The Incomplete Kashmiri Pandit.
So, I’ve been thinking about doing this since forever now but never had the right words, and since the “Stand with Kashmir” & “Free Kashmir” movement is what’s been shared all over social media, I wanted to write this as a Kashmiri Pandit child and put it out in the world.
Whenever we watched a movie and there was a scene showing snow or mountains or hills and valleys on the screen my gran would start brawling and yell “Trath Yeman Ugarvaidiyan”
Which roughly translates to “F*** the terrorists”. She starts reciting the whole story all over again and saying how beautiful her house was and how peaceful everything was in the valley and how much she wishes she was back at HER HOME even though she has been living in her own home in Mumbai since the past 30 years.
I clearly remember the day my grandfather told me his “Fleeing Kashmir” story for the first time, he was sitting with one leg crossed on his bed, the smoke from his favorite Marlboro cigarettes was slowly rising from his fingers and moving towards the window on his left with the sunlight shining, and his absolute cherished Subalakshmi’s voice softly hymning throughout the room from his speaker next to his ashtray as the background.
He was a very quiet yet wise man, he barely spoke but when he did he made sure it was something that mattered.
He started by saying “before I tell you this, remember to never judge people from their deeds that you’ve heard about them, but instead judge them on how they treat you and are around you” and me being the listener and humble grandchild nodded my head and asked him to continue, and that he did.
Now imagine, on one peaceful day you are walking back home from your office with some haakh in your hand for dinner, while the distinct voice of the azaan is resonating in the crisp air, you walk past the tree and turn on your street, and see some of your friends around the block and start walking towards them, while they seem to be frantic and fidgety one of your “friend” who just got out of his evening azaan from the mosque tells you “sorui keh trav teh nechevis hyath chal” (Get your son and leave Kashmir). When you ask “why?” while thinking they are pulling your leg, they respond by telling you about the ‘HITLIST’ that is stuck in the walls of the mosques which has your son’s name on it, the hitlist which is stuck by the terrorists and is a warning for all Kashmiri Pandit families to leave the state, the list which has the names all the men in the valley who are in the military, airforce, navy, or any other national security details.
You lose all the color on your face and a chill runs through your body, the first thing you manage to utter is that your son is not in the military (as if any of the militants cared that he was an aeronautical engineer at the Pinjore aerodrome and not an officer in the airforce).
You brush them off and head towards your home and work the locks on the main gate and walk towards your door, you notice something stuck on the door and pluck it out. The meager page says “leave the valley and never return”, with your son’s name on it. (all written in Urdu, so if you can’t read Urdu, the jokes on you).
That was the start of the “hell breaking loose” situation for all Kashmiri Pandits. (Quite literally)
My granddad who I called Dada told me that day “Beta, this is what happened with thousands of other pandits, but you have to decipher what this meant” me being a young soul did not quite understand what he meant by that, but now that I think back to that day and what he said it shows how the “friends who helped” in informing the pandits of the future were the ones who were involved greatly in the exodus.
The “friends” who were their neighbors, colleagues, classmates, or acquaintances were the ones who knew what was to entail but never helped in saving the clan. Were they actually friends who were trying to “help”? or did they merely try to dust their hands off their guilt and try to instill fear and make the pandits leave the valley without much resistance.
So, my next question is where was the police and army during all this? Were they not aware of this “hit list”, were they not aware of what was to happen? Which by the way sounds absurd ’cause common if half the population is getting threats and the mosque is being used as a notice board by the terrorists, how in lords holy name does the police not know about this? How did the government not know all that was cooking in the valley while there were notices being placed on the walls, the doors, and on the streets? Were they that blind or were they simply just ignorant. Also, one can’t ignore the fact that this hitlist seemed to be quite researched, which only means they took their time in planning this whole shindig.
So, basically I want people to know that the Kashmiri Pandit genocide was a meticulously planned operation by the JKLF. While some of the general population was made aware of it, I am not pointing fingered or holding anyone culpable but, it is something that I’ve always thought about.
When I asked my father this simple question “what did the army, the police, and the government do?” he simply replied, “beta, police ya army hote toh kuch karte na, no one was there”.
