Leave Or Die

Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots attempts to set the record straight on the forced exile of Kashmiri Pandits.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots

Rahul Pandita is an angry man. He is also a Kashmiri Pandit. Given his history in the last 20 years, it is likely that if he is the latter he will also be the former. And perhaps his new, autobiographical account of his childhood growing up in Srinagar, his ejection from the Valley with the rest of his community and his struggle to cope with life as a dispossessed refugee with little hope of return to his homeland, is a way of coping with that rage.

In Our Moon Has Blood Clots, Pandita unveils a narrative that India’s Left liberal consensus is strikingly uncomfortable with and has long avoided mentioning. Because of the disproportionate clout this consensus wields in the influential English media, it’s a narrative that gets sporadic mention but no headline-grabbing or influential campaigns of support that shape discourses for years ahead.

Side-by-side with the standard, anti-State, human rights rhetoric that has come to characterise the only politically “acceptable” understanding of the Kashmir issue, there has been a conspicuous and unethical silence on the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. Because it doesn’t fit in to the convenient yet disingenuous Left-wing understanding of minority politics, it lands by default in the BJP camp whose rule ironically also produced no great shift in this scenario.

Rahul Pandita seeks to change that. To set things down for the record – like another Kashmiri Pandit he mentions who has taken it upon himself to document every Kashmiri Pandit who was killed in the Valley or died in the exodus later in their stiflingly hot one bedroom allotments at the refugee camps in Jammu. He also seeks to challenge the Muslim-centric narrative of victimhood and helplessness that has come to rigidly dominate the Kashmir story at the cost of important and inconvenient truths about power and governance.

The pity is that Pandita, engrossed in his own story – perhaps understandably – doesn’t do this strongly enough. Losing a beloved older first cousin and hero, Ravi (shot dead after being pulled off a bus), to the conflict, and seeing his mother slowly degenerate into a paralysed, voiceless state, moving over 20 houses, and knowing the pain of the distress-sale of an ancestral home, are events that do have a way of concentrating the mind wonderfully.

Yet, equally important, are the larger truths that one can glimpse in his book.

Unfortunately they remain glimpses, a string of statements for the record. Key amongst them is the motif of the early Nineties in all conflict reportage from the Valley, that the exodus of the Pandits was a conspiracy of the State to discredit the Muslims. Evidence suggests that while the State may have organised some forms of basic and inadequate help once the Pandits began leaving in large numbers, the tipping point for the exodus remains the nights of January 19th and 20th 1990 when threats, jeers and open abuse broadcast over mosques all over the Valley all night long became the climax of a year-long campaign of targeted and brutal assassinations designed to send a clear message. Leave or die.

Pandita deals with this in one page, when an entire book could be written on why Muslims felt the need to create this myth and what it meant in the early days of the conflict. He has other stronger emotions to share, fonder illusions to shatter.

Friends – the thread of betrayal is strong on every page – and friendship is one such illusion. Without saying so in clear words, he busts the idea that neighbours and good friends, people who grew up together came to the help of their beleaguered minority in their time of need. Instead, the Pandits were dispensable in the glorious narrative of the future as an independent “Switzerland of the East” – the grand ambition that Sheikh Abdullah laid out for them.

It showed in little ways, brutal and mild. The 1998 Wandhama massacre, where according to the only survivor, the Muslims of the small village turned up the sound of the mosque loudspeaker to muffle the sounds of bullets that killed 23 Pandit fellow villagers. Or the communal venom that suddenly slipped out from a close school friend as he deliberately desecrated the image of a Hindu Goddess. Or when a gang of Pandita’s fellow cricketers in the neighbourhood, idly discussed at his gate in 1990 – as he watched from behind curtained windows – which Pandit house they would grab in the locality, sure in the knowledge that they would flee sooner or later.

