Seema Hakhu Kachru
HOUSTON Prime Minister Narendra Modi has won the hearts and trust of the Kashmiri Pandits in the US when he emphathised with them and said "you have suffered a lot" during his meeting with a delegation from the community here.
However some Kashmiri Pandits who attended the 'Howdy, Modi' event were disappointed that the prime minister did not use Kashmiri language to say "everything is fine", an expression which he said in eight other Indian languages to showcase the country's vibrant democracy.
"Did he forget Kashmiri?" wondered a Kashmiri spectator who was waiting for Modi to say it in Kashmiri.
Noting that Modi talked about the revocation of the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir, another Kashmiri community member said, "To the disappointment of many Kashmiris, the prime minister didn't say, 'Sorueye Chu Theek', meaning 'everything is fine' in Kashmiri."
Addressing over 50,000-strong audience at the mega diaspora event at the NRG stadium on Sunday, Modi said, "Because you've asked 'Howdy Modi!', my response is everything is fine in India."
He then went on to reiterate the sentiment in Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Odia, and underlined that India's many languages are the identity of the country's liberal and democratic society.
Several Kashmiri Pandits settled in Houston and various parts of the US flew in to be present at the "Howdy, Modi!" event here on Sunday. The prime minister met the Kashmiri Pandit community on the sidelines of the mega diaspora event also attended by US President Donald Trump.
"For the first time in over 70 years of India's Independence and after 30 years of the mass exodus and ethnic cleansing, a prime minister of India has expressed concern and willingness to address issues about the Kashmiri Pandit community who have been refugees in their own land," said Shakun Malik, president of US-based Kashmiri Overseas Association (KOA).
"The KOA has a mission to promote and preserve Kashmiri Pandit heritage and to provide financial assistance to the needy and deserving Kashmiri Pandits, educational institutions and places of worship," she said.
Malik said the efforts of the KOA and other like-minded groups were being countered by ill-informed press persons and other entities.
"There has been a tremendous amount of confusion, misinformation, and fear being spread by rumour-mongers and ill-informed press persons about Article 370. Therefore our recent stand has been to educate and bring facts before the people about Kashmir," she said.
To that end, the Kashmiri Pandits have planned a Congressional briefing on October 16 and 'The View from Our Eyes', a KOA symposium on Kashmir, on October 19.
Malik said the presence of the Kashmiri Pandits delegates -- seven women and eight men from different organisations working for the cause of Kashmiri Pandits -- in the prime minister's meeting list during his busy schedule in Houston was a major victory for them.
"The Kashmiri refugee community has been living under sub-human conditions for the last 30 years and it is time the government to create conditions conducive for the return to their roots with honour, dignity, and security. We feel that the abrogation of Article 370 and turning Jammu and Kashmir into union territories were the first important steps in that direction," Malik said.
The prime minister told us "this is the beginning of 'Naya Kashmir' process" and requested for our community's support on all government decisions and endeavours relating to Kashmir, she said.
"With abrogation of Article 370, (people of) Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have got equal rights as rest of India. Article 370 had kept people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh away from development and progress," Malik quoted the prime minister as saying during the meet.
On the occasion, KOA secretary Amrita Kar presented Modi with messages from members of their community and explained to him illustrations from Kashmiri poetess Arnimal.
"Going through some of the messages in Hindi, his (Modi) face lit up and exclaimed 'arrey wah' (awesome) and 'bahut achha kaam kiya' (very well done)," Kar said.
Malik told PTI that her association will be soon be forwarding a list of suggestions to the Prime Minister's Office, including the establishment of a task force to develop a road map for the survival of the community in the newly established union territories, relaxing the age limit for government jobs for migrants for the next 10 years.
Further, the Kashmiri Pandits hoped an university will be established to preserve and promote their heritage and culture, Kar said.
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