Anniversaries of pogroms and ethnic cleansings don’t matter. There is no closure for those whose lives were shattered through these upheavals.
For the last many years I have tried to get in touch with a woman who lives in a government colony in West Delhi’s Janakpuri area. There is a park in central Delhi named after her husband. Telecommunications engineer B.K. Ganjoo was roughly my age in March 1990 when he was shot in a drum in which he lay in hiding in the attic of his house in Kashmir Valley. Three terrorists had come looking for him but were unable to find him. As they were leaving, a woman in the neighbourhood, who had seen Mr. Ganjoo hiding, signalled to them. They returned and pumped bullets into the drum.
Vijay Ganjoo was a witness to her husband’s murder. She asked the terrorists to kill her as well. But they said they were sparing her to let her cry over her husband’s corpse.
Later, Mrs. Ganjoo came to Delhi. She was offered a job in her husband’s department from which she retired recently. I tried many times to get in touch with her because I felt this story should not be forgotten.
‘Spare my mother the reminder’
In all marriage functions I attended in Jammu where a majority of Kashmiri Pandits are settled now after their exodus from the Valley, I sought information regarding Mrs. Ganjoo from everyone I met. But in marriages that are solemnised in exile, nobody wants to remember a brutal death. Many pretended to make inquiries about her. “I will get her mobile number by tomorrow,” a man who I was told is a relative of the Ganjoos promised me at a function in April 2011. But nothing came of it. It was almost a year later that a friend thought of looking up a telephone directory and discovered Mrs. Ganjoo’s landline number. I hesitantly called up. It was picked up by a young woman. She turned out to be Mr. Ganjoo’s daughter. “Please don’t call again,” she said in a cold, steely voice after I introduced myself. “Please spare my mother; don’t make her remember it again.”
I held on to the phone a minute after she had disconnected it. I tried to imagine the young daughter. She must be working somewhere. She would probably be married by now. She would have a life here. She would have friends on her BlackBerry messenger. She would have her own fights to fight. Perhaps she kept a picture of her father in her wallet. The day when her father was murdered won’t matter. She will never forget it. And she knows her mother won’t either. But she still wants to protect her from a phone call.
Most Kashmiri Pandits will not remember March 22. They will remember the night of January 19 — the night when their Muslim neighbours, friends and colleagues turned against them. The night when they kept awake all night, as frenzied mobs on the streets and inside mosques called for their extermination. They will remember how many of them left a day after, crossing a tunnel named after one of their own, and were just happy to be alive in refugee camps infested with disease and sickness.
But it won’t matter to Mrs. Ganjoo. For her, every thought of her young husband is January 19; every look at her daughter reminds her of March 22.
For Zakia Jafri, too, every sound on the street would remind her of the mob that killed her husband Ehsan Jafri in Gujarat’s Gulbarg society.
Mr. Jafri had a nest of sparrows in his room. He was so protective of it that he would even tape up the switch of the ceiling fan lest someone pressed it on by mistake. On February 28, 2002, a mob hacked him to death and then burnt him with many others including two young lovers who had sought refuge in his house.
Petition after petition filed by Mrs. Jafri has been rejected in the court. While the TV cameras adjust their sound and colour levels, she looks down. Probably her husband’s killers watch her on TV sets looted from some Muslim shop owner in Ahmedabad. Every wrinkle on her face is a lash from February 28.
The neighbour who pointed out Mr. Ganjoo’s location to his killers is probably around as well, living perhaps in the same locality. Or perhaps her family has moved to a better one, occupying one of the houses left behind by a Pandit family that is in exile now. Perhaps she hugs the former occupants of her new house when they come visiting sometimes and tells them: “Kashmir is incomplete without you.” One of Mr. Ganjoo’s killers was garlanded after he was released from jail a few years ago. He also visits one of the Hindu shrines during a holy festival in June and embraces Kashmiri Pandits for the sake of a photo opportunity.
We move on with our lives. The house has to be cleaned. Electricity bills have to be paid. Children have to be sent to school. Money has to be earned. Food has to be put on plate. Sometimes we even return to localities, to streets we were displaced from. Our neighbours are friendly again. They have started wishing us on our festivals. They look at us as if nothing ever happened.
Life and memory
Journalists call up on every anniversary of our violent past. As if memory were some computer software that gets activated each year on a particular day and is switched off by the time we wake up the next day.
But it doesn’t work like that. Some of us still file petitions.
In TV studios, unsolicited advice is offered to us: move on. Forget the past. All is good now. Look ahead at the future. There has to be reconciliation.
Of course, we have moved on. But we have moved on with life. But memory — what do we do with that? That will come in the way of history, as Agha Shahid Ali wrote.
And it must. Because Vijay Ganjoo still hasn’t got justice. Because the cataract of sorrow will never go away from Zakia Jafri’s eyes. Because there was a woman I met many years ago in a locality called the “widow’s colony” in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar who saw, in front of her eyes, her husband whom she called “mera sardar” and her two young sons burnt alive. Because some very prominent people who many believe led some such mobs are still out of the law’s net.
Because in a village in Assam’s Kokrajhar, two children of a father went missing and even after the incident was reported to the Prime Minister, they could not be saved. Because there is a place called Muzaffarnagar and, as children died of cold there, a Lohiaite was enjoying a performance put up by a horde of film stars just a few hours away.
That is why I pick up my phone every day and scroll down to Vijay Ganjoo’s number. One day, I will find the courage to dial it again.
Because there cannot be any closure. Because there should not be any.
(The writer is a journalist and an author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Keywords: 1990 Kashmiri Pandits exodus, Vijay Ganjoo, Zakia Jafri, 2002 Gujarat riots, Gulberg society massacre, Kokrajhar riots, Muzaffarnagar riots, riot victims, communal violence, ethnic cleansing