Yet in the larger picture that must be kept in mind as the reader journeys through Pandita’s tragedy that mirrors thousands of others, there is an inevitable rider to ponder. Can a minority as tiny as the Pandits ever hope to be spared by the majority if its thinking, mindsets and loyalties are so totally at variance with the latter’s? If an independent Kashmir is what Muslims aspired to since 1949, could Pandits really be fierce, proud Indians and hope to get away with it?

Pandita asserts he is an Indian and could never be anything else. In this he is no different from thousands in his community who believe they kept the tricolour flying high in a Valley hell bent on separation. (Or indeed, those who clapped for Pakistan in the Seventies and Eighties in Bombay’s Bhendi Bazaar, convinced they were upholding the flag of Islam).

Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim, each remained a traitor for the other. Both caught in the treacherous, seductive argument of the Two Nation theory that Religion equals Nation rather than neighbours, humsayas, friends or the common culture and language of the land that sustained them both. The tragic denouement of January 1990 was perhaps inevitable and there were hints aplenty that things were heading that way – a point Pandita makes when he asserts that his community had learned to live in Kashmir – not as a proud minority but with their heads kept down even when their temples were desecrated and humiliation heaped upon them.

Yet like other young Kashmiri Muslim writers writing about their conflict, Pandita who has reported on human rights abuses in Kashmir in his professional life, has clearly drawn the lines that separate an “us” and a “them”. The Muslims focus on their tragedy, he on his. Rarely does the twain meet or even intersect.

The night of January 20th for instance is a legend in another history of the conflict, but not for the reasons Pandita outlines. It’s the night that 50 protestors were shot dead by the CRPF on Srinagar’s Gawkadal Bridge and the tipping point for a whole other narrative of suffering. Tellers of that story never mention the haranguing, vicious abuse suffered by the Pandits that night. Pandita doesn’t mention the head count of Gawkadal in his account either.

Other inconvenient truths? That the concept of a “special” Kashmir that deserved to be independent was first floated by Pandits, quite sure of their perpetual dominance as super-educated bureaucrats over the illiterate peasant Muslim majority. Few Pandits will concede that.

Or that the land reforms that severely disadvantaged the Pandit community and the deliberate reversal of the Pandits’ grip on government jobs was made possible only in a secular democratic so-called “Hindu” India that let Sheikh Abdullah and later Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed encourage the blossoming of their poor, less educated peasant Muslim majority at severe cost to their talented, powerful, meritorious Pandit minority; in the name of the egalitarianism its Prime Minister and Constitution upheld. Even fewer Muslims will concede that.

Perhaps also, it is too much to expect either of them only two decades into their armed conflict.

What the reader takes away from Pandita’s effort is the pages permeated with sadness and deep, grievous, irrecoverable loss. Key to this sadness is the realisation that a Kashmir where once Pandits lived deep inside Muslim territory and nurtured rich, strong connections with them, has been too deeply destroyed in the impulsive rush to “Azadi”, conceded too much ground to Islamist power-brokers to stumble back on a return journey. Like Partition, this is a line that will not be erased in this generation’s lifetime or the next, however hard peaceniks work at it.

It is a tale that needs to be told and documented again and again. And if the teller is also a part of the conflict he narrates, the reader needs to concede his right to tell his very personal, very own story. In the end, that is what Rahul Pandita does with elegance and eloquence.

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  • Mahendra

    Forgive my idiocy, Alpana Kishore you are Hot.

  • Nameless Kashmiri Pandit

    “My name is not Khan, I am Mr Kaul” by Tarun Vijay:

    I am not Khan. My name bears a different set of four letters starting with a K: K A U L. Kaul. As those who know Indian names would understand I happen to have been born in a family that was called “Hindu” by others, belonging to a land that was once our own. Hence, we were sure, we would never get a friend like Karan Johar (“KJ”) to make a movie on our humiliations, and our contemptuous and forced exile from our homeland. It’s not fashionable, you see. It’s fashionable to get a Khan as a friend instead and portray his agony and pains and sufferings when he is asked by a US airline to take off his shoes and show his socks. Natural and quite justifiable that Khan must feel insulted and enraged. Enough Masala to make a movie!

