Saturday, January 18, 2014

That 19th January - Rashneek Kher

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When my daughter turned eight last year, I asked her what present she would like for her 8th birthday. She said let us visit the Shrine of Rajyna (popularly known as Kheer Bhavani) when it snows in Kashmir. For a child born in exile and having grown in an atmosphere that she doesn’t quite sync with it would only be natural for her toask her father to take her home. What however surprised me was her urge to visit the shrine of our Isht Devi when it snows in Kashmir. I left the conversation at that and hoped that she would soon forget all about it. As winter approached she reminded me of her birthday present. Her winter holidays were scheduled from 1st to 20th Jan. I asked her to sleep and promised her that we would go home during her vacations.

I knew I had made her a promise that would be difficult to keep. It isn’t that I have not been to Kashmir since we were forced to leave; it was just that these dates brought me terribly bad memories. I somehow wanted to avoid being in Kashmir during exactly the same period, the events of which led to our being uprooted from the land of our forefathers.

Bagat-i-Kanipora is now a bustling city skirt of Srinagar though it falls under District Budgam. Back then in 89-90 it used to be a small hamlet 13 kms from the stone which read Srinagar 0 kms. We lived on a connecting road which connected our village to another called Kralpora. Kralpora was a bus stop en route the holy shrine of the mystic poet Nund Reshi. The village lay scattered close to the road and presented a poignant picture of pastoral Kashmir. A Small Rivulet ran through the village.There were orchards the prominent being the Pomegranate Orchard near the Green Mosque,big Chinars, and willows of all kinds would co-exist with tall Poplars. Our home was a little outside what would constitute the main village. A small habitation of five-six houses had cobbled up around our home. All around this small habitation were fields that came alive in summer to the songs of men and women sowing and reaping paddy.
One October 89 evening, Mrs. Kaul a neighbor of ours, the only ones who owned a phone in our village, knocked a tour door to inform us that my father’s cousin living in the Fateh Kadal area of down town Srinagar had been shot .She possibly knew that Tathe of Aima’s had not just been shot but shot dead. A month later a MES man was shot at close range in Kralpora and left to die. Meanwhile JKLF cadres went around killing people,mostly Pandits, the convenient alibi was to brand them Mukhbirs or Informers of the State. This winter was very different from any other winter in my or even my father’s living memory. Every day we would hear stories of this or that boy going for training across the border. Yet no one ever thought that the events happening around were just a precursor to something more sinister.

Behind our home an empty piece of land was used as a playground by us. One day as we were going about our usual bat and ball, when our neighbor screamed at us for playing cricket when the “young of the nation” were organizing a Tehreek. From that day onwards our Muslim friends would not turn up to play. We stopped playing too. The winter was setting in.
Television sets were beaming out images of the Romanian revolution and the taking over of Bucharest by rioting crowds. Many in Kashmir were getting ideas and inspiration from this. Since theRomanian uprising lasted not more than a fortnight and had brought victory to the protestors a belief had taken home in the minds of the terrorists that a similar “mass uprising” if organized could bear propitious fruit for them a swell.

On 4th Of Jan, 1990 Aftab published a Press Release of Hizbul Mujahideen asking all Hindus to leave.Another news paper Al-Safa published the same press release. Soon notices to leave were pasted on the doors of Pandits. A notice on our door read“Ralev,Galev ya Chalev”.Join,Die or Leave.Through all this there was “news” ofMujahideen having made hit-lists of all those who were “against” the Tehreek.The list , we were told, is compiled by “Mehman Mujahids” read foreign terrorists in consultation with local civil society. Thankfully no one in your family is recommended to a hit list yet a “concerned” neighbor told my uncle.


