This came after a long break. Over the past week, my mother – who has suffered from hypertension for three decades – experienced a drop in her blood pressure. She relives her memories of the 1990s – the exodus, the struggle, the alienation and the humiliation of the people with whom we sought refuge after our displacement from Kashmir. The recent film about the pundit exodus from Kashmir, The Kashmir Files, came close to these wounds, even as she refuses to watch it, fearing it will aggravate her.
Friends and acquaintances contacted me after seeing the film. Eight years ago, a friend in Delhi said to me dismissively: “You are deeply concerned about the issue of Kashmir.” She called to say after watching it, “It’s raw, don’t show it to your parents.”
My parents, like other displaced Kashmiri Pandits, don’t need to watch a movie to find out. They’ve been through it all – ethnic cleansing for being a religious minority, fear for their lives, fleeing for safety, struggling to rebuild from scratch, uncertainty about the next meal, a focus on education despite dire circumstances. Resilience despite the turmoil.
Others ask if what is shown in the film is true – the rapes, the targeted killings, the Kashmiri Muslim neighbor reporting that a Kashmiri Pandit engineer was hiding in a rice drum when terrorists came to kill, the woman who was raped and then cut alive by a chainsaw, the bodies of a poet and his son mutilated and hung on a tree, Kashmiri pundits including infants lined up and shot dead by terrorists in Nadimarg.
This is the truth that the Kashmiri pundits have written about. In Kashmir, there is a saying: Apuz chhu tul katur ti poz chhu aftab (The lie is like frozen water, the truth is like the sun. The lie is short-lived like frozen water, and remains only as long as the truth is hidden).
The truth is not limited to the slogans and murders, it extends to the accumulation of animosity against the community long before the first significant murder of Kashmiri Pandit in 1989. Accounts have been written of the collapse and complicity politicians, bureaucrats, police, armed forces, intelligence agencies and other organs of the state apparatus, many of whom are now on the defensive despite having witnessed ethnic cleansing.
The Kashmiri pundits did not vanish into thin air. As hit lists were organized and pasted in public, as targeted killings and exoduses took place, as they had to move to shoddy accommodation and tents in inhumane conditions in the 1990s, they weren’t considered human enough by any of the governments.
Civil society has failed to be civil. He remained silent. In fact, he has gone a step further in denying the truth about the Kashmiri pundits. Many continue to do so to this day.
I was one year old in 1990. Growing up, I often skimmed through stories about us, but with little success. I was watching movies “based” on Kashmir, expecting a mention of Kashmir Pandits. Insignificant territory to explore for mainstream filmmakers, they would often be an ephemeral reference. In one of these films shot in Kashmir and released in 2014 with a duration of 162 minutes, Kashmiri Pandits had a mention: One line.
In the popular narrative, a Kashmiri Pandit was always a scholar. But as soon as they spoke their truth, they were labeled “community-based”, “victims who flaunt their status as victims” and attempt to seek “revenge”.
Prominent “liberal columnists” have suggested that the Kashmiri Pandits have not suffered enough, that they have not been killed in large enough numbers. In 2019, a columnist wrote that the word “camps” would be repeated ad nauseam to claim that victimization should continue. Just last week another wrote, “Memory is not always reliable.”
Kashmiri pundits would rush to explain. The onus was on the victims to produce evidence. Meanwhile, Kashmiri pundit killers were glorified as ‘messiahs’.
The emptiness and denial of these 32 years has brought Kashmiri Pandits to such a point, where their internalized pain has come to the surface in the form of outbursts, as they see film as a way to be seen. and heard. One can disagree with the filmmaker’s policy, but it came closest to describing the facts.
That even now the director of the recent film enjoys Y-level security, while just five months ago several Kashmiri Pandit employees fled for their safety after the targeted killings of minorities in Kashmir, says long on our dismal rank in the priorities, beyond being used as capital policy by the government in power. The fact that many of these displaced Kashmiri Pandits, who had returned to work under the PM scheme, have still not received the promised accommodation tells us that the government needs to take more action, rather than just asking for a movie.
On their own, Kashmiri pundits have attempted to document and tell their truth about ethnic cleansing since the 1990s through books, documentaries and websites. Did you care to listen – without denials, similes or ifs and buts? No. Kashmiriyat has become a misnomer, without even an acknowledgment of the truth, forget the excuses.
An entire generation has died yearning to return to their homeland, a generation has grown up not knowing what home means. Three decades – that’s the timeline. I can’t bring back my nani (maternal grandmother), who could only speak Kashmiri and who in her later years suffered from memory loss, forgetting the number of her own children, but remembering every detail of his stay in Kashmir.
To the political leaders of Kashmir, who continue to issue qualifying statements, I say: “Kashmir Pundits ‘nikal’ nahi gaye, ‘nikaale’ gaye (Kashmir Pundits did not leave, they were forced to leave)” . Speak the truth, so that future generations of Kashmir and this country know that this history should never be repeated with any community.
Both sides suffered in Kashmir. Our truth can co-exist with all other truths. Listen to understand, to dull the pain, but not to fan the flames.
And for the man who stood up in a movie theater inciting other moviegoers against Muslim women and others making similar statements, a few questions. With increased polarization, it is easy to quote the story of the Kashmiri Pandit to evoke hatred. But what have the pundits done in those 32 years: have they incited violence or called for revenge? Our grandparents and parents left their homeland, without even thinking of the consequences, to save their lives and protect the dignity of “women”. We picked up pens, not guns. Do not insult our resilience and suffering with such statements. Don’t lose your sense of humanity.
Has justice — within the legal, administrative and political systems — been delivered to the Pandits of Kashmir? Have the killers been brought to justice over these three decades? Have commissions of inquiry been set up? No.
Ask the right questions. Those in power then and now have a lot to answer for.
This column first appeared in the print edition of March 23, 2022 under the title “The End of Denial”. Write to the author at [email protected]