To be a Kashmiri and a Hindu can be a painful experience these days. To which side of the divide do we belong? The answer is taken for granted and in this fight between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between Hindu and Muslim, I am supposed to articulate the agony of exile, the religious persecution of ‘us’, minorities, and fight for my homeland from which we have been thrown out through ‘violent’ means.
These are questions that are not easy to answer, especially by someone whose father migrated from the Valley in the early 60s to better his economic prospects. I am a migrant like a large number of Kashmiris who had been moving out of the Valley into mainland India for many decades now, as there were not many jobs back home for want of any economic development.
I understand the trauma of those who had to escape from the Valley in the late 80s as a result of a mass movement by the majority (Muslims) against the Indian State. A large number of Hindus are now scattered around the country — although, I must confess, they have been looked after well, have been provided dole and jobs. A lot of states have been generous enough to provide admission to their children on a quota basis in professional training institutes. It is being said that Kashmiri Hindus are the most pampered community-in-exile anywhere in the world. This could be true. But is it compensation enough for those who did not want to leave their homeland?
I have been reading and hearing endless debates that, for the first time now, are confronting the real issue: should Kashmir be allowed to secede from India? Is the Army an ‘occupation force’ that treats the Kashmiris in the Valley as enemies and uses brute force even against the innocent?
I am afraid I will have to agree with my people on the ‘other side of the divide’ when it comes to believing that the Army/police, and even the top echelons of the administration, are unsympathetic — even insensitive — towards them. I say this on the basis of my own experience of the Valley when I went there a couple of years ago after a gap of almost 25 years.
My childhood memories of the place have created a special place in my heart for Muslims, especially for the elderly Ramzan, sitting on whose shoulders, I, for the first time, glimpsed what the outside world looked like. In my memory, Muslims were everywhere — except in the kitchen, where they were not allowed by orthodox Hindus. They were the providers — the milkman, the sabziwala, the meat-seller — they were all Muslims, but were not to be treated as social equals. My cord with Kashmir broke in 1964. After that, I was an occasional visitor to my home during summer holidays. That, too, became impossible after Kashmir became out of bounds for us.
Our abandoned ancestral house in Karan Nagar, like most of the Hindu houses in that area, had been occupied by the Border Security Force. With things having improved, I had a chance to go back with my family in 2004, although we stayed at Gupkar Road, an area fortified by the Army and generally safe and insulated from what goes on in downtown Srinagar.
The visit to my house and Karan Nagar was revealing. One could see the hatred on the faces of the armed CRPF men towards the locals. It was only when they saw a bindi on my wife’s forehead did the armed men relax and ask us what we were doing among these “bhe…”.
It was not possible to enter the barricaded Hindu housing colony that looked more like an Army garrison. Only after much persuasion and several futile visits were we granted ‘permission’ to enter our house. It was in ruins and I had to recreate it from my memory to explain to my daughter where I had once lived and played.
Once outside the barricades, despite his sagging skin and wizened face, I could recognise the milkman sitting in his shop. When I introduced myself, he looked at the gunmen in front of the barricades and said, “Why did you do this to us?” I understood that the chasm was almost unbridgeable. I, the Hindu Kashmiri, represented the State and the gun to him.
On one of the evenings that I spent at the fortified Gupkar Road, I had my fill of Scotch with some senior administrators. None of them was Muslim. In their utterances, it was clear that they, too, had a clear anti-Muslim bias that bordered on hatred. I savoured the delicious Wazwan, prepared for the senior members of the bureaucracy by their Muslim cooks. Unless they were deaf, the cooks must have heard all that was said in the room.
I have not had a chance to go back again. It looks unlikely now, given the turn of events. But these days, I wonder who the ‘real’ culprits are. What is the road ahead? For them, as well as for us.
(Pradeep Magazine is the author of Not Quite Cricket. He left Kashmir in 1964)