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TIME TO REBUILD, REDISCOVER AND RESTART

Kashmir, the land of Rishis and Sufis, was not a place, not a
region, not a province and certainly not a borderland. It was, for all practical
purposes, a fabric of coexistence for all Kashmiri’s. It was a beautiful homeland
for inhabitants of different faiths and multiple cultural ethnicities who lived in
harmony with each other.

Unfortunately, all of this got derailed by time due to the
Kashmiri resistance movement in late 80’s and early 90’s, catalyzed by the
support from the fringe elements across the border. In a matter of short time, it
spread like a fire and took an ugly turn especially when the religious places of
minorities were gutted and the indigenous Hindus comprising only 5% of the
total population were selectively targeted and horrendously assassinated. The
fear psychosis was created among the Hindu population as occasional calls were
made from mosques on loudspeakers and print media, Aftab and Alsafa, was
used to release a message, threatening all Hindus to leave Kashmir immediately,
sourcing it to the militant organization. The walls were pasted with posters of
same message, cinema halls were closed, time was reset to the Pakistani
standard time and establishments including shops, buildings and educational
institutes were painted green as a sign of one single religious rule.

Following a spate of targeted assassinations of minorities and
lack of community’s sense of security, interspersed with a host of highly
provocative, communal and threatening slogans, the mass exodus of over 95%
of Kashmiri Pandits occurred in a matter of few weeks in Feb-Mar 1990. More
of them left in the following years so that, by 2011, only around 3,000 families
remained. This exodus was a result of a genuine panic among the Pandits that
stemmed as much from the religious vehemence among some of the insurgents
as by the absence of guarantee for the Pandits' safety issued by the Government
of that time.

These displaced people who left everything in valley and
struggled for their survival were neither considered ‘refugees’ nor as ‘Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs)’ by the Indian Government fearing international
involvement in Kashmir, which it considers to be its internal affair. Rather the
diplomatic term ‘Migrant’ was prefixed to their plight so as to dilute both the
intensity of situation and intent behind this exodus. The mass migration from
valley to the lower half rendered them helpless and the ones who owned the

palatial houses and wide farms were forced to live in refugee camps, under
tents, poorly ventilated accommodations, sometimes in unkempt and unclean
surroundings. As the exile lasted longer, the languished stay also generated
tensions with the host communities—whose social and religious practices,
although Hindu, differed from those of the Brahmin Pandits—and rendered
assimilation more difficult. Many displaced Pandits in the camps succumbed to
emotional depression and a sense of helplessness.

Kashmiri Pandits in exile have written many autobiographical
memoirs, multiple novels and poetry to record their experiences. Many attempts
were made to highlight the issue of Kashmir and its inhabitants on big screen as
well but none could make any impact. A recent movie, The Kashmir Files,
which has taken the electronic, social and mainstream media by storm
highlights the sufferings of Kashmiri Hindus. Life is never lived in terms of
black and white nor can be the circumstances painted in that very way.
However, the movie has been successful in highlighting the pain and agony of
the sufferers but has not been able to portray the apathy on the part of the
government as Gawakadal massacre also occurred during this exodus time. The
movie has done a good business on commercial front with record breaking
IMDB rating, 100 crore plus box office collection and has one of the highest
viewership status across the country. The success story of this particular movie
need not be rated on the basis of these parameters as for a Kashmiri Pandit it is
not just a movie, it is an emotion that is engraved very deep into the minds of
every concerned individual. The deep rooted wounds that had healed with time
have got reexplored and the expectations of some kind of justice have got
reignited. From a sufferer’s point of view, the success of this movie should be
on the basis of steps that Indian government, hopefully, will be taking to
rehabilitate the sufferers and prevent their cultural genocide. In addition, the
judiciary and the local civic bodies also need to tune in to smoothen the process
of rehabilitation and justification.

On the Judiciary front, the demand to create & quot; special crimes
tribunal & quot ; to look into the ethnic cleansing and crimes committed should be
accepted. On the governance front, the government of India should provide one
time compensation for displaced Kashmiri Hindus who are not able to apply for
govt jobs; ensure their return with full dignity, security and civil rights by
demarcating the land in and/or around Kashmir and give them the quota under
economically weaker section category as was done by Shiv Sena leader in
Mumbai by waiving off admission fee for displaced kids in various engineering
colleges helping not only the families in exile but also stabilizing their future.
On the local level, the civic bodies should come forward, engage themselves in

verbal conversation with positive minds, complement each other’s ideology and
chalk out a minimum working alternative to accommodate each other without
any ill feelings.

Even after being in exile for 32 long years, if we are able to
get this minimum after watching this movie, I will consider it as a true success
story, otherwise it will be like any other reel movie that glorified the painful
emotion of Kashmiri Pandits without any solution and created an environment
of hatred, while the sufferers will continue stepping towards a cultural genocide
and observe 19th January as ‘The Exodus Day’, all through their life.

Dr. Pawan Suri
[email protected]

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