The population of Kashmiri pandits has considerably declined during the past seven years after their migration from the valley in 1990 and is further decreasing because of low birth and high mortality rates.
Inquiries at various migrant camps at Jammu and Delhi revealed there had been only 16 births compared to 49 deaths in about 300 families between 1990 and 1995 when militancy was at its peak. The deaths were mostly of people in the 20 to 45 age group.
The causes for the low birth rates were mainly premature menopause in women, hypo-function of the reproductive system and lack of adequate accommodation and privacy. Of the 100 women interviewed, 13 said they had reached menopause by 35 years of age and 30 women said they had reached menopause by 45 years.
According to a report which has been submitted to the National Human Rights Organisation, there is a serious erosion in sexual functioning of the Kashmiri pandits living in various migrant camps. ''A fall in birth rate is a natural consequence.''
According to Dr K L Choudhary, a physician, Kashmiri pandits have been suffering from premature aging (visual and hearing problems related to age), premature locomotor system abnormalities (stiff joints and bent backs), premature decline in mental faculties and premature death.
Dr Choudhary, who has been treating various Kashmiri pandit patients, said in a paper that they (the pandits) had aged physically and mentally by 10 to 15 years. He feared that at this rate Kashmiri pandits might face ''extinction''.
According to the report, a number of psychological and behavioural problems had cropped up among the pandits. While a majority of them showed transitory and situational maladjustment problems, several others had more acute neurotic symptoms.
Most of the Kashmiri pandit youth were without jobs and homes which forced them to delay marriage or even reproduction. About 50 Kashmiri pandit youth in the age group of 25 to 30 years when interviewed said they preferred to wait another five years or more till they got a job or at least a home.
A visit to Muthi camp, on the outskirts of Jammu where most of the Kashmiri pandits stayed after migration from the valley, revealed that a single room was shared by three generations. In certain cases at other places, six families lived in a hall separated by partitions of blankets or bedsheets.
Many young married couples said they preferred to delay having a child or not having one at all. ''Where is the money for his (the child's) education and clothing?'' said Ashok Kaul who was married five years back and is without a child.
Another Kashmiri youth Alok Gurtu, staying at Muthi camp, said he preferred to remain single since he neither had a job nor a place to stay. ''For how long can I live on government doles? Do you think I can maintain a family on Rs 1,500 that the government is giving?'' asked Gurtu who turned 36 last month.
Many young couples, Dr Choudhary said, opt for contraceptives; if they conceive, they go in for termination of pregnancy. Many people in the 40 to 45 age group complained of infertility. Many young couples said they had no ''desire'' left.
Dr Choudhary said there has been a high incidence of menopause between the ages of 35 to 40; the average age of menopause is between 50 and 52 years.
Many camp residents reported forced separations. While the husband is forced to look for a job in some other city, his wife remains in the camp looking after his parents.
There is also a growing incidence of divorce among young couples because of stress. Either the husband has become short-tempered or the wife finds it difficult to adjust to the difficult conditions, blaming it on her husband.
Many parents complain that patience has become rare among their children. ''While they (the husband and wife) fight we look on helplessly.''
The problems are compounded by the poor education system for the migrants. Results are not declared even after six months in many cases. Sometimes the gap between two exam papers is months. '' The literacy rate among Kashmiri pandits has declined by 20 per cent during the past seven years,'' said Ashwini Kumar, convenor of the Panun Kashmir Movement, an organisation of Kashmiri pandits in exile.
Published in Rediff.com