During one of these days my brotherhad gone to get some air into the wheel of his cycle when suddenly two young men carrying guns killed a man in the Kralpora Bazar. Both men lived close to our village and my brother was na├»ve to tell someone that he knows one of them.A well wisher visited us that evening and told us to send him out of Kashmir.This advice fell on us like a pack of bricks. My grandmother cursed my brother for being stupid and my mother started sobbing. It was too late to do anything.My brother thankfully knew how to ride a scooter. We had some petrol in the fuel tank of the scooter which would have been enough to take him to Lal Chowk.My father put some money into the pocket of his Pheran and told him, if there is a knock on the door just jump from the back window and don’t stop the scooter till you reach Tiku’s who lived near Central Telegraph Office in Lal Chowk. We kept awake all night hoping against hope that no one would come asking for Rinku, and no one did.
Strange diktats started appearing on walls. Some would tell us how to dress, others what not to drink but the most interesting were the ones asking us to time our watches with Pakistan StandardTime. Mohalla Committees were made to check vice. It was like a Taliban Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice. What constituted vice included watching something as harmless as Doordarshan. Everything Indian was the new untouchable. During all this time the writ of the terrorists went unchallenged.The National Conference government had run away and abdicated all its responsibilities. There was no administration at all.
The timing was just right for the“mass uprising” to be engineered. From here on I write the account that my brother had written in his dairy many years after that fateful night.
“We were about to have dinner when the final call for prayers was heard. It was normal for us to hear the call to the faithful. A soulful Allah-u-Akbar rendering went up in the cold mist ofJanuary. As soon as we finished dinner the soulful voice of our pious localMuslim priest was replaced by someone who sounded not just hoarse but uncouth too. He didn’t sound like a Kashmiri .At first his words sounded like cacophony but it took us little time to realize that he was provoking the people of the village to come to the mosque and hit the streets. The nearest mosque was almost seven hundred meters from our home. People were possibly awaiting the call. A song blazed out of the loudspeaker and went something like this.
Jago Jago Subah Huyee;Rus ne Baazi Haari Hain,Hind par larzaan tarehain,Ab Kashmir ki baaree hain
 Wake Up,Russia has fallen and India eyes defeat,It is the turn of Kashmir to be freed.
We looked at each other in complete silence. No one even had the guts to move from his/her place. The song was played for a long duration, many times over and as soon as it ended it gave way to sloganeering of a different kind, the kind that did not just target the establishment of India but the one which targeted the Pandits directly.
The slogans that were now filling the air left us in no doubt that we were about to be defiled or killed.
Hum Kya Chahte Azadi…(We want freedom)
Azzadi Ka Matlab Kya,La Illah Il lallah(Freedom means La Illah Il Laalh)
Agar Kashmir Main Rehna Hoga,Allah-u-Akbar Kehna Hoga(If you want to live in Kashmir,you have to sayAllah-u-Akbar)
Ae Zalimo Ae Kafiro,Kashmir HamaraChod Do(Oh Cruel people,you the Kafirs,Leave our Kashmir)
Yahan kya Chalega Nizam-e-Mustafa,

The rule of the Prophet will reign here…was still resounding in our ears when we started hearing; We want Kashmir to become Pakistan without Pandit men but with their women. It is then that we realized that the Kaul’s were in real danger because they had two grown up daughters. It wasn’t as if we were not used to dirty limericks of Muslim men sounding out to our women. The one that was most common was…Batni batni wale gachav dal,ye karev tikarav bistaras tal …O Pandit woman let us go to Dal,whatever we will do  ill be under the quilt.


