No one likes to live away from their homes, and no better way to convey this across than a movie.

Kashmiri Pandits, who constitute the minority community in the Kashmir valley, have been struggling and protesting for their ancestral homeland of Kashmir and their rights for the last 23 years.

The ethnic tribe who lost their home to terrorism in 1989-1990 has been resilient in their struggle all these years despite odds. To keep the exile consciousness and the struggle for homeland alive, the Pandits have been making use of pen, paper, words, and reel. Books, blogs, films, movies, and debates have been the tools of protest and struggle for the Kashmiri Pandits in exile.

Tracing back roots

The Last Day, a shortfilm by Siddhartha Gigoo, is a recent attempt to showcase the exile and displacement of Kashmiri Pandits. Born and brought up in Kashmir, Siddhartha Gigoo left the valley like any other Pandit in 1990 due to militancy/insurgency. He studied English Literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. On the subject of the exodus and the exile of Pandits, Gigoo has also written a novel, The Garden of Solitude which was published in 2011. Apart from the novel, he has written two anthologies of poetry, Fall and Other Poems (1994) and Reflections (1995).

A couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to watch this movie at the University of Hyderabad where it was screened as part of a film festival — Kashmir Before Our Eyes — that travelled to various cities across India.

The Last Day is based on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their ancestral homeland, Kashmir, and their living in exile in Jammu. Due to militancy/insurgency in Kashmir in 1990, about four to five lakh Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave Kashmir valley and seek refuge in Jammu and other parts of India. The film is about an old Kashmiri Pandit couple who were forced to live in a small tent in Jammu province along with their son and his wife after their displacement from Kashmir. The old Pandit longs for his home in Kashmir valley every day before he passes away in the refugee camp.

The worst sufferers of the displacement are the old Pandits who had not imagined that they will have to live their last days away from home, in exile. Imagine an old Pandit couple, used to Kashmir summers that average around 30°C, living in a small canvas tent during the Jammu summer when the temperature is about 45°C. Many Pandits died due to such a sudden change in environment.

Pining for home

The film depicts the longing for home, the trauma of loss, the agony of homelessness and the pain of exile. In 12 minutes, filmmaker Gigoo has summed up everything about the exile of Kashmiri Pandits and has done it beautifully. The film strikes a chord with the viewer. The film also touches upon the subtle aspect of relationship and intimacy among the married Kashmiri Pandit couples which fades away while living in inhumane camps. It causes a decline in birth rate leading to the dwindling of the Kashmiri Pandit population.

The film has received wide appreciation and has been selected for various national and international film festivals, including the London International Film Festival and International Film Festival of Cinematic Arts (IFFCA), Los Angeles.

The movie is a tribute to all those unnamed Pandits who died as refugees in their own country. It is a dedication to all those brave Kashmiri Pandits who chose not to renounce their faith and nationality despite the ordeals, as the waiting for the exiled Pandits still continues…