This ‘story that isn’t really fiction’ is written to salute the indomitable spirit of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who continue to live as ‘displaced’ citizens in their own country.
This piece was first written on January 19, 2015 which marked the 25th year since the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits began. Thousands were killed, tortured, abducted, raped, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes by the Islamic fanatics, separatists and terrorists. The systematic killing of Pandits had started a year before, September 14, 1989.
Ten years ago, my mother died with an unfulfilled dream in her eyes. Dream of seeing her home for one last time, home that she and my father had built saving each and every penny they could manage, home that was meant to house high hopes and dreams for their children and their future.
My children who are now living in their comfortable homes in this metropolitan city, busy with their busy lives, obviously don’t recall anything about their first home. They were just babies at the time. Nor do they ask me or their mother any questions about that home. About that day we left, about what we had seen or heard or experienced. Maybe they don’t want to, and I don’t blame them for not wanting to. It is too painful. I know because I can’t forget the pain.
For years now my wife has been telling me that I should try to forget the past and be grateful that we could escape safely and that we have been able to make a new life for ourselves despite all the hardships and struggle. She has been telling me to have faith and look toward the future, see our future in our children’s eyes and move on. I know she is right.
But I am right too. Right in remembering that twenty five years have passed and my people still remain homeless, in their own country.
Right in remembering that nobody from our muhalla, our long-time friends, had come for the small puja that my mother had arranged for my month-old son’s naming ceremony, just a week before the day we left. I don’t blame them, they were afraid for their lives, we all were afraid. Very afraid.
Right in not wanting to forget that horrible night when that boy who used to work for my brother had somehow managed to reach our home in a state of complete shock and absolute fear. In his frightened state he told us some of what he had witnessed before he could escape. My brother was being beaten by iron rods, his wife was being ruthlessly shoved around and raped while their 2-year-old daughter kept shouting and crying until she couldn’t. She was shot in the head by one of the attackers who just couldn’t take all that shouting and crying.
Right in not being able to forget that all this was happening less than a mile away but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t leave the house, I was too afraid for my life, we all were. Completely shocked and scared, we were trying to gather a few of our belongings, hurriedly and haphazardly in a completely darkened house. A part of me was constantly praying, I don’t know to which god, but another part of me knew the gods weren’t listening. And yet I prayed silently and fearfully.
My wife somehow managed to feed something to our little children and put them to bed, and we silently waited. For the crack of dawn, and for the car that was supposed to pick us up and take us to bus depot.
Sometime in the middle of the night, the boy who escaped from my brother’s house ran away. I don’t know where or why. Maybe he had seen too much. Maybe he was too afraid to go with us because our family had now become the target.
The dawn came. And with my wife, two young children, a frail mother and a younger sister, I left the valley, our home, the only home I had known since birth. Wait, I said something wrong — we didn’t “leave” the valley; we, like hundreds of thousands of people like us, were literally forced to leave.
My hardware shop was in the main bazaar and that’s how I heard all the news even before it became news. Every day there was fresh violence, more killings, more people tortured and threatened, more rapes, more beatings, more abductions, more shops looted, more buildings vandalised, more houses burned, more people forced to convert. Every day more lives were being completely destroyed. All in the name of the Holy War. All in the name of their One True God.
For the news people, my brother, his wife and their daughter were just that. News.
For us, it was the beginning of the end. End of our dreams and hopes. Of peace and possibilities of peace. My brother, a school teacher, had been secretly putting together a small reconciliation team for the past few months. He was perhaps becoming a threat to the larger plans of the separatists and terrorists. They had no choice. They had to eliminate him.
We had no choice, we had to leave while we still could. And we did.
But my wife is right. I should forget the past, forget the pain, forget the horror, I should live in present. My friends joke with me that I should listen to my wife because she knows best.
She does, but what she doesn’t know is that on many occasions I have seen something in her eyes too. That emptiness in her eyes, that longing, that dream she isn’t sure will ever come true. Dream to return one last time to her long lost home, her home in the valley where she came to live as a young bride, where she gave birth to her two children.
Will that home even be there? Will there ever be a ‘ghar wapsi’ for us? For my wife and me? For my people?
Displaced, refugees, exiled, persecuted. They call us by many names. Some even use that rather strange word – migrant. Really? What drug are they on? The simple truth, for me, is –we are homeless.
I hear that now they make movies about people who hounded us out, as if they are heroes of some type. Freedom fighters, some call them. Freedom to do what? To hate, to spread hate, to spread fear, to kill, to torture? I don’t watch movies, but my friends who do tell me that we aren’t even a footnote in such movies. I say that’s okay because we don’t want movies about us. We want our homes. We want our dignity.
Twenty five years….and the dream for elusive peace lives on. The dream for a peaceful home. The dream for dignity.
The ﬁrst and principal article of these established and formal religions runs always, “Mine is the supreme, the only truth, all others are in falsehood or inferior.” For without this fundamental dogma, established credal religions could not have existed. If you do not believe and proclaim that you alone possess the one or the highest truth, you will not be able to impress people and make them ﬂock to you.
(The Mother, CWM, Vol. 3, p. 77)
Kashmir has been a constant problem for so many decades now, but we have not confronted the problem squarely. In Kashmir the problem is connected with Partition. Unfortunately, the same argument which was applied to justify Partition continues to be applied today — the idea that religion is the basis of nationalism. This is the basis of the whole conflict. Yet from early times there have been many religions in India. When Buddhism came, India was not divided on the basis of Buddhism and Hinduism, when Jainism came there was no such division. If religion is the basis of nationalism, every country should be divided. Therefore the whole theory is false.~ Dr. Kireet JoshiRead the full interview here
At the request of the then-editor of Learning and Creativity, an e-magazine, this piece was also published on their website. But perhaps due to what the editorial team might have sensed as the “political incorrectness” of this piece given their e-magazine’s ideological stance, the article was removed from their website two days later. Oh well!