's land and orchard.
The local Imam, Hakim Din, greeted the Pandits, and said they should return and live in harmony as they used to.
"We should defeat the forces trying to divide us," said villager Mohammad Maqbool.
Mr. Dar said it was an attempt to bridge the gap between the communities. "It will certainly help to build an atmosphere of peace and amity, and I will urge the Government to further consolidate it," he said.
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