…When you hive off a portion of pain from the larger tragedy of Kashmir
As a teenager in Baramulla in 1989, and brought up on a still steady discourse of Kashmir’s uneasy relationship with New Delhi, the outbreak of separatist militancy was eminently understandable. At that time, it was difficult for me to comprehend the geo-political context of the development or Pakistan’s role in the matter but what I can say with certainty is that there was no plan in action in the way the situation played out on the ground in the Valley. No blueprint on the ISI drawing board conceived by the Afghan war hardened generals could have helped gush forth a sea of people demanding Azadi on to the streets, not only in urban areas but also across the length and breadth of rural Kashmir. One could be a daily witness to small knots of people shouting Azadi slogans even in tiny far-away hamlets. This coincided and was followed by hundreds of youth crossing LoC for arms training. Of course, this is a memory that is not my exclusive preserve. Every Kashmiri, except those who were born in the late nineties, is a witness.
Amidst this chaotic public groundswell which was directed against New Delhi, it was hard to imagine the plight of small Kashmiri Pandit minority. Living in inclusive neighbourhoods with Muslims, with allegiances of an overwhelming majority lying – and also perceived to be so by their Muslim neighbours – with New Delhi, Pandits overnight became aliens in their own land. Suddenly a deep political chasm developed between the two communities which seemed impossible to bridge under the circumstances. In my thinking, it was this break-up that fundamentally underpinned and culminated in Pandit migration from Valley accelerated, of course, by the random killings of the members of the community. Because Pandits didn’t believe in the militant movement for an independent Kashmir or its accession to Pakistan, why get killed alongside a struggle they had no stakes in. Any community in the similar unenviable situation would have done the same. Otherwise, while pandits were getting sporadically killed as alleged informants, there were many more Muslims also being gunned down over the same allegation.
I am yet to read the journalist Rahul Pandita’s book Our Moon has Blood Clots on the migration of Kashmiri pandits from the Valley in 1990. I only read some of its reviews and watched Pandita’s interviews. However, it was Pandita’s video interview with Alpana Kishore that impacted me most. Speaking about a situation that is mired in competing narratives, versions of truth and oral histories and still fresh in the memory of millions of Kashmiris – both Muslims and Pandits – with their own individual takes, Pandita squarely blames not the “Islamist militants but the majority community” as a whole for forcing the flight of his community. As evidence, he cites the case of telecommunication engineer BK Ganjoo who was shot dead in his attic by militants after a Muslim neighbour directed them to his hiding place.
One can’t help but feel bad about this tendency even by well-informed people to project the alleged acts of ordinary individuals on to their communities or set a stray individual or individuals up as a kind of absolute representation of the identities they wear. Kashmiri Muslim discourse abounds with small little stories of alleged betrayals by the pandit individuals and it would be shame to use them to rationalize the larger pandit tragedy. Doing so only plays into the stereotypical tropes and creates a caricature of reality rather helping clarify it.
This raises some pertinent questions about the role of memory or a memoir in the context of the layered conflicts like Kashmir. Does this mean, a memory or memoir is bound to be inherently subjective, biased and distortive of reality? Is a memoir only an individual’s speck of an experience in a broader, larger scheme of things? What at least comes across from Pandita’s interview is that a memoir makes for a botched intellectual argument – I make this contention relative to his book only. For example, Pandita sees little sense in Kishore’s argument that the majority community in the Valley is entitled to its aspirations and the minority community could consider to be a part of those aspirations being inhabitants of the place. While it is nobody’s case that the minorities should necessarily be subservient to majority aspirations, what puzzled me was Pandita’s response. He said that it were, in fact, the aspirations of the Pandit minorities which suited Kashmiri majority community, not vice versa. And in his zeal to privilege one narrative over another, he in a separate interview twists Agha Shahid Ali’s famous line to drive his point home. “My memory will come in the way of this false history,” he says.
“My book is a response to that denial of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits” – Rahul Pandita