The day the
trailer of the film Shikara [on the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits] was
released, a few of my Pandit friends gathered at my home. We watched the
trailer together, after which there was complete silence in the room. I did not
raise my gaze and look at them. The hoarfrost of our hearts was shaken up by a
call I received from a journalist friend in Jammu whose family spent several
years in a refugee camp through the 90s. He spoke in a hurry, as if he were
running out of time, as if his survival depended on the testimony he was to
share at that moment. Responding to a scene in the trailer where a group of
Pandit refugees are seen running after a truckload of tomatoes, he said the
scene was true; he said he had witnessed it time and again in the refugee camp:
trucks coming with relief material such as rice, vegetables, or kerosene oil.
A Kashmiri Pandit woman at a refugee camp
had received a Crompton Greaves table fan as part of relief material in those
days. His family has still kept it, though it stopped working years ago. “We
just cannot part with it,” he said.
Most of us
have kept such things. It has been 30 years since we were forced out of home in
an Islamist euphoria in which many of our Muslim friends, neighbours and
colleagues got swayed.
Pandits distribute sweets as they celebrate the Union government’s move to
revoke Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, in Lucknow on Monday.
tired now. We don’t even come out on January 19, a day which we mark as the
beginning of exodus from Kashmir Valley. We have gone silent about it and found
other ways of dealing with the bitterness. But we have kept things. This is
because so much untruth has been said about us that sometimes we need to make
sure ourselves that the exodus happened, and that we became refugees in our
friend, many of us have kept blankets that we got as relief in those days. I
remember in 1990 standing in exile outside the home of a local Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) functionary near my one-room dwelling in Jammu who was coordinating
relief distribution in the area. I was 14.
At an age
when I would have wanted to display a little machismo to impress girls in my
school, I waited helplessly outside that man’s house, trying to overcome my
humiliation. I wanted to run away, but we barely had anything to sleep upon.
Our landlady had given us two durries, but mother said they smelt of rat urine.
So, we badly needed that blanket. I bit my cheek and entered. As soon as I got
hold of it, I closed my eyes and ran. The blanket stayed with us for several
years till my parents shifted to Delhi.
our liberal friends complain that our story has been militarised. Some say that
many of us have become bigots by supporting Narendra Modi and because a few
Pandits keep trolling some prominent journalists and academicians on Twitter.
But give us
some leeway. My people may unsparingly use the term ‘Presstitute’ (including on
me, sometimes), but they have not taken up the gun. We have not killed anyone;
we have not burnt buses. We have not gone to any Muslim locality and taunted
people with slogans that would remind them of, say, Babri Masjid demolition.
But spare a
thought about what trauma is inflicted upon us. Our friends are going out in
protest marches and shouting Azadi slogans till their voice goes hoarse. They
say they want Azadi from communal politics, Azadi from so many other things
they think ail India right now. They say it has nothing to do with the slogans
in Kashmir. But, for a moment, step into our shoes. In 1990, thousands of
people were shouting these slogans on the streets of Kashmir, from its mosques
all over, while baying for the blood of the minority Hindus.
slogans were reverberating when a Pandit woman’s appendix burst because the
doctors in her district hospital in South Kashmir refused to operate upon her.
Finally, after a lot of pleading, a Muslim doctor (whose kids were taught by
one of lady’s relatives) operated upon her secretly. The Azadi slogans were
still on as she was put on a mattress in a truck shortly afterwards, to Jammu,
where she received proper treatment. The lady’s son, a boy then, became a lone
wolf — not to ram trucks into innocent people, but to study medicine and become
a doctor, who is now based in New Zealand.
In the last
three decades we have known of so many elderly people, who, on their deathbeds,
wished to just be taken home. We had a way of life, we had our Gods, our language,
our festivals, our rituals. They are all vanishing in our collective memory. In
exile, we put pictures of our symbolic celebration of rituals on Instagram,
more as an assurance to ourselves than to others — assurance that we are a
people who are still alive; that our ties with our homeland have not been
We are not
fools. We are not in whataboutery, pinning blame of our exodus on people who
are young and want to fight a battle for their idea of India. We do not want to
belittle the struggle of Shaheen Bagh. We don’t want our story to be used to
exact revenge on anyone. But at least show us a little empathy. Remember what
demons come to revisit us when you shout those slogans.
Shikara trailer was out, a Pandit lady wrote on Facebook how her father was
forced to join the Azadi procession in Srinagar in 1990 and had to flash a V
sign to escape being singled out. Kashmiri blogger Vinayak Razdan shared a
paper by a scholar that claimed Pandits were “quite compatible with the
separatist ideologies,” and participated in anti-India marches.
It is this
blatant whitewash that has given Kashmiri terrorists the image of Gandhians.
killer called Farooq Dar alias Bitta Karate (from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation
Front) would roam around in downtown Srinagar with his pistol, searching for
Batt’e Mushk (the smell of a Pandit), in order to find one and then kill him?
Even then, Azadi slogans were running in the background. Show us a little
empathy because, (Article) 370 or not, he has still not been tried for these
The man who
participated by coercion in the ‘Azadi march’ that day in Srinagar is an
invalid, today. He cannot even speak. His birthday is on February 7. Shikara
releases on February 7. I hope that the man and all of us get some closure. I
hope we never hear that slogan again.
Pandita is an author and the co-writer of “Shikara: The untold story of
Headline: 30 years of Pandit exodus:
Living as a refugee in one’s own country
Source: The Hindustan Times