The victory of Farooq Abdullah in the 1987 elections marked a turning point for Kashmir. Several parties decried the results, and campaigned for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people. The government of Pakistan gave its moral and diplomatic support to the movement, calling for the issue to be resolved via a UN-sponsored referendum. However, the government of India maintained that Pakistan's support of the insurgency constituted "cross-border terrorism." During the 1990s, several new militant groups emerged, most of which held radical Islamic views.
In his introduction to A Long Dream of Home, editor and author Siddhartha Gigoo refers to Kashmiri Pandits as a forgotten entity in the current political scenario. Forced to evacuate the state in 1990 by Hizb-ul Mujahideen, a militant outfit, over half a million Pandits found themselves displaced in Jammu and other parts of India. This year marks 25 years since their exile. In this time, Kashmir became one of the most militarised zones in the world.
Divided into four parts, this book is a collection of memoirs of those who were born and brought up in Kashmir, those that were displaced in their youth, those born in migrant camps and finally, those that dream of returning. The story by Jammu-based Arvind Gigoo, writer and former professor of English at various government colleges in the state, titled Days of Parting, recounts the societal and political changes in Srinagar before and leading up to the outbreak of violence.
A day in 1989
Residency Road, Srinagar
In the India Coffee House “intellectuals” discuss everything. Here a political happening is “invented” and debated upon endlessly. There was a bomb blast in the bathroom of the coffee house. Discussions are going on about this blast. “This is the work of Pakistan. “This is the doing of Indian intelligence agencies.” “CIA is active in Kashmir. “ “KGB is doing all this.” “India is a strong country.” “Pakistan is no less.” “What is the Indian occupational force doing here?” Highly imaginative theories are propounded. India, Pakistan, US, USSR, etc. are discussed. Pandits say that the “Indian army is here to protect us (Pandits) and Kashmir.” Others laugh at this bomb blast of “no significance.” I am among the laughers.
Another day in 1989
The words on the signboards are written in green paint. Some years ago it was the three colours of the Indian national flag. Cinema halls have been closed down. The shops which lend or sell film cassettes are closed.
People have been asked not to play cards. I know a Pandit child who said crying to his parents: “Will they take away my pack of cards?”
Another day in 1989
In the evening my wife, who teaches in a private school, tells me: “A few students of class 9 and 10 have not been coming to school for many days. Today I asked my students where they were. One student said that he had ‘crossed.’ I didn’t understand anything. Outside the classroom he told me that he had crossed the border. I understood nothing.”
I tell her: “Your students are naughty.” And I laugh. Wife tells me: “A lovely child studying in Kindergarten said to me: ‘We make crackers in our home. Abba has told me not to tell anyone.’”
I give a hearty laugh.
Another day in 1989
Wife tells me: “Today some students fainted in the classrooms. They were admitted to SMHS Hospital for treatment. When some of the women teachers went there to enquire after them we were asked not to enter the ward. But we entered the ward and saw our students. I don’t know what the matter is. The police came to school and inspected the classrooms. Someone said he smelled gunpowder. School has been closed for one week. The school management is worried.”
This sets me thinking for the first time. What is all this?
Eid celebration in Eid Gah, Srinagar
I go there with my daughter Henna. Suddenly there is panic. People start running. There is total confusion. I lift my daughter, sit her on my shoulder and run like the others. They say even the Chief Minister left quickly. I am panting and reach home breathless.
What was the matter?
I can’t even guess. Nobody knows.
A day in the 1970s
Hotel Ahdoo’s, Srinagar
Today I am having tea with my friends. They are well read and well informed. They are talking about the politics of Kashmir. One person, who is an engineer, says: “Kashmir is the best place for guerilla warfare. We have to fight for freedom from India.” Basheer says: “Kashmir neither to bloody India nor to bloody Pakistan. Kashmir is only ours…I mean of Kashmiris.”
One day in November 1989
I am walking through Hari Singh High Street. I hear the sound of a gunshot. People run away. I see a dead body on the road. Somebody has been killed. I walk up to the bus stand and board a bus that takes me home.
Next day I get to know that the person killed in Hari Singh Street was Neel Kanth Ganjoo, a retired judge.
20 January 1990
I am in Delhi. The newspaper is very disturbing. I read and reread the news.
30 January 1990
Wife, son, daughter and I leave Delhi for Jammu. We reach Jammu on 31 January in the morning. On the Residency Road, Tej Krishen tells me: “Call your parents to this place. Don’t go there with your children.” I ask him: “What happened?” He replies: “Nothing happened. But I can’t describe the night between 19 January and 20 January. It was simply horror.” Moti Lal also says the same thing.
31 January 1990
We are on our way to Srinagar. Pandits in taxis and trucks are going to Jammu. There is one young Pandit lady in the bus. We reach the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar by 7 pm. A policeman doesn’t let anyone leave the premises. A State Road Transport Corporation bus comes and everyone boards it. There is one policeman with a rifle in it. Security! He asks the passengers the names of the localities they are to go to. We reach Safa Kadal in downtown Srinagar.
10 pm, 31 January 1990
When Babi (mother) sees us she says: “Why did you come to this place?”
We have dinner and then talk. Father is calm. He doesn’t say anything.
A few persons shout from the mosque through the microphone and ask the people to enter the mosque. It continues till late in the night.
The atmosphere is very bad. Muslim neighbours—men and women—ask my wife where she was, why she has come back, etc. “You know that I go to Delhi every winter.” “Yes. But why did you return early this time?”
Interrogation on the road! The same person asks the same questions to wife, daughter, son and me separately and weighs the answers.
A day in February 1990
Shaha, the old Muslim woman in our neighbourhood, tells me on the road: “What nonsense is this! We are fed up.” A Muslim gentleman joins Shaha shouts: “We are prepared to die one by one for independence.” Searches and searches. Deaths. Killings. It is horrible. A Muslim neighbour tells me in confidence: “I am afraid of my own son. Strangers are his friends. I have never seen them.”
A night in April 1990
Wife and I hear some sound. We peep through a chink. A family is dumping arms in the earth. We don’t sleep. Wife says: “What now?” I say: “Silence.”
I am walking in the lane adjacent to my house. A young boy is coming from the opposite direction. He has a beautiful black and red pistol in his hand. I turn my head and ignore him.
“Who is walking in the lane?” Wife and I look. Two young men are standing near the gate of our house. They share one cigarette. They walk a few steps and then come back. The two young men walk to and fro.
One hour has passed. At last they go.
I am standing near the gate of our house. I see three young men walking fast. I hear one man saying to the other two: “This is the professor.” Their shoes tell me that they are militants. Ratni, our next-door neighbour, has also heard these words. She comes to our place and reports to my mother and my wife. I tell her: “Don’t worry.”
A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits is published by Bloomsbury and was edited by Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma. It will be released later this year.