DATE=1/28/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=KASHMIR PANDITS NUMBER=5-45330 BYLINE=JIM TEEPLE DATELINE=NEW DELHI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: For ten years, the Kashmir Valley in northern India has been wracked by violence. At least 20 thousand people have died since militant separatists began their violent campaign, ten years ago. Although the population of Kashmir is overwhelmingly Muslim, Hindus have lived in the Kashmir Valley since recorded history began. And, until ten years ago, both Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully in one of the most beautiful places on earth. V-O-A's Jim Teeple reports that -- for Kashmir's Hindu population -- the past ten years have been a bitter period of loss and exile. TEXT: // ACTUALITY OF KASHMIRI PANDITS DEMONSTRATING..EST. AND FADE UNDER TEXT // TEXT: They call themselves Pandits, or wise men, and they are a proud people. They are also a people without a homeland. Recently in New Delhi, hundreds demonstrated, calling on India's government to give them one. Descendents of Hindu Brahmin priests, Kashmir's Pandits lived in the Kashmir Valley for thousands of years. Among them was Jawaharlal Nehru, the father of modern India. Now however, Kashmir's Pandits are sometimes referred to as the lost the tribe of India. Most no longer live in the Kashmir Valley and it is unlikely they will return anytime soon. Ten years ago, more than 300 thousand Pandits -- nearly ten percent of Kashmir's population -- fled their beautiful valley. They say they fled out of fear. Thousands of young Muslims in Kashmir had begun their separatist struggle to create an independent state or join with Pakistan. Kashmir's Pandits felt threatened. Charma Kaul's family left its ancestral home in Srinigar -- the ancient capital of Kashmir -- never to return. She says her family now is scattered all over India. // KAUL ACTUALITY // We got scattered. Somebody is in one state. Somebody is in another state. My parents are in a camp in Jammu and in this way we got scattered. // END ACTUALITY // Charma Kaul and other Kashmiri Pandits recently gathered in New Delhi to call on the Indian Government to create a separate state for Pandits in India's state of Jammu and Kashmir. Of the estimated 350 thousand Pandit refugees, about 250 thousand live near the city, Jammu, about 300 kilometers south of Srinigar. Many live in squalid conditions in refugee camps. Most Pandits say they fled their homes because they were afraid of their Muslim neighbors who they say had begun to threaten them, as the separatist militancy took hold in the Kashmir valley Ravi Nair is the director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center in New Delhi and an expert on Kashmir. He says the Pandits did feel threatened but Indian government officials in the valley did nothing to ease their fears. // NAIR ACTUALITY // The initial exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley was in part a measure motivated by fears. Some of these fears were genuine because there was at that stage some harassment, intimidation and killings of Kashmiri Pandits by the Islamic shade of opinion amongst the Kashmiri armed opposition groups. However there was also a paranoia which was fanned by the then-governor of Kashmir, Mr. Jag Mohan, and this paranoia fed into what were legitimate fears but also built it into a much bigger issue than it was which led to the mass exodus in the first place. // END ACTUALITY // Ravi Nair of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center says, because the Pandits have suffered greatly, India's government has taken steps to help them by continuing to pay the salaries of Pandits who worked for the government. The government also is continuing to give many Pandits cash and food allowances, ten years after they fled their homes. He says Pandits are even allowed to vote in Kashmir elections on an absentee basis -- something he says no other internally-displaced people in India are given the chance to do. Mr. Nair says he doubts whether the Pandits will ever be able to return to their ancestral homes and lands unless an overall political settlement is reached in Kashmir -- something he says which does not look promising in the near future. // REST OPTIONAL // Mohan Khrishen -- a Pandit who now lives in New Delhi -- says he fled Kashmir because of what he says were threats from Islamic militants. He says he is angry he had to leave his home, but he is also sad because many of the centuries-old traditions of Kashmiri Pandit culture are quickly disappearing. // KHRISHEN ACTUALITY // We have been uprooted. We are scattered. We are scattered, so we are losing our identity as Kashmiri Pandits. We are absolutely lost in the whole huge mass of population. (of India) // END ACTUALITY // Many Pandits, like Mohan Khrishen, say they are tired of waiting to return home and now they want India's government to create a separate state for Pandits. So far, India's government has been non-committal, saying only it continues to support the rights of Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes to the Kashmir Valley when it is safe to do so. (Signed) NEB / JT / WD 28-Jan-2000 08:08 AM EDT (28-Jan-2000 1308 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .