‘Yesterday morning, I exchanged Indian Republic Day greetings over phone with a Kashmiri Bhatta (Kashmir Pandit) relative in his 70s – a retired senior government officer – who lives in the city of Jammu, located in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. After exchanging initial greetings and some mundane talks, we exchanged our views on the just-concluded Republic Day parade in New Delhi, which both of us had watched earlier in the morning on the television in our respective homes. Suddenly, he became emotional, sounding very frustrated and angry:
“Our community has paid a heavy price for being peaceful Kashmiris and for being good Indians. For more than 20 years, before 1990, I have religiously watched the Republic Day parade in Delhi almost every year. Those days, during those 2 to 3 day short visits, I would stay in a hotel in south Delhi. It would be an expensive trip every winter. I would save every rupee over the year for this special day; it was never easy for me and my family. Such was my pride and enthusiasm those years.
But see what happened to us after that (he sighed)! We had to leave our home. No one has sincerely ever cared for us displaced people and our pitiful plight all these years. We have been called Kashmiri migrants, not even refugees. Did I migrate? Did we migrate? Did we have a choice? I had to leave. We all had to leave, we had no other option. The living conditions in Kashmir were completely unsafe for us then, so I escaped from my home along with my family. I had no home outside Kashmir at that time, I was a refugee.
Hurtfully, many Indians have been calling us cowards; many have even blamed us for causing the instability in Kashmir. Now tell me, are these allegations true, you are also a Kashmiri? Tell me. You have also left, haven’t you? You are living in Australia and you may have forgotten everything but I am living here in Jammu, I can’t forget anything –my suffering or my painful past.
Another hot summer is knocking at my door, it becomes agonisingly unbearable here in Jammu. And then barsaat mausam (Monsoon) follows, which is even more uncomfortable and unbearable. With that, there are mosquitoes, Dengue and what not. I was not used to such hot and humid climate in my homeland. What is my fault? You live there, so you will not know.”
Before I could say anything, he sighed and continued:
“Every year, for the last couple of decades or so, I have been hiding for a few weeks in Srinagar from those hot summer and uncomfortable barsaat days. This year where will I go now? I don’t know if anyone will talk to me there. I don’t know if I’ll be welcomed anymore. Now my Kashmiri Muslim friends don’t talk to me the same way as they would talk to me before August 2019; they believe my community was responsible for the abrogation of Article 370? How do I explain to them? Now what did I get out of the abrogation? How has it helped me or my people here? I am a State Subject; I did not require any legal permission from anyone to live in Kashmir. All I needed was a peaceful environment in Kashmir to live there but will that ever happen?
Three dozen Indian minsters recently visited and lived in Kashmir for several days, but none has come to see us here in Jammu. They don’t even have the clue about what is good and important for us Kashmiris and, in particular, Kashmiri Bhattas. Can they bring our hearts together? I thought we had lost our home, honour and health 30 years ago but now I strongly believe we may have lost everything – our culture and identity.”
He sounded very sad, angry and very emotional. I thought he was sobbing too. The Republic Day function had made him extremely emotional. His painful memories had returned to him. He was feeling nostalgic and suffering from a deep loss of home. I too became emotional but I tried to console him. I was fast running short of words to comfort him. As if I was the government, my last consolatory words were:
“Sir, why do you say that? Please keep heart and be patient, a little bit more. Your loyalty will be rewarded. Government is doing so many things for you. Your status has been upgraded; you are now living in a Union Territory, which is higher than a State. The President of India is himself looking after you, he does not trust anyone. The current government has recognised that the erstwhile State and Central governments have not been sincere towards you and the people of Kashmir, in general; they had left you all poor and backward. Now, the current government is committed to make the necessary amends. They will undoubtedly compensate you for your loss. The displaced people like you will be given a new house in Kashmir and a reasonable cash compensation for your suffering, which I think should be at least one lakh rupees for each year of your loss. Keep heart please, I request you.”
My words reflected my wishful thinking; I just wanted to cheer him up. But he bellowed angrily, before hanging up suddenly: “Do you think I am a fool? Why are you making a fool of me? I was made a fool all these years by everyone but not anymore. Please don’t hurt me any more than I am already. Good day.”
After he hung up, I kept looking at my phone, trying to reconcile things in my head, although my heart was feeling sad – very sad for him and the likes of him. A small tear rolled down my left eye, as my phone screen looked blurred. I drifted in my hopelessness.
I remember this gentleman loved Kashmir like no other; he was equally proud of India. He never left Kashmir; he served her – his Maej Kasheer (Mother Kashmir) – as one of her true, illustrious sons. He worked his whole life in the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir before retirement. Most of his friends were Kashmiri Muslims. Anecdotally, in the mid-1960s, when many Kashmiris went abroad, he had resisted many attractive offers to go abroad at the start of his career. He had also never thought of working elsewhere in India, he had turned his back on several attractive prospects with national corporations and companies that could have taken him to much greater heights. He was fully committed to Kashmir and, at the time he got uprooted in 1990, