The politics of untruth about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits
In Moments of Reprieve, one of Primo Levi’s remarkable works on the Jewish holocaust, he writes: ‘Well, it has been observed by psychologists that the survivors of traumatic events are divided into two well-defined groups: those who repress their past en bloc, and those whose memory of the offense persists, as though carved in stone, prevailing over all previous or subsequent experiences. Now, not by choice but by nature, I belong to the second group.’ Like Levi, I too belong to the second group. For more than 20 years, I have struggled with the story of what happened to my family and other Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley in 1990. There were times when I would give up and try and be one among the first group. But then, like Levi says, I would be startled from smells ‘down there’. I remembered everything, every moment of those scary days—how we were hunted one by one on the roads, and inside our houses; how nobody came to our rescue; how we became refugees in our country; how we suffered in the early years of exile in the summer heat of the plains that, now as I remember it, felt like that menacing dog in Abu Ghraib. We lost our homes, and some of us lost near and dear ones. We lost our honour, our dignity in those torn tents in refugee camps in Jammu, in those door-less toilets of one-room dwellings, while standing in queues for free blankets that Samaritans in Delhi donate to beggars in winter outside Lodi Road’s Sai Baba temple.
Though I remembered, I never felt as angry about our condition as I have in the past few years. I told my story to many people, but inside, as I realise now, I didn’t feel much except being startled with flashes of remembrance. We have been in exile for 23 years now. I have never broken down in all these years, except when I took an overnight bus from Delhi to Jammu in June 1997 and at the Jammu border found a newspaper with my brother’s photo on the front page. He had been dragged out of a bus by terrorists of the Hizbul Mujahideen and shot. A year later, I went to Srinagar for the first time after the exodus, as a journalist. I felt a tug at my heart but I did not allow it turn into a hole. I never went back home. In fact, I even avoided travelling in that general direction. In 2007, when I finally went there, a Muslim friend who accompanied me, cried. But I did not. Later, when we were leaving, he told me that he wondered how I could control myself. But I had no answer. I did not know myself. I felt something, but it was not anger. I think it was just sadness—a sadness that exile brought, an insurmountable sadness, like Edward Said had said. I also knew in my heart that I was uprooted inside, that I suffered from this permanent sense of homelessness.