A Kashmiri boy’s life in transit

A chance encounter with a Kashmiri boy and his family living in a relief camp in New Delhi – one among the 59,442 displaced Pandit families.


According to the 2011 Census survey, there are 59,442 Pandit families living as registered refugees in parts of Jammu and Delhi. Manmeet Sahni unexpectedly met one such family in Connaught place. 

At a coffee shop in the heart of Delhi as I was engrossed in reading a book, a teenage boy came up to me and showed a pale yellow laminated piece of paper which said “to whom it may concern”. The affidavit entailed the plight of thousands of uprooted Kashmiri people who have been living in a picket of Northern part of Delhi. The boy sought monetary help or provision of used clothes, food grains, eatables etc. I was moved by his mellow tone and glistening eyes which called for attention. I sat him down on a chair nearby to hear what he had to say. I could not help but notice his meek and weary demeanor.

Armaan with a friend at the Central Park, Connaught Place, New Delhi (Pic: Manmeet Sahani)

It was a sunny afternoon and I offered to buy him a cold coffee, thinking it might refresh him. After getting familiar with his situation, I offered him a bar of chocolate and biscuits from my bag. Wanting to know further about his family’s plight, I expressed my wish to visit the refugee camp where he stayed. The boy was thrilled that someone was showing interest in his familial conditions. I took down the address, as I bade him good-bye with a promise of visiting his family.

The next day, being a holiday, I decided to pay a visit to this refugee camp. It was a sight of dust and litter. There was a rabble of bright colored tents put together forming a small colony. The outskirts of this low-lying colony were covered with heaps of garbage and dust. There were several puddles of accumulated drain water. I had never seen a place as disoriented as this, it had even left the notional constitution of “slum” far behind. With no toilets and bathrooms in the colony, except two or three cubic shelters, where the residents had dug out holes to use, it was an appalling sight.

I met Armaan at this refugee camp, the boy who I had first encountered at a café in Connaught Place, he looked better with his hair neatly combed and parted sideways. He greeted me with his dulcet smile and invited me to a narrow passage through a tent. I was amazed to find the interiors of the tent immaculately maintained; the floor was covered with a collage of torn, bright colored carpets. With not much furniture around, the place was empty except two small beds in different compartments of the tent and a small chest. There was a small reserved kitchen area with a stove and a few utensils neatly lined up on the elevated floor, along with 4-5 canisters of stored grains and other eatables.

Refugee camp in the Northern part of Delhi, near Old Delhi Railway Station and Kashmiri Gate (Pic: J&K Relief Camp)

They offered me tea while we sat down to chat. There were two families living in a single compartmentalized tent. Since the men of the respective families had gone back to Kashmir to continue with their work and take care of the house and property, women along with children had little resources at hand to manage their day to day expenses. While I was conversing with Armaan’s mother, a woman in a bright pink sweater with a hint of rose on her cheeks and sea-green eyes entered the tent, introducing herself as Armaan’s elder sister. I asked her about Armaan’s disrupted education, to which she explained that they run out of choices when it comes to thinking about the educational future of hundreds of children like Armaan who were living at the colony or the threats which they receive back home, more than education, it is a matter of life and death which needs to be addressed.

She also elucidated that not many schools are functional in her village in Kashmir. She jested that most of the schools have been deserted as understandably not many would want to risk their lives and die while teaching! Armaan added that he did not have much liberty to lumber around, while going to the school at his village; he was sickened of the routine noises of bombing and the sight of burnt cars and stone-pelting.

He said, “At least, here in Delhi, I have the freedom to move uninhibited without any feelings of trepidation.” His statement was followed by a confident smile and a glint in his eyes lending certain credibility to his notion of freedom.

The official 2011 census states that there are less than 808 Pandit (Hindu) families left in the Kashmir valley. Currently, 59,442 Pandit families are living as registered refugees in parts of Jammu and Delhi. The government provides around Rs.1100 for each refugee per month and has no plans for their resettlement at present. However, the government has proposed voluntary return for them.

Given the unreasonable and unfeasible governmental plans for these refugees, a lot needs to be done. Their lives in transit and their assets in jeopardy, the refugees are not left with much choice but to lead a life of economic and social deprivation.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Manmeet k. Sahni is a Delhi based freelance journalist. A maverick at heart, she is an explorer and likes just listening to people. She tries to absorb 'what they say' like a 'sounding board' and then assumes the role of a scribe. While Manmeet is not 'scribing', she likes to play with her dog Miley and go vagabonding. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Manmeet k. Sahni is a Delhi based freelance journalist. A maverick at heart, she is an explorer and likes just listening to people. She tries to absorb 'what they say' like a 'sounding board' and then assumes the role of a scribe. While Manmeet is not 'scribing', she likes to play with her dog Miley and go vagabonding. more
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