June 2016 News

Lost Voices From The Valley

16 June 2016
The Hindu
Shailaja Tripathi

New Delhi: During a recent discussion held around their book on Kashmiri Pandits, Siddharth Gigoo and Varad Sharma asked why the community becomes a hashtag only on a day in the year Varad Sharma is a Kashmiri Pandit who was born in Akura in Anantnag. He lived with his parents, grandfather and cousins in a spacious house - made of bricks, wood and mud with tin roofs - he speaks so lovingly of. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits had his and several other Kashmiri Pandit families flee the valley. It has been 26 years and Varad hasn't visited the house, stories of which he grew up listening to in Delhi. Having heard it from his parents time and again, he has visualised it precisely in his mind. 'Our house had three storeys. The ground floor would be called wout, the first one kuth, the second one kaeni and above it, there was the braer kaeni, the top floor on which lived cats. Braer means cat in Kashmiri. The entrance hall known as the wuzz,' described Varad at Bangalore International Centre, TERI Complex Domlur II Stage. Varad was speaking at the discussion about 'A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits', a book he has edited with Siddhartha Gigoo, a fellow Kashmiri and novelist. The dilapidated house graces the cover of the book, the duo is promoting in different cities. The book is a collection of memoirs and personal essays written by pandits. Unlike Siddharth, Varad hasn't visited Kashmir all these years. At the discussion when he was asked the reason behind it, Varad replied, 'I don't want to go there as a tourist, stay in a hotel, take pictures then put them on Twitter. When I go, I want to go there with a sense of belonging. The picture of the house was sent to him by a cousin who had visited Kashmir.' He added that his family also owns a farmland which has been occupied by one of the neighbours, who is supposed to have built a school there. At the discussion, the common refrain was the country's indifference to Kashmiri Pandits' exile. Raghu Karnad, the author of Farthest Field: A Story of India's Second World War, who was moderating the discussion said that the tragedy resulted in a new wave of refugees who didn't cross a national but notional border. And while we constantly revisit the Partition, the issue of Kashmiri Pandits never got that thrust. Siddhartha recalled a poignant incident that occurred during his latest visit to Kashmir to get a State Subject Certificate at the behest of his father. A painful exercise, Siddhartha said it was a 'Kafkaesque' experience signing forms after forms in different government offices. 'They needed a proof that I lived in Nawa Kadal in Srinagar. In the Relief Commissioner's office, they looked for files and files of voters' list in which they found my name,' said Siddhartha, who won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Asia region for Umbrella Man. To give a sense of the hardships, his community has experienced, Siddhartha recalled his life in camps. Torn tents which would take months to be replaced because they would only come from a place in Punjab, rationing and squalid conditions were the highlights of this phase of his life. 'There is an entire generation which wanted to live and die there just like my grandmother, who called Kashmir home till her last breath. I find the notion of cultural revival very recent. For the first 15 years it was just about survival. A lot of Kashmiri Pandits, who left their homes for the first time, didn't know that it is for good. Nobody gave a damn about us for 10 years. We were migrants but we were not even called that.' Governments have disappointed them. 'First UPA and then NDA. In budget, they allocate money for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits but we never left Kashmir for money nor will we return there for money. As soon as there were announcement of a land for us in Baramullah, there were protests saying that it would lead to ghettoisation. Many Kashmiri Pandit women were raped and killed, men were murdered but no trials have taken place to date,' remarked Varad.

Line