Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots (Vintage Books, 2013) could well have been a work of fiction. Perhaps, it would have garnered more attention and many more accolades.
But we should be thankful that Pandita chose to write the book that he did. Unlike a work of fiction, this personal story forces us to confront the truth: the unrecorded, buried and now tragically forgotten truth about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir Valley in 1990.
Our Moon, which informs, provokes and agitates in equal measure, is a memoir of Pandita’s childhood in Srinagar, from where he was forced out at the age of 14, along with his family.
It starts from his early innocent days at home and school, moves to the realisation in a young mind that things were changing in Kashmir (students singing the national anthem being kicked by other students, his Muslim friends tearing the cover of the school magazine because it featured an image of the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, and the infamous 1983 India-West Indies cricket match in Srinagar where Pandita sees many spectators waving Pakistani flags) to the open hostility from the family’s Muslim acquaintances and builds to a powerful description of January 1990, when local mosques threatened Kashmiri Pandits to leave the Valley, but without their women.
Thereafter, his family becomes a migrant in their own state. His mother fails to cope up with the trauma - further exacerbated when his cousin Ravi is taken off a bus and shot by militants - and his father can never reconcile to the uprooting from his native land.
It is a story of personal longing and loss. It is also a story of state’s collapse, of government apathy and incapacity, and of a conflict fuelled by religion. But the book makes a bigger point. Pandita noted it in a Wall Street Journal interview, ‘the Pandits became a target of a brutal ethnic cleansing in which even ordinary Kashmiris from the majority community took part’.
We tend to be shy of speaking about it, and by only blaming Pakistan, we tend to deflect the blame away from those who perpetrated those brutalities. Similarly, when we blame the 1984 anti-Sikh riots only on the Congress party or the 2002 Gujarat riots only on the Gujarat government - not that either was blameless - we tend to deflect attention away from people and communities amidst us who perpetrated that violence.
Notwithstanding this, what happened in 1990 was the apogee of the Pakistani project, started in 1947, to spread jehad in Kashmir. The timing was perfect - a weak coalition government at Delhi, a fragile economy, and social turmoil caused by Mandal and Masjid - when Pakistan was ready to replicate in Kashmir its other successful jehadi project in Afghanistan, and hopes were raised by newer states created after Soviet Union’s breakup. Who can forget Benazir Bhutto frothing at the mouth while shouting “Kashmiriyon ki ragon main Mujahideen aur ghaziyon ka khoon hai…”
The book rebuts the series of untruths that have shaped the prevalent narrative about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. They were not made to leave by the then governor, Jagmohan under some devious plan to discredit the secessionist movement. The book chronicles the travails of the handful of Pandit families who chose to remain in the Valley to counter the falsehood that nobody touched them.
The details are often gory and heart-wrenching. This hypocrisy is evident even today when Syed Geelani and Mirwaiz ask the Kashmiri Pandits to return, but simultaneously demand Nizam-e-Mustafa (rule of Islam based on the Sharia) in the state. None of this can be a justification for what has happened in Kashmir in the last two decades, but this book places those events in their true context. Unless we learn to write, accept and face the truth, any quest for justice in Kashmir will remain futile.
Because of its association with certain political and ideological organisations, speaking about Kashmiri Pandits and their exodus has been unfashionable among Indian intellectual circles. By anchoring an emotional personal journey with his journalistic nous, Pandita brings a much-needed credibility to this unacknowledged episode of our recent history. His book should redress the balance in the one-sided media narrative on Kashmir.
Pandita often sounds angry and bitter in the book. But then I am reminded of what Gandhi said about Ambedkar: “He has every right to be bitter. That he does not break our heads is an act of self-restraint on his part.”
Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review