In the heart of Jammu, the refugees met every day in a compound of a temple. It is here that the magnitude of ancient hatred became clear to us. From one corner of our land to another, the Pandits had been brutalised.
A professor who was a Marxist and spent a lot of time at the coffee house in Srinagar missed his conversations a lot. He was not ignorant about history but had viewed it from such a distance that it had left him untouched. While leaving home, he had been jeered at by a mob in his neighbourhood; they had thrown candy at him the way one did with the dead. But even in the clarity of that candy shower, he had been in a sort of disbelief. In that temple compound, surrounded by a dejected mass, he was taken over by the spirit of history; it also made him hopeful about the Indian state. In a fervent voice, he declared that the nation was not going to take our exodus lightly. He predicted that there would be such massive protests at the Boat Club in Delhi that the Parliament would come to a halt. He said he was certain that ‘our own people’ would open their homes to us.
But none of this really happened. In refugee camps, which were set up in Jammu and elsewhere, we were given biscuits and blankets, but not the balm of oneness that the professor had predicted would be offered to us. It was as if with a little relief of food and bedding alone, the equilibrium of dharma would be restored. In only a few days, in the Hindu Jammu, we realized that a landlord is neither Hindu nor Muslim—he is just a mercenary for profit.
Days would turn into weeks, and weeks would turn into months and years, but we would never return. In narratives spun by journalists and academics and activists and leading lights of civil liberties, our story did not even find mention in a footnote. There was 1984; then there was 1992; and then there was 2002. The events of 1992 and 2002 had resulted in an array of protests, essays, plays, movies and black armbands. In public meetings, I would sometimes walk in like a trapeze artiste and throw in my gauntlet.
‘Ah, Kashmir! Terrible. Barbed wire. Rum-eyed soldiers.’
‘Ah, well. They were elites. They became collateral damage in revolution. Our sympathies are with them, but these things happen.’
In the 1990s, a political party chose to make our story theirs. To make that happen, it pulled out, like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, their Nehru equivalent—a man who had been stopped at the border of Jammu and Kashmir in 1953 and then taken to Srinagar, where he died in detention in rather mysterious circumstances.
In 1992, the party leadership invoked his name, and 50,000 people landed up in Jammu. Led by a senior leader and one of his bearded deputies, they said they would go to Srinagar and unfurl the national flag at Lal Chowk. We were told that it was intended to fill the chasm, which radical separatists had created between Kashmir and India.
From inside the buses, the supporters shouted slogans of “Jahan hue balidan Mookerjee, woh Kashmir humara hai (The Kashmir where Mookerjee was martyred is ours).” I remember asking people in crumpled clothes and sadhus holding replicas of tridents in their hands about Mookerjee. They knew nothing about the man.
In the end, only seventy people made it to Lal Chowk under heavy security. The unfurling of the national flag turned into a spectacle. The pole of the flag snapped in the middle and the bearded deputy had to tie it with a handkerchief to keep it erect.
That pole is yet to be mended. Almost three decades have passed and the chasm seems to be wider than ever. And even today, as it was then, the custodians of secularism keep on inventing false analogies to whitewash our ethnic cleansing. The word ‘Kashmiriyat’—used to indicate a sort of syncretism— pushed down our throats as if it were some sweet pill intended to soothe our throats is hemlock to us. Our story continues to be told in scare quotes, which, as the philosopher Susan Neiman puts it, “expresses the speaker’s discomfort in the ultimate postmodern gesture“.
In exile, the Marxist professor got dejected with his false heroes. He began to visit temples, which he had never done before.
In the refugee camp once, a European delegation came to pay a visit. An old man insisted that he be allowed to speak to the head of the delegation. The man began his story from Sikandar ‘Butshikan’, the fourteenth-century iconoclast who broke the Sun Temple; by the time he touched upon the recent developments, the westerner had become too confused. “So, Sikandaar Botchicken is a commander of Hizbul Mujahideen?” he asked. At which point, the old man became silent. Everyone around him became silent.
It was not the old man’s failure; it was the failure of a civilisation. He must have felt so helpless in front of a foreigner. His own people, his own leaders had failed him miserably. It was as if the incident had only proven Naipaul’s point when he wondered whether intellectually for a 1000 years, India hadn’t always retreated before its conquerors and whether, in its periods of apparent revival, India hadn’t only been making itself archaic again, intellectually smaller, always vulnerable.
Excerpted with permission from Penguin, from “Left, Right and Centre” edited by Nidhi Razdan.