Rahul Pandita talks to the author about how the events of 1990 continue to haunt him.
Rahul Pandita was a teenager when, over two decades ago, the Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of Kashmir. In his memoir of exile, Our Moon Has Blood Clots, he goes back to the deeply traumatic event that changed the meaning of home irrevocably.
A journalist with Open Magazine, he has also authored Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement. Excerpts from an interview:
Your session at The Hindu Lit for Life is titled ‘Journeys into the Heart of a Conflict Zone’. This is as relevant for your reportage from Kashmir as from Bastar. What are the similarities and differences between the two?
The conflict in Bastar and Kashmir are very different. In Bastar, it is a direct result of hunger, deprivation and acute marginalisation. Take care of these things and the conflict will go away.
In Kashmir, though, it is a theo-fascist movement masquerading as a freedom movement, aided by Pakistan. Of course there are certain legitimate grievances, but they are no different from those in the rest of the country.
The conflict in Kashmir has now become a cottage industry where every party — the separatists, the militants, the security grid, mainstream politicians — wants to keep it alive simply because they are profiting from it.
What are your memories of growing up in Kashmir? When and how did you become aware of your identity as a Kashmiri Pandit?
My memories of Kashmir cannot be summed up in a short interview. I consider Kashmir my only home. That is where we had a man called Jawahar who was so fond of Sartre that he was nicknamed Jawahar Sartre. That is the Kashmir I grew up in. But, at the same time, one became very aware of the division between the majority Muslims and the minority Hindus. Every now and then, something would happen that would show us how vulnerable we were as a religious minority in Kashmir. In that sense, one became very aware of who one was at a very early age.
Was it difficult to summon events from 1990 for your book and give them immediacy, considering how painful they were?
Yes, writing this book has been very difficult. But this is a wound that I like to poke my finger into every day. That is the only way I can keep thinking and writing about it. This is true of every refugee in this world. The refugee may live any where, but his heart remains in the land where he was born.
I will always remember what happened to us in 1990 — how we were brutalised on the streets of Kashmir by our own Muslim neighbours, friends and colleagues. We must always remember that.
You have talked about how two different victimhoods — of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits — can co-exist. But is it possible without a sense of competition? And how can there be reconciliation when there is competitive victimhood?
Why should there be a competition? Many people have, in their silliness, argued that instead of bridging the divide between the Muslims and the Hindus in Kashmir, my book has created further chasm. That is quite absurd.
Bridging the divide cannot happen at the cost of our truth. I cannot paint a rosy picture where none exists. For almost quarter of a century, nobody in this country bothered to ask us why we left our home and hearth suddenly in 1990.
Around 350,000 people became homeless, thrown into an almost-permanent exile. More than 700 brutally killed, raped and brutalised. Hundreds of temples destroyed and vandalised. Not a single conviction in these killings. And we should not even talk or write about it?
The reconciliation will only happen when the majority community in Kashmir realises what it did in 1990. The reconciliation will happen when the Kashmiri Muslims will stop parroting “Jagmohan is responsible, Jagmohan is responsible.” Until that happens, no reconciliation is possible.
Are you hopeful that the Pandits will return to Kashmir?
The return of Kashmiri Pandits is not possible immediately because, in the last few years, certain sections in Kashmir have become more radicalised than ever. But we are not giving up. Many among us are gradually gaining a foothold back in Kashmir.
We are working towards it. It will take a little time, but it will happen for sure. And no force on earth can stop it. Like the Jews, we keep saying “next year in Srinagar”.
One fine year the people of India will realise that the Kashmiri Pandits are indeed in Srinagar; they have returned.