January 19 marks the exodus/displacement day of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. The Hindus of Kashmir valley started leaving Kashmir on this day in 1990 because their blood was sought by Islamic fanatics. Around four lakh Kashmiri Pandits took a hard decision of leaving their ancestral homeland in order not to get slain. They left with the hope that they will return soon as the situation becomes normal in the valley. 25 long winters have passed since then. There has not been any return.
Faith and nationality were the fundamental reasons which led to the tragic exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley - faith in Hindu religion and nationality of India. More than 700 Pandits have been killed till date. Gruesome rapes and murders have been committed against Pandit women. The Indian state failed to protect them.
Even after 25 years, there is no justice for Kashmiri Pandits - no enquiries, no commission, no trials. Will Kashmiri Pandits ever get justice? Those responsible for this tragic exodus - the largest displacement after the partition of India - roam free in the Valley and have now become ‘political leaders’ in Kashmir. They have the support of the people of Kashmir, who were once neighbours of Kashmiri Pandits. It is infuriating to see such kind of apathy by the very same state to which Kashmiri Pandits owe allegiance.
Kashmiri Pandits have been fighting for their rights in a peaceful manner for the last 25 years. The ethnic community, which lost its home to Islamic insurgency and terrorism in 1990, has been resilient in their struggle, despite the odds. The Pandits are keeping the exile consciousness and the struggle for reclamation of their homeland alive through books, blogs, films, and debates. Like every year, this year, too, you can see Pandits commemorating the exile peacefully in parts of India, especially in Jammu and Delhi, where they are living in large numbers after the displacement from Kashmir.
A new government is at the helm of affairs in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his election campaign rallies, had talked about the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits back in their homeland Kashmir. Though it has raised a new hope among Pandits, they are still wary because nothing happens on ground. A Pandit activist, while discussing about the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Hindus back in
the Valley, said that the Indian government only listens to the sound of guns and not the sound of voices. You can sense the exasperation and agony in the remark.
In these 25 years, a new generation of Pandits has grown up in exile, away from their ancestral home. This disconnect has resulted in loss of the language and the culture, though Pandits are trying to preserve it. The old generation is fading in exile, with the unfulfilled longing of returning to their roots where they had spent an entire lifetime.
Exile is a ‘long dream of home’, according to French poet and writer Victor Hugo. The return to the home is a dream for Kashmiri Pandits. They see that dream every day, and will continue to do so because that dream keeps them alive in exile.
25 years of homelessness has left an indelible void in the hearts of Pandits. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who was forced into exile when he was seven years old, echoes the homelessness and hope of return in the following lines:
Take me as a relic from the mansion of sorrow;
Take me as a verse from my tragedy,
Take me as a toy, a brick from the house,
So that our children will remember to return.
Varad Sharma is a writer. You can follow him on Twitter@VaradSharma