At one point my father almost opened the door to go to their house, but all of us prevented him for doing so. Never before and never after in my life did I feel so impotent and helpless as I felt at that moment. Since I had no sisters of my own the Kaul sisters had quietly filled in that space yet neither me nor anyone in our family could do anything for them. We were too scared for our lives to be able to do anything for the ones we truly loved.
Though we could hear the roar of the crowd now, they still seemed at some distance from where our home was. There were chants of Azaadi…Azzadi and they kept growing louder. We moved to the room from where we could see the road. My aunt peeped through the partly drawn curtain and shouted “Trath Haye Paye” Lightening has struck.. Thousands of people shouting slogans against India and Pandits in particular were approaching our home. My father locked all the doors and shut all the windows.We switched off all the lights of the house. All the women were moved to the kitchen, a canister of kerosene placed next to them just in case the crowd barged in, they were to immolate themselves.
It was past midnight but the frenzy refused to die down. One wave of screaming and shouting gave way to another asif a strange kind of adrenaline had been pumped into our village. The crowd was putting up a spectacle right outside our gate. A man climbed on top of another man’s shoulders and started shouting, Pakistanse Rishta Kya,La Illah Il-lah, and the crowd responded with the vigor thatI had never seen before. In sometime the crowd moved on and the voices died down a little.My father told us to recite Indrakshi Mantra. We were reciting the Mantra barely audible to each other, when the noises grew up again. The crowd from some other village seemed to have merged with the mob from our village. If it is the crowd of Machov,(a village 2.5 kms from ours) my father said, then the signs are ominous. There seemed to be no end to this night. At around 3.30 am in the morning my father opened the door of the kitchen to find all the women huddled together, wide awake, scared,still and almost soulless. The last surge before the first prayer of the next morning happened outside the house of Kaul’s. Many in the mob kicked their main gate and hurled abuses at them in such loud voices that even we could hear.”
Tarini prevailed upon me and I booked two tickets for a return trip to Kashmir. We have been here since 2ndof Jan and shall go back to Delhi on 18th Jan. Dressed in our traditional Kashmiri Pandit attire,a pheran with a ladh (a peculiar kind of stitch at the fall distinguishes a Pandit Pheran from a Muslim Pheran) we have walked together, the by lanes of downtown Srinagar and been to villages where lie the Mazars of the great masters of Kashmiri poetry.We drank water from the same spring where Nund Rishi was given his first bath,but not before the maulvi,who could not recite one verse of Nund Rishi telling us to do a Vuzoo(ritual cleaning) because our foreheads were marked by vermillion.We alsoheard a teacher in Srinagar museum showing the diversity of the state pointing out to a mannequin showing a Pandit women, telling his students,look that’s a Batni and she wears no yezzar(pyjamas).
Not to be deterred we went around and looked for signs of our past.The crumbling Habbakadal locality represented the city of Djins,as did the prosperous village of Haal in South Kashmir.The falling houses stand as a testament to who lived there once. Many temples on ceresplendent in their glory were dying for want of attention; the others had simply been erased from the land and the memories of the people. We drove pastmy village to Swoch Kral’s Mazar and then onwards to the sacred shrine of Rajnya Bhagwati in Badipora to find a beautiful Kashmiri art painting of the mother goddess at the site of what used to be beautiful idol. I enquired and was told that it was also broken to pieces by the iconoclasts.
Not everyone who we met in Kashmir was a fanatic, not everyone seemed happy at what happened to Pandits, not everyone said that it was right to destroy religious places of Hindus, not everyone liked the idea of encroaching the property of the Pandits, yet almost everyone who we met said that it was Jagmohan’s plan to drive Pandit’s out and almost none seemed not to have participated in that orgy that drove the Pandits to exile.

It is beginning to snow again……



Unknown said...

It is a great piece of writing. It has refreshed the hurtful memories of those horrible days. The reminisces are touching.
The concluding line "all had participated in the orgy" is plain truth. They all played their shameful role in terrorizing us into abandoning home,hearth and heritage.They indeed had sold their soul and religion to a devil.
Pl keep on updating your blog.

vandna said...

I have goose pimples all over after reading this ......its like a rewind back to what happened in my locality in habbakadal on that fateful night

Unknown said...

Only a kashmiri will understand the feeling of having to leave kashmir and being uprooted and feeling the pain that came along. Reading the comments have tears in my eyes. Will go back home one day!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing information….
Kashmir is really known as paradise on the earth…
kashmir tour package.

Unknown said...

I was thinking of what to write for this great piece of the past only reminded me of agony that our elders had to face from their own home land and the surroundings.
It is pity that we have been given the Migrant status ....for as long as 25 years.
What a shame on the people who have coined this status on us.

Unknown said...

if me being a non pandit, not being from kashmir and not having any personal ties to what had been experienced, can have a sobbing heart, i cannot fathom what the affected families must have gone through. brilliant writing Mr. Kher

NNS said...


Thanks for your sound and factual representation of these issues. Your work that no doubt comes at great personal cost and risk is no less than a grand sacrifice for India.

Invaluable contributions.