SOPORE: On 27th November 1993, Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Pundit’s family found itself homeless. Troopers of the Indian Army forced the family out of their 18 bedroom farmhouse and surrounding 60 kanals of land to occupy it for establishing a base to launch anti-military operations.
Twenty four years since the occupation, the Pundits have been handed over a ramshackle house – passed from one government force to another, the house has lost the splendour it boasted of in this north Kashmir town.
In 1990s, government forces looked to occupy strategic locations to defeat militants ruling the streets of Sopore. Several houses were occupied by the Indian army, evicting families and leaving them in an unending struggle to regain the possession of their properties.
Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Pundit was one of the more influential businessmen in Sopore. He was the chairman of the Municipal Committee in the town, and a forest leasee. But influence didn’t prevent troopers from taking over his beautiful farm house.
Pundit passed away in 2006. His younger son Ishfaq recounts the events of the days following their eviction. “I will never forget that horrific day,” he says. In fact, no one who lived in Sopore town would forget the 27th November 1993 – the “doomsday. At that time a brutal crackdown led by Indian army was going on to flush out militants. Nearly 55 people in the town were killed in the bloodbath.
There was a point at which the Indian army found it difficult to defeat the militants and gain control of the town. To consolidate their position, army occupied buildings at prime locations, including Pundit’s farmhouse on the banks Jhelum, surrounded by apple orchards. Forty members of the family were thrown out of the seventy-eight-year house constructed with best available architecture and interior design by Mohi-ud-din Pundit’s father Jabbar Pundit.
Last month, when the 179 battalions of CRPF left the house, it had been reduced to a grim shadow of itself. At its prime in 1993, it had 18 bedrooms, six attached bathrooms, charming wood paneling and elegant electric and sanitary fitting.
During a tour of the palatial house after troopers evacuated it, signage of ammunition rooms on some bathrooms was still visible. A front room was used as an office and an outhouse in the backyard was used as a mess for troops.
“We were not given even a few hours of time to collect our belongings. When we begged, they (Indian Army) threw some of the stuff at us and kept most of them,” Ishfaq recalls the events of the day. “We were threatened with dire consequences if we resisted leaving. They would have killed us. Killings by troops were routine that time.”
Overnight, the Pundit family lost everything their ancestors had earned through a “lifetime of hard work”. “Our joyous family which lived together in the house was forced to rent places across the valley. We were scattered everywhere,” says Ishfaq. “It was the most challenging and stressful time for our family.”
After three months of occupation by the army, Ishfaq says that the house was handed over to Border Security Forces (BSF), who later transferred it to Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) in 2006.
“Last month, the Central Reserve Police Force troopers called us and told us that they are vacating and they want to hand over our house to us,” says Ishfaq. “At first, I didn’t believe it, but when they left, it was the happiest news in recent times for our family. I wish my father was alive, who till his death struggled to get this house back.”
Since 1993, when the house was taken over, Ishfaq says that his father, mother, grandmother and elder brother died. And every time the family had to seek permission from the camp in-charge to let them bury the deceased member in the graveyard next to the house.
While the property was changing hands, Pundits ran a long struggle to reclaim it. “We went from pillar to post to get our house vacated, but to no avail,” Ishfaq says.
“No doubt our family was influential and had access to political bigwigs, but that didn’t help us to get our house back,” Ishfaq says. Abdul Samad Pandit, a well-known businessman was Ghulam Mohi-ud-din’s uncle and Farah Pandit, a well known public figure who served in Clinton administration at White House, was a cousin. But nothing helped.
“My father went from the ministry of defence to Chief Minister of J&K, everybody assured us that the house would be returned. Even after the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah gave a written order and Defence Minister, A K Antony, literally agreed to relocate the troops, but it just added one more attempt to our many failed attempts to get our house back.”
“Finally we got our property back. No doubt it is damaged, but we will try to make it same as before, whatever effort it takes, as it’s our family heritage,” says Ishfaq.
All this while, the family was paid Rs 5000 per month as rent for the property.