Roshan Lal Mawa is not just a name – his return to his home in Srinagar and re-opening of his shop in Bohri Kadal locality in the capital city – can be a game changer in Kashmir. He is a shopkeeper who has returned to the Valley after 29 years, defying all odds and all the negative stories about Kashmir that his own community members and the TV channels have been airing all the time. Four bullets that he was fired upon in 1990 tell a story who forced him to flee, and “dastarbandi” by the shopkeepers of Bohri Kadal, tell who all wanted him to be back amidst them. This might appear a paradox, but then this is the reality of Kashmir.
The return of Roshan Lal Mawa cannot undo what his community has suffered, nor can it roll back Kashmir to pre-1989 days which now seems to a dream. But what it can do is to change the narrative. And it must, here it’s why?
Some facts need be understood here without any illusions. Roshan lal had a shop, that he could renovate that he could re-open and find himself in an atmosphere that he had been missing for the past nearly three decades. He has a home, where he could go back and recall all his memories , and might be hoping to do something more to celebrate his return – spend time with his son, grandchildren – and the neighbours whose children may not recognize him, but the neighbours would introduce him as the Kashmiri Pandit who has returned to his roots.
This is not philosophical. It is a reality that needs to be felt with all the sense of the human relationship and the bonds that the communities have in the Valley. The bonds have proved stronger than those who had tried to break them. But the contrarians may say, and they have reasons to talk like that, a single sparrow doesn’t make a spring.
Thus, two realities stand in contrast to each other. There are Kashmiri Pandits who have lost their homes, sources of income back in the Valley, and the only thing that connects them to the Valley is the nostalgia of all seasons. While sweltering under 43 degrees Celsius temperatures of early May in Delhi, they must be wondering the life they are missing in the Valley where the mercury has refused to rise beyond 20 degrees Celsius for mot of the spring-time. But where do they go? They don’t have means to survive in Kashmir, and the font of packages announced so far taking restoring them back to the “ land of their forefathers” have fainted because those were never meant to be implemented . The failure of the two Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Inder Kumar Gujral aligning with them with the claim that they too were “refugees” (from Pakistan) to do anything substantial is also responsible for the plight of the migrant Kashmiri Pandits.
Socio-economic dimensions demand more than the repeated recall of the “Kashmiriyat” concept, which , of course is the foundation for the mutual co-existence . Kashmir has changed a lot in the past three decades. Its Muslim majority has suffered immeasurably. Can anyone imagine that what it means to live within the confines of home 24×7 with the security personnel patrolling their streets , getting caught in the never-ending traffic jams with the treat of grenades coming from everywhere or their being humiliated just for questioning the policemen for the fault for which they were rebuked . This is dreadful , perhaps more dreadful than the images of the funerals and graves on social media . There is nothing in common with the pre-1989 days. The two communities would have to reconcile with the atmospherics characterising the day-to-day life in Kashmir . The willingness would have to be tested.
Many Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley might not be knowing it that the non-vegetarian Kashmiri Pandits were responsible for the coming up of “ Halal” mutton shops in Jammu, Udhampur and other places where they migrated . More than that they were , and are, proud of their Kashmiri roots, for they would always say ,” we are from Kashmir” and quite often would describe the situation in Kashmir with a proverb, “someone has cast an evil eye on our Kashmir.” This articulation as drowned to whispers because of the shrill noises of the new generation that were more than eager to project Kashmir as a land where the Islamic fundamentalists had taken over , and that’s what resulted in their migration . They still nurture the pain of losing their childhood, along with homes, land and memories. They feel betrayed , and hence Kashmir is a place on the northernmost tip of the Indian map facing a contest by Pakistan , and no place to return. Some of them have abandoned their parents and shifted to greener pastures , made big names in IT, academics and other fields. But this class that has abandoned parents cannot be expected to be enamoured of the land of their forefathers.
But those who want to return will have to become part of a social movement with Kashmiri Muslims to relive their lives in Kashmir yet again. The wounds of history are deep. These can be healed too, and the best medicine is human relationship.