Disputed Kashmir Wrestles With How To Bring Back Hindus

It's been two decades since the flight of many Kashmiri Hindus after an insurgency targeted them. Now even Kashmir Muslims want them to return.

Kashmiri men in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir
Kashmiri men in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir
Bismillah Geelani

JAMMU â€" Avtar Krishan used to own a large house and a successful fruit business in the Indian-administered Kashmir. But in the 1990s, he was forced out of his home after anti-India armed insurgency erupted in the region.

Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. The two neighbors, both nuclear powers, have fought three bloody wars to gain control over the region.Â

Krishan now lives in a small room with his mother, his wife and their three grown children in a refugee camp in the northern city of Jammu, India. "We have seen many ups and downs, suffered a lot, but our emotional bond with Kashmir remains intact," he says. "That is the land of our ancestors, that's where we were born and brought up, that's where our language, culture and our unique history are based. And all at once, one day, we were deprived of all that and forced into a life of misery and misfortune. We live here, but we don't belong here, and it is so painful to be uprooted like this," he said.

Some 300,000 other Hindus from Kashmir have similar stories. They say they no longer felt safe in the valley after the uprising. The murder of Hindus by Kashmiri militants further reinforced their sense of insecurity, triggering a mass migration.

Writer Smriti Kak, who also left her home, says they thought they would return. "We knew that we were coming back," she says. "Every week we used to just shift the goal posts that, next week, next month, we are going to be back home, or at best six months. We thought the government would announce that the militants had all been flushed out and that there would be no more tension, no more armed conflict, so everybody who had left could come back home. Nobody expected it to be this long."

Once-harmonious coexistence

Kashmiri Hindus make up nearly 5% of the valley's total population. For centuries, they lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in peace and harmony. Their flight from the valley was therefore a major blow to Kashmir's old tradition of tolerance and communal harmony. It created a cultural void, prompting calls from the Muslim majority for their return.

"They are our own people," says Zareef Ahmad, a Kashmiri Muslim poet. "This land is as much theirs as it is ours. We have been appealing to them to come back because this is our shared home, and we are incomplete without each other. It is true that there is a political problem here, but that can't stop us from living together."

Over the years, ordinary Kashmiri Muslims, political leaders and almost all separatist groups have been urging the Kashmiri Hindus to return to their homes. But apart from a few hundred families, the community remained hesitant, citing security concerns.

Sushil Pandit is a member of the Kashmiri Hindu group Roots in Kashmir. "We moved out because there was a threat to our life," he says. "Today we're not going back just because there is a house all over again and a job and some cash thrown at us. The point is, what kind of Kashmir are we going back to? We are not waiting for an invitation to go back. Whenever the conditions are fine, we will go back."

Protected townships

The ruling Hindu nationalist party BJP wants to create separate townships in Kashmir where Hindus could live protected by government security forces. The Indian government plans to resettle tens of thousands of Hindus in three new townships in Muslim-dominated Kashmir.

"The very idea of addressing the problems of the communities that have been uprooted is to ensure for them a place of rehabilitation with respectability," says Jatinder Singh, a junior minister in the prime minister's office. "We, as a party and as a government, are committed to a respectable and dignified return of Kashmiri Hindus to their place of origin, and there's no going back on that."

Many mainstream Kashmiri politicians and separatist groups fiercely oppose the plan. They argue that it will further divide the two communities and make peace almost impossible. "It will be a recipe for disaster because it will create an atmosphere of fear and leave behind a legacy of hate and mistrust," says Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. "Our coming generations that should go to school, play and grow up together â€" instead they will remain strangers and might even become enemies. We won't allow them to erect these walls of hatred and divide us."Â

The state government, which initially approved the plan, has since changed its position. "A separate homeland for Kashmiri Hindus is just not possible," says Kashmir's Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Whoever wants to come will have to live with us as before. We won't create separate clusters like they did in Israel. We won't allow our shared history to end like this."

Analysts say that the government should instead focus on resolving the conflict. More than 100,000 people have died in Kashmir since the beginning of anti-India militancy two decades ago.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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