This collection of personal narratives commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Pandit exodus from Kashmir. Siddhartha Gigoo talks about the need to remember
How did you collect these stories?
I went to the migrant camps in Jammu where I met those who were born and brought up there. Those in the camps belong to the remote villages of Kashmir, and are not from Srinagar or better-known places. The book has accounts of killing and persecution that have never appeared anywhere before. There are also pictures of life in camps and of old, abandoned Kashmiri Pandit homes.
The Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exile and Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits
Edited by Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma; Bloombury India; Rs 499; PP 352
What are the kinds of stories you looked for?
The book has many untold stories. The most haunting one is an account of a septuagenarian whose young son, a lecturer, was killed in Gool in 1997. He recalls his early memories of Baramulla as a child where he was also an eyewitness to the tribal raid in Kashmir in 1947. He lives in a camp these days. We also have memoirs of prominent academicians like Dr Kashi Nath Pandita, Dr Tej N Dhar, Dr Badri Raina and one of filmmaker Pran Kishore, the creator of the tele-series Gul, Gulshan, Gulfaam. He talks about the difficulties they faced while shooting their serial in Kashmir at the time. There is also an account of IB Zutshi, whose neighbour’s daughter, a nurse, was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed in Kashmir in April 1990. Her body was found with a note saying that she was killed because she was an informant. His was among the only three Pandit families left in their area in Anantnag at the time and he speaks about how they weren’t even able to carry out the cremation rituals properly because militants ordered them to stay away.
Why did you think of working on this idea?
Varad (the co-editor) and I have known each other for years, and we had been thinking of doing something meaningful. The idea was to bring out the truth. This truth is narrated by Pandits, who were forced to flee in the wake of persecution. It is the first-ever book of memoirs of a cross-section of our community. The Jews have a tradition of discussing their history of persecution, but we don’t. For many years, our history and what we went through didn’t affect me much, but over the past few years, I have been beginning to feel the need to document what we went through. That is real life; this (gesturing towards the cafe where the interview is being conducted) isn’t. This is our Diary of Anne Frank.
How do the experiences of different age groups differ?
The stories and narratives fall into four categories. The authors of these memoirs belong to four generations — those who were born and brought up in Kashmir and had to flee in their forties and fifties; those who stayed back in their homes in Kashmir despite the threat to their lives; those, like me, who got displaced in their teens; and those who were born in exile, in migrant camps.
Since there is no consensus about the circumstances and reasons of the Pandits’ departure, was it difficult to find a publisher?
In terms of publishers, we were lucky. But, yes, in other circumstances, it is a difficult issue. I attended a literary festival earlier this year and, at a panel discussion there, someone began insisting that Jagmohan (governor of Kashmir at the time) was the behind the Pandits’ exodus. I lived in Kashmir until I was 15 and saw the insurgency start and spread but, at this discussion, the journalists and other panellists were not willing to believe my story. I asked them: “Were you there? Did you see things happen with your own eyes? Do you know what it means to be given 36 hours to leave? Did Jagmohan arrange cabs and taxis for people to leave from hundreds of villages in Kashmir?” I mentioned that the BJP is the only party to have put our issue in its manifesto and that it is in power now. I hope Modi does something. He visited Kashmir recently, but he didn’t visit a single camp, which was disappointing. At the mention of Modi, a journalist asked if I was a Modi man. Then, when I mentioned that Bal Thackeray was the only leader who helped the displaced Kashmiri Pandit students soon after the exodus, they asked, ‘Are you a Bal Thackeray fan?’ Now, if a person reads a book on Hitler, does he become a ‘Hitler fan’? Even today, after a quarter of a century, our community can’t return to Kashmir. We hope the world takes note of who we are, what happened to us in Kashmir and how we have lived and suffered in exile for quarter of a century.