Aditi Bhan is a Kashmiri Pandit who was forced to migrate to Delhi in 1990 as a child, along with her family in Kashmir. She explains why Kashmiri Pandits finally have a reason to be happy
Article 370 now stands null and void. Kashmiri Pandits had been campaigning against the Aricle for years. And now when Kashmiri Pandits are celebrating, many journalists and Kashmiri Muslims, are openly stating that Pandits are happy because they are viewing it as a revenge for their exodus. Some even asking us (KPs) how’s this move going to ensure our return to the valley?
I want to ask these people – Why should we, Kashmir Pandits, not be happy? We were thrown out of our houses and reduced to being a refugee in our own country. No one spoke about us, for us. The world remained a mute spectator to our exodus. What would you have done had this happened to you? At least, we did not pick up guns unlike others. Instead, we chose a peaceful way to set things right. And you call that revenge?
Well then, call it what you like. But let me tell you, we are happy because this step gives us hope that we can now return to our homeland. And I, in my capacity as a Kashmiri Pandit and not as a Kashmiri woman (Thank God! There’s consensus, over the fact that the act was unfair to women), will tell you how.
I was in my pre-teens when I witnessed our exodus in 1990. My experiences in 1989-90 left me bitter about the place, its majority Muslim population. It shattered my trust in Muslims. And for years, I thought of Muslims as anti-Indian. It took me more than a decade and a number of interactions with Indian Muslims, to realise that the latter are as loyal to India as me or any KP. But even after all these years, I could never feel the same about Kashmiri Muslims.
Twenty three years after our migration, I mustered enough courage to visit my homeland, Kashmir, for the first time in 2013 along with some of my family members. The violence that had engulfed the state during my childhood had worn out the state, its people. During my interaction with the local Muslims, I could sense their present-day sentiments – some detested our presence; some repented the violence committed against Pandits and hoped for our return; and some wanted peace to return to the valley. A large number wanted to be with India. But despite this visible change among people, I never felt absolutely safe among them.
During my week-long stay there, not even once did I sleep properly. Even a whisper outside would wake me up, for it bought back memories of 19 January 1990 (the night when the whole valley reverberated with the war-cries of Islamists). No matter how nice the local muslims were to us, I found it hard to trust them. I was simply incapable of doing that, given my childhood experiences. And given my distrust, how could I even consider living with them again. This holds true for almost every Kashmiri Pandit, who had been on the receiving end of terrorism. Even if Delhi had given us free houses and hefty compensations, we would still not have gone back. We just do not feel safe there. There was no reason to believe that history won’t repeat itself. Especially, when terrorists had been quite vocal against our return.
Coming back to the question, how scrapping of Article 370 changes things for us? It paves the way for all Indians to go to Kashmir. With more pro-Indian people in the valley, we will not feel isolated, suffocated, and trapped in a hostile region. This in turn will give confidence to all those local Muslims, who want to live with India but are scared to say that because of the fear of anti-Indian elements. With more Indians there, the anti-Indian elements will have a reason to be fearful, not us. And this is why we are celebrating. And so is every pro-Indian Kashmiri that includes Muslims too.