I remember a day in the early ’90s when a helpless person knocked on our door late in the evening. When we opened the door we were surprised to see our old family friend Pandit Jagan Nath (Jagʼe Kak). He came inside in a hurry and asked for shelter for a night. He was in fear and anxiety. We tried to enquire the reason behind his fear but the questions were irritating him; he didn’t utter a word except, “Give me a room to sleep”. I was a kid that time and was asked to vacate my bedroom for the guest. I was so happy to see a guest, that too from the Pandit community. We offered him tea but he refused. At dinner we were shocked when we saw him with his own tiffin, which was full of rice with some knoll (haakh). He didnʼt take our meals even. Soon after dinner he locked the door from inside and probably slept.
Next morning when I woke up I enquired about the guest and I was surprised to know that he had left very early in the morning without having breakfast. His visit was confusing as we couldn’t figure out the matter. Why was he looking so terrified and depressed? After a few days my elder brother visited his shop in main chowk Sopore where he came to know that his shop had been closed for the last many days and that he left for Jammu on the same day he left our home. His shop was a very famous hosiery shop in main chowk Sopore. He used to provide sitting space to those who were waiting for buses for Bandipora, Watlab, etc, as there were no bus stop shelters in that area. His warm welcome to his shop can never be forgotten.
The reason he left was the same as for hundreds of Pandits of Kashmir. We were worried whether he had reached Jammu safely or not. Those days mobile phone was a dream and we couldn’t contact him. It was only after many years that we came to know he is in Jammu and his living conditions are poor. He was living a miserable life. Some even said that he had lost his mental balance and was begging in the streets of Jammu.
My brother got a chance to meet him in Jammu. His health had deteriorated and his financial condition was very bad. One day the news reached our ears that Jag’e Kak is no more. It was so heart piercing. Whenever we discuss about him at home we cannot stop our tears.
Another episode I recall is related to my friend who lived in Karan Nagar in Srinagar. Things had started to change in Kashmir early in the year 1989. There were a few incidents of bomb blasts at the beginning but these escalated to extreme levels by the year end. My friend’s dad was a central government employee and was posted at Baramulla then. Their neighbourhood consisted of mostly Pandit families but there were a few prominent Muslim families living there, too. Everyone was well-off in their locality. However, their neighbour’s son had joined the outfit named JKLF.
The killings of Kashmiri Pandits had already started by then. In Karan Nagar, the neighbour’s son was seen putting the flag of his outfit on an electric pole which was next to my friend’s Pandit family’s home.
In the morning my friend’s family saw someone throwing a letter into their house. The letter threatened them to leave or something untoward could happen to them.
I recall another Kashmiri Pandit, Mr AK Raina who was an engineer working in the PWD. He was sitting on his chair in his office when two gunmen, on the pretext of having some work with him, entered his cabin and shot him there and then.
Pandit Ved Lal, a famous teacher and then principal of Higher Secondary School Sopore, was also murdered in cold blood. He was wearing a gold chain which was snatched away by his killer in the name of Mal-e-ganemat.
Pranaji, a lecturer in Sopore Higher Secondary Scholol, was similarly killed by some unknown gunmen.
Such is the story of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who fled to Jammu. There is nothing like some suffered more and some suffered less. There is no yardstick to measure their pain. Hundreds of Pandit homes were burnt by miscreants and many were killed. Some were killed by militant organisations in the name of jihad, some for personal conflicts, and some by agencies. The same has been the case with Kashmir’s Muslim population. Why Pandit brothers left is still said to be a mystery. There are different stories regarding their leaving Kashmir, some blaming Jagmohan, the then governor of Kashmir, some blaming intelligence agencies. However, it is undeniable that some misguided, greedy, selfish Muslims took advantage of the situation and compelled them to leave. Undoubtedly it was the most unfortunate incident in the history of Kashmir.
No doubt Kashmiri people will welcome the Pandits back but the question is, will the political scenario permit the same? The government is rehabilitating them in separate colonies in Kashmir, like in Veerwan Baramulla, etc. Their living conditions are not so good there. The question comes to my mind, “Why separate colonies?” We believe in religious brotherhood and separate colonies are not the solution. I am still waiting in hope for reunion!