    But unfortunately I am a Kaul. I am not a Khan.

    Hence when my sisters and mothers were raped and killed, when six-year-old Seema was witness to the brutal slaughtering of her brother, mother and father with a butcher’s knife by a Khan, nobody ever came to make a movie on my agony, pain and anguish, and tears.

    No KJ would make a movie on Kashmiri Hindus. Because we are not Khans. We are Kauls.

    When we look at our own selves as Kauls, we also see a macabre dance of leaders who people Parliament. Some of them were really concerned about us. They got the bungalows and acres of greenery, and had their portraits worshipped by the gullible devotees of patriotism. They made reservations in schools and colleges for us. In many many other states. But never did they try that we go back to our homes. They have other priorities and ‘love your jihadi neighborhood’ programmes. They get flabbier and flabbier with the passing of each year, sit on sacks of sermons, issue instructions to live simply and follow moral principles delivered by ancestors and kept in documents treated with time-tested preservatives.

    They could play with me because my name is Kaul. And not Mr Khan.

    I saw the trailer to this fabulous movie, which must do good business at the box office. There was not even a hint that terror is bad and it is worse if it is perpetuated in the name of a religion that self-congratulatingly and self-promotingly calls itself as the “Religion of Peace”. (Peace be upon all its followers and all other creatures too.)

    So you make a movie on the humiliation of taking off shoes for a foreign police force that has decided not to allow another 9/11. The humiliation of taking off the shoes and the urge to show that you are innocent is really too deep. But what about the humiliation of leaving your home and hearth and wife and mother and father and relatives and the world? And being forced to live in shabby tents, at the mercy of nincompoop leaders encashing your misery and bribe-seeking babus? And seeing your daughters growing up all too suddenly? And yet finding no place to hide your shame?

    No KJ would ever come forward to make a movie, a telling and spine-chilling narration on the celluloid, of five-year-old Seema, who saw her parents and brother being slaughtered by a butcher’s knife in Doda. Because her dad was not Mr Khan. He was one Mr Kaul.

    Sorry, Mr Kaul and your entire ilk. I can’t help you.

    It’s not fashionable to side with those who are Kauls. And Rainas. And Bhatts. Dismissively called KPs. KPs means Kashmiri Pandits. You see, they are a bunch of communalists. They were the agents of one Mr Jagmohan who actually planned their exodus so that the Khans can be blamed falsely! In fact, a movie can be made on how these evil KPs conspired their own exile to give a bad name to the loving and affectionate Khan brothers of the valley!

    To voice the woes of Kauls is sinful. The right course to get counted in the lists of the Prime Minister’s banquets and the President’s parties is to announce from the roof top: hey, ladies and gentlemen, I am Mr Khan.

    The biggest apartheid the state observes is to exclude those who cry for Kauls, wear the colours of Ayodhya, love the wisdom of our civilizational heritage, dare to assert as Hindus in a land which is known as Hindustan and struggle to live with dignity as Kauls. They are out and exiled. You can see any list of honours and invites to summits and late-evening gala parties to toast a new brand. All that the Kauls are allowed is a space at Jantar Mantar: shout, weep and go back to your tents after a tiring demonstration.

    Mr Kaul, you have the wrong name. A dozen KJs would fly to take you atop the glory-posts and gardens of sympathies if only you accept to wear a Khan name and love a Sunita, Pranita, Komal or a Kamini instead. Well, here you have a sweetheart in Mandira. That goes well with the story.

    And you pegged the movie plot on autism.

    I wept. It was too much. I wept as a father of a son who needed a story as an Indian. Who cares for his autistic son, his relationship with the western world, his love affair with a young sweet something as a human, as someone whose heart goes beyond being a Hindu, a Muslim or some proselytizing Vatican-centric aggressive soul. Not the one who would declare in newspaper interviews: “I think I am an ambassador for Islam”.

