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A Pandit's fight for Kashmiriyat

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
March 26, 2004 10:32 IST
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Over 100,000 Kashmiri Pandits have left the Kashmir valley since 1991 and taken shelter in migrant camps in Delhi, Jammu and other places.

Now, one of them has decided to contest the general election as an independent from the Srinagar constituency, from where National Conference president Omar Abdullah is also in the fray.

Fifty-year-old businessman Kishen Kumar Khosa says his "sole strength" is his "intrinsic faith in Kashmiriyat, an ideology that, in spite of violence, is still the way of life for us Kashmiris."

"As a son of the soil I have decided to intervene and try to revive the peaceful and harmonious environment of Kashmir," he says.

Khosa hails from Bhanmohalla in Habbakdal, downtown Srinagar, an area currently infested with militants. His family also has property in Jammu as his father, an engineer with the state government, had been posted there for quite a while.

"I want to restore the values of peace, brotherhood and inter-community bonds for which Jammu and Kashmir has been famous. Besides, I as a Kashmiri and as an Indian have every right to contest the election from any part of India," he says.

Khosa spent the last fortnight touring his constituency, which has 10.5 lakh voters, and which includes Srinagar and Badgam.

"Over 1.25 lakh voters are Kashmiri Pandits and over 81,000 of them live in various migrant camps. My constituency is perhaps the biggest because I have to canvass for votes not only in Srinagar, Badgam, Jammu and Delhi, but also other places in India where Pandits have gone since 1991," says the father of three, whose wife Geeta is helping him in his endeavour.

He says he will have a low-key campaign and seek financial help from Kashmiri Pandit organisations.

Khosa denies there is a threat to his life from the militants. "So far I have managed to campaign without any problem. Once I file my nomination I will get a bullet-proof car and security. That should help," he says.

"I have not spent sleepless nights after announcing my candidature. I slept well, particularly in the valley. I live in Jammu and work there for my livelihood," he added.

Khosa has been involved in social activities for two decades. "I was vice-president of the All India Kashmiri Samaj. I was president of the Jammu and Kashmir Billiards and Snooker Association in 1990-2000. I expect my friends, both Kashmiri Pandits and from other communities, to come forward and help me in my campaign and ensure my victory," he says with a smile.

Help is already on the way.

Sunil Shakdhar, chairman, Kashmir Samiti, says he will convene a meeting of Kashmiri Pandit organisations around the country to decide how to support Khosa.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi