"It's about a country that failed its own people"

Feb 05, 2013, 01:00 IST | Ruchika Kher

As a 14-year-old, Rahul Pandita and his family were forced into exile, one that continues after over two decades. Facing hardships and the pain of leaving one's land, this journalist and author of bestsellers like Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India's Maoist Movement, is ready with his story, and that of 3.5 lakh displaced Kashmiri Pandits in Our Moon Has Blood Clots. In an email interview with The GUIDE's Ruchika Kher, he speaks of his experiences and the challenges whi

Despite being personally part of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, why did it take so long to pen your thoughts about a time that immensely impacted your life, especially since you’ve written books before this?
This is the first book I’ve wanted to write. It’s why I became a journalist and a writer. But it’s been extremely difficult (to write). I found certain parts of the story too difficult to negotiate. I began writing it seriously from 2000, but gave up after a few chapters. Meanwhile, other books from the Naxal heartland that I covered as a journalist for years were released. I’m thankful for the break they provided me from my story. I returned to my memoir after historian Ramachandra Guha told me to write it; he followed it by awarding it the New India Foundation fellowship. He mentored this book, gave me the confidence to return to it. I pushed my way through it.

A Kashmiri Pandit woman (Hindu living in Kashmir) peers through the window of her home in Srinagar in January, 2000. Many Pandits fled the Kashmir valley when the Muslim separatist campaign turned violent in the early 1990's and only a few thousand of them have remained. Pic/ AFP

Writing a book on personal experiences means reliving those moments. How challenging and heartbreaking was it for you to recall those moments?
It was difficult. Especially recounting the murder of my brother, Ravi, to whom this book is dedicated. Also, recalling the hardships we faced in the first few years of exile in Jammu was painful. I remembered everything over these years, but before I began to write my memoir, I did not feel much. I never let it grow into something big in my heart. But in the last few years, the anger has returned because I found that nobody in this country has been interested in our story. You carelessly tag it to the right-wing narrative, and that is it. You invent reasons to justify the murder and other brutalities unleashed upon a small community of about 3.5 lakh people. So, I persisted. I felt that if I don’t tell it now, it would be too late. This book has given us a new hope, and I can see that through the countless calls I have received, not only from my fellow Kashmiri Pandits, but also from others. I am overwhelmed by the response. But I realised that I can not read my own book. I tried a few times, but it breaks my heart now.

The book provides numbing accounts of what Kashmiri Pandits faced before and during their exile. However, not much has been mentioned about the atrocities or problems that Kashmiri Muslims faced then. Was it a conscious decision to stick to one side?
Every book, especially a memoir, has a certain focus. In the last few years, a few narratives have emerged from Kashmir Valley that skipped the story of Kashmiri Pandits — which is fine because it is the other story and it’s equally important. Now, I have gone ahead and told the story of my people. I owed it to them, to my family, myself. It is an ode to our grit, our resilience. As a journalist, I’ve covered Kashmir extensively and reported on the state brutality in Kashmir. Throughout my journalistic career, I must have done ten odd stories on the Pandits and dozens of stories from Kashmir Valley. A memoir is about your own life, what you and your people have faced, and this is what I’ve done.

Rahul Pandita

Your book presents a bold account as far as mentioning names are concerned. Aren’t you afraid of a possible backlash?
I am not afraid, and frankly, I don’t care. There are many people in the Kashmir Valley who live in a state of permanent denial. I do not waste my time on them. They can write reviews and rebuttals, but in their hearts they know what happened to the Kashmiri Pandits and who did it. I am not saying that the entire majority community in Kashmir was responsible for our exodus, but a majority of them played some role or the other in forcing us into exile, turning us into refugees in our own country. I would rather engage with a few sensible youngsters who acknowledge our pain and suffering. There are many young Kashmiri Muslims who are in touch with me and they are aware of the events of 1990. As long as they are around, I won’t lose ummeed (hope).

A reviewer in the Kashmir Times says that the book “may find emotional resonance with India’s Hindu right-wing, and sadly that may be exactly what is sought”, your comments on this statement?
If someone has written it, it shows the ignorance of the writer, or the way his own mind is poisoned. My story is a sad story. It is a story of betrayal. It is a story of how 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of a land where their ancestors had lived on for thousands of years. It is a story of how hundreds of them were killed and raped. It’s a story of how they suffered so much humiliation and ignominy in exile. It’s a story of how a country failed its own people, and failed those who paid such a heavy price for upholding the national flag in the Kashmir Valley. I don’t give a damn about the Hindu right-wing. My people are capable of fighting their own battle. We don’t require the right-wing to come to appropriate our cause. But having said that, there are certain false notions about the events of 1990. A dimwit columnist from Mumbai tweeted last year that only those Pandits who were BJP supporters were targetted by Islamist militants. First of all, that is a complete lie since doctors, professors, nurses, shopkeepers, housewives, the unemployed, even children were killed. Secondly, just because someone is a BJP supporter, does that make him liable to be shot? This only tells you the idiocy of certain people who have these rosy ideas about Azadi because they are not affected with violence. I ask them to see a dead body, sometimes.

You have fleetingly mentioned the reasons for the revolt against the Kashmiri Pandits, which resulted in their exodus. Was a clearer picture required? Being a Kashmiri Pandit as well, I was told that while other reasons stand strong, one factor for Islamist groups to force Kashmiri Pandits into exile was the biased and cast-driven behaviour of the Kashmiri Pandits with Muslims of that time. Do you agree?
You owe it to your forefathers to know the truth behind such allegations. You should investigate what biases and caste-driven behaviour can a community display, which is about five percent of the total Valley’s population in 1990. I refuse to answer it for you. I’ve written a book to blast all untruths spoken about us.  

— Our Moon Has Blood Clots, Rahul Pandita, Random House India m, R499. Available at leading bookstores.

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