    Shah Rukh is Shah Rukh, not because he is an ambassador for Islam. If that was true, he could have found a room in Deoband. Fine enough. But he became a heartthrob and a famous star because he is a great actor. He owes everything he has to Indians and not just to Muslims. We love him not because he is some Mr Khan. We love him because he has portrayed the dreams, aspirations, pains, anguish and ups and downs of our daily life. As an Indian. As one of us.

    If he wants to use our goodwill and love for strengthening his image as an ambassador for Islam, will we have to think to put up an ambassador for Hindus as well? That, at least to me, would be unacceptable because I trust everyone: a Khan or a Kaul or a Singh or a Victor. Who represents India represents us all too, including Hindus. My best ambassadorship would be an ambassadorship for the tricolour and not for anything else because I see my Ram and Dharma in that. I don’t think even an Amitabh or a Hrithik would ever think in terms of what Shah Rukh has chosen for himself. But shouldn’t these big, tall, successful Indians who wear Hindu names make a movie on why Kauls were ousted? Why Godhra occurred in the first place? Why nobody, yes, not a single Muslim, comes forward to take up the cause of the exiled and killed and contemptuously marginalized Kauls whereas every Muslim complainant would have essentially a Hindu advocate to take on Hindus as fiercely as he can?

    If you are Mr Khan and were found dead on the railway tracks, the entire nation would be shaken. And he was also a Rizwan. May be just a coincidence that our Mr Khan in the movie is also a Rizwan. Rizwan’s death saw the police commissioner punished and cover stories written by missionary writers. But if you are a Sharma or a Kaul and happened to love an Ameena Yusuf in Srinagar, you would soon find your corpse inside the police thana and NONE, not even a small-time local paper, would find it worthwhile to waste a column on you. No police constable would be asked to explain how a wrongly detained person was found dead in police custody. Because the lover found dead inside a police thana was not Mr Khan.

    No KJ would ever come forward to make a movie on ‘My name is Kaul. And I am terror-struck by Khans.’

    Give me back my identity as an Indian, Mr Khan and I would have no problem even wearing your name and appreciating the tender love of an autistic son.

  • Brilliant article… Everything she says about the distance between the two narratives and the hypocrisy on both sides is right… Unfortunately, KPs (my community) have proved no better than KMs in empathizing with the pain of others…. You would have thought that as victims of majority fundamentalism in Kashmir, we would have been the first to empathize with the victims of communal riots in India (who are mostly Muslims), but sadly the reverse it true…. Most KPs will always try to bring up the exodus whenever Gujarat 2002 is mentioned… as if our pain negates theirs… Enough to almost make oneself lose faith in humanity..

    • ayushman zutshi

      quite stupid of you to say that nihansh. this has been the undoing of the pandits. STOP THE SELF HATE. LOOK THE ENEMY IN THE EYE. BE JINNAH FOR THESE AZADIWALLAS. we will take our share of kashmir. WE WILL GIVE THEM A PARTITION. 2 DISTRICTS IN KASHMIR IS FINE FOR US. evict these traitors from 2 districts and divide kashmir. send the buggers packing to pakistan

  • Piyosh

    Ms. Alpana have you ever lost any one dear to you, if no then please do not question an account of the survivor. It is not fiction but a fact you have not lived the pain and agony of the Kashmiri pandits. I know that whether it was 1998 Wandhama massacre or any other killing Mu-slams had given them the Que in the first place. If you say you want “Azadi”, then Mu-slams of kashmir have to bear its fruit i.e. dead whether 50 persons or more in Srinagar’s Gawkadal Bridge on 20th night of 1990. Well i wanted to put certain things straight.

  • Sourav Singh Bisht

    reading this novel…..how can india forget this bloody exodus of kashmiri pandits…… this topic has been erased from indian history….