The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, as an event and a process, is better not to be read in isolation; least as a grist to the propaganda mill of communal forces. Many were displaced, not just them!
It was the beginning of 1990 that my Pandit friend left the town. Just a year later, in the beginning of the year 1991, I left the town. My friend, as part of a community with a distinct religious identity, and political tradition, left his native town because he thought his community might become the target of a new condition that was emerging in Kashmir; a condition that was represented by the armed resistance and mass protests from the Kashmiri Muslims against the Indian control of Kashmir. This, the Muslims of Kashmir considered, and do consider, as Freedom Struggle. Of course, my Pandit friend will have a different description for the condition that emerged in 1990s. And he has a right to understand it his own way, and express it accordingly. As long as the expression of difference doesn’t bring disgrace to the atmosphere, one can deliberate on the most thorny issues.
I left, because my family thought that we might become the target of the Indian army that had days before cordoned off the entire town, searched the houses, arrested some dozens of people randomly; tortured them. My father was in no way associated with any militant organistion. This is only to state a matter-of-fact, and never meant to dissociate from the people’s resistance which was owned by a religious and political community – Kashmiri Muslims – of which me and my family is a part. My father was not even a member of any political party. The reason we had to leave was that my father was known for his ideological orientation and was associated with an organisation that was part of a Muslim Revivalist spectrum, though apolitical. He had to leave because all such elements were thought of as being participants, and producers, of the Post 1990 situation.
My family’s migration from the hometown was not a singular incident. Hundreds of families, if not thousands, had to leave the native locations, in the subsequent years, as the repression of the Indian armed forces grew. The Kashmir of 1990s is a witness to the worst kind of homelessness and dispossession, when people were forced to leave their homes and hearths just because they were, or were seen, as part of the Kashmir’s Freedom Struggle. In the heydays of counter-insurgency large number of families left their native places without even knowing where to settle down finally. The world will come to know about that phase of state repression in Kashmir only later when our generation will start telling its stories.
What happened to Kashmiri Pandits is tragic. They have a right to live in Kashmir, as part of Kashmir. We must go ahead and accept that Kashmiri Pandits have a right to live in Kashmir upholding their political position, and safeguarding their emotional landscape. For this they can’t be blamed. If they want Kashmir to be a part of India, be that. If they rejoice and celebrate when India beats Pakistan in the cricket ground, why anger. Similarly Kashmiri Muslims have a right to live in Kashmir, upholding their political positions, and nurturing their emotional landscape. Why oppress them if they question the existing political structures. Even if there wasn’t a UN Resolutions, people have a right to question the existing political schemes. The collapse of Nation and State into each other has become a perpetual and established source of terror. It’s this demonic face of Nation-State, and our parochial outlook towards politics, that has ruined our inter-communal relations.
In this fiendish construct of Nation-State we – Kashmir Pandits and Kashmir Muslims – inevitably come in each other’s way. Hence enemy images, and consequent disruption. The reason why my friend continues to live in Jammu, and my father, despite his intense longing to go back, was finally laid to rest away from his place of birth and identity.
We are the victims of a same situation. Our tragedy is that we look for the source of the problem in each other, when it’s outside both of us. Looking from here, may be we discover ways to approach our problem jointly, rather than blame each other for our respective sufferings. If for a while we transcend anger, emotion, political affiliation, and material interest, we will suddenly cease seeing the other as an inevitable enemy. But this needs an extra-ordinary courage.
The point that I want make is this: the right way to understand the problem of Kashmiri Pandits is not to formulate the question as who made them leave Kashmir, but what made them leave Kashmir. And in the similar vein the Muslim families that ended up leaving their native villages and towns should focus on what, and leave behind who. Fixing the blame momentarily gives relief to an aggrieved soul, but it deepens the fixation to past. Understanding What is futuristic, and it opens up new horizons of possible. We only linger in anguish if we permanently hang ourselves to the the question of who did it to me. And just think what does this question lead to. If we finally fix the blame, it means we sharpen the sword to chop some more heads. That is well settled in the logic of hunting down the culprit.
Tailpiece: I wish I and my friend again meet at Totakhshah Saebun Waeder – the hillock in Bijbehara – and talk about our experiences, without scoring points over each other. And with a longing to think together for Kashmir, to secure its political and human rights. That hillock, our hangout in the town, is best suited for this interaction. The worst are the TV studios.