Festering Wound Revisiting the Pandit exodus from outside ideological straightjackets

  • Arun Raina
  • Publish Date: Mar 10 2016 3:12PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 3 2016 1:49PM
Festering Wound Revisiting the Pandit exodus from outside ideological straightjackets

“In my family, I was the only one who could read Urdu,” Raina, now 41, recollects from his new home in Jammu. “When I read the poster, I started sweating and removed it from the gate.” Raina showed the poster to his father when he returned home in the evening. “He took it and hurriedly went to the house of our Muslim neighbour. He was in tears, my Muslim uncle, when my father told him that he could not put his family’s lives at stake and must leave Kashmir,” Raina says. “My father asked us to pack whatever we could and arranged for a truck to take our belongings. He knew very well that we won’t be returning.” The Rainas hadn’t seen it coming. In early 1990, as pro-Azadi slogans began to be shouted on the streets and from mosque loudspeakers, Raina says, their Muslim neighbours would reassure them, “don’t worry, nobody will touch you”. “Their assurances made us believe that we had nothing to fear.” Then, Raina found the poster. The family knew they had to leave never to return. What forced his family to leave was more far terrifying than slogans. “I remember it was May 1990 when we heard that gunmen had killed a Pandit worker of the Congress in a nearby village. Two days later, another political activist was killed. We were terrified and my father and uncles decided to leave for Jammu.” “I was just nine years old then but I remember how are Muslim neighbours wept when we told them we were leaving. We put our belongings into a truck and started towards Jammu, but our trucks were stopped at Udhampur where a tent colony had been set up for the Pandits coming from the valley,” Kaul recollects. “We were given a small tent and asked to stay put there until the situation in Kashmir became normal. Our wait for the situation to improve turned from days into months and from months into years.” And with every passing day, life become ever harder. “We stayed in the tents in Udhampur for over seven years. Then, we were allotted a one-room quarter at Batarwani, Udhampur. After staying there for another few years, we were allotted a quarter at Domana Purkhoo on the outskirts of Jammu. This quarter had a small lobby, a kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom. And it took more
than 15 years for the government to provide us with a one-room quarter.” Through such hardship, it was the yearning for home that kept Koul’s heart warm. His family never sold their ancestral land in Salarkote, hoping to go back there one day. “Many Pandits hailing from rural Kashmir have not sold their ancestral property as most of us believe that one day we will return.
We are not interested in separate townships. We just pray that the situation becomes normal.” “And if the government really wants to do something for us,” he adds, “then it should provide Kashmiri Pandit youth with jobs.”