I have a mindful of vivid images from when my family was forced to flee and leave their beautiful house, but that is not my story to tell and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
But what I can say as my story is that whenever we, as children went to Kashmir, my gran used to cover her ears and head, remove her bindi every time we went anywhere in Kashmir, she always told us “kaan thav chure” and don’t talk in Kashmiri, and when I asked her ‘why’ she never gave me the reason back then, but now when I think back to it, It was her reflex to do all those things, she always said ‘Kashmir is not safe for us anymore’ (us being Kashmiri pandits) but what she also always says is “I want to go back home”.
She once took us to our ancestral home in Srinagar, which I can’t call mine for obvious reasons but was where my father, my grandfather, my great grandfather, and his father before him (you get the gist) were born. From outside it was everything my gran always told me about but from inside it was just a ghost of what I could recall. I still remember her asking the current residents of the house to let her show her grandkids their ancestral home and they were kind enough to let her. And if you’ve seen the movie Shikara every second of what Vidhu Vinod Chopra showcased is true, it was exactly like that home in the movie, all walls were painted green, some furniture from the time my family lived there, and a ton of memories, while I looked at the staircase, I could see flashes of my bua wiping down them while complaining about how cold it was and how many stairs there were, turning around I saw the huge orange door which had a huge “KITCHEN” engraved on it, which I clearly remembered my father telling me how and when he did that as a child and imagined tathaji (my great-grandpa) sitting on his window ledge on the third floor and screaming at my father and his sisters to hurry up and get in the house during the winters while they came back from school.
My gran then took us to this beautiful town and this lovely looking house, which was in the midst of huge trees and a cold picturesque stream flowed right in the front yard of the house, at first glance I couldn’t see anything wrong, it looked so calming, the house had a huge palm-sized lock on the front door, but the irony was lost on the lock itself when I turned to the side of the house, the roof of the house was broken down, you could clearly see the remains of a fire on the right side of the house which was my extended families home.
But it wasn’t only homes that were destroyed, temples were invaded and idols broken, men molested, women raped. The absolute slogan of the militants was “Ralev, Chalev, ya Moodev”. Which translates to “get converted, run away or die”. If anyone showed any resistance they were shot, men were asked to leave their women with them and leave.
We always show anger towards those videos from Iran where they show young kids merely 10–13 years of age practicing shooting with the terrorists. But, we are never told about how kids were also trained & involved in shooting amidst the Kashmir exodus.
It doesn’t make much difference in my life particularly or in of any Kashmiri youth that has been living in peace at their own homes since they were born who were lucky enough to have parents that worked it through during those dire conditions. But it does make a huge difference in our parent’s and grandparent’s life and especially in those people’s lives who weren’t lucky enough to escape and make a living after losing everything, maybe my life would have been different, maybe not.
My father once told me, “Whenever India won a cricket match against Pakistan, stones were pelted on our homes”. So, I asked the only rational question that came to my mind “what happened when Pakistan won the match?” he merely smiled and said “the same”.
Which made me realize this isn’t something that is new for Kashmir. The people who are living there do not deserve what they are facing but it is something that the government has been brushing off for decades. And “Free Kashmir” is not about making it a new country or separating it form our nation but it is about freeing it from terrorism and this hate that has been fermenting there. People getting paid to pelt stones, people agreeing to pelt stones for the sole reason of feeding their families the next meal, Pandit women hiding their identity, little kids being denied education, young girls being afraid to roam their own streets without their fathers, we need to make the heart of the valley throb again with the laughter of happy families and let it’s veins be filled with the love and warmth of the mothers, fathers, and grandmums who had to flee their homes overnight.
One needs to understand that it isn’t only my gran chanting to her god but millions of other Kashmiri families cursing the people who took away their homes. The valley can’t survive with the ill wishes and curses of these people, but the only once these chanting grans are given their peace back will the valley be at peace again.
And before you share the next “Free Kashmir” or “Stand With Kashmir” posts on your stories, remember to research and know what & who you are actually trying to stand with.
[Here’s the picture of my gran leaning on the back of her house from that trip (look how happy she looks!), the window on the corner of the third floor is where my great-grandpa sat, just so you can imagine it clearly]
I have loads of things say and vivid stories of the “migration” but that is not my story to tell and neither my place to say it.
If anyone wishes to learn the actual true-to-life story in-detail let me know.