Last month, it was not the saffron or almonds that South Kashmir's Pulwama district would hog headlines for. It was a deadly suicide bomb attack which claimed the lives of over 40 Central Reserve Police Force ( CRPF) men, bringing two nuclear armed neighbors on the edge of a war.
Soon after the attack, members from Hindu right-wing outfits attacked many Kashmiri students and businessmen in different parts of the country in a bid to create communal tension. In these dark times, it is, however, the same Pulwama that provides a glimmer of hope.
Merely 10 km from Lethpora, the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up on February 14, fifty-year-old Mohammed Younus along with several other local Muslim residents is busy in renovating a century old Shiv temple at the sleepy village.
Younus says that he always wanted to see again his Pandit brothers striking a clapper against sound bow in the temple, which stands right alongside a mosque in the village. “Every so often, I conjure up those images of pre- nineties when the bells were ringing in the temple”.
Around fifty Kashmiri Pandit families were residing in the village before the exodus of the community from the Valley in the wake of an outbreak of militancy. Currently, only one Pandit family lives in the village.
“We were four Kashmiri families who decided not to leave our home land. However, after few years the other three also left,” says Sanjay Sharma, who along with his family never thought about leaving the village despite fear of the threats.
As the years wore on, the roof of the temple caved in and the walls started withering. The glossy water spring on its premises also dried up over the years. But before the structure could collapse completely, the local Auqaf committee chipped in.
“We approached the district administration several times and asked them to do something for the renovation of the more than 80- year old-temple,” maintains Mir Nazir, chairman of the committee.
Finally , the administration allocated an amount of Rs 4 lakh for the renovation work, he adds.
“As soon as the renovation work was taken up, locals came forward and started working alongside the labourers,” Nazir further says.
“At a time when Kashmiri students and business men were being attacked and humiliated outside the Valley, our village tried to sent out a message of communal harmony and camaraderie,”he stresses.
Sharma nods in agreement, adding that it was because of the efforts of the local Auqaf committee that the renovation work on the old temple could begin.
“The temple had been in ruins for almost three decades and was now about to crumble. A single family could not have protected it,” Sharma says and goes on to complain that his family had been in dire straits but the government barely paid any attention towards them.
“Here too, locals came to my rescue. They got me the job of a bank guard at local ATM,” he says and remarks that “once again, when India-Pakistan hostilities are increasing... and certain people in some states are defaming and targeting Kashmiris, in such dark times Pulwama has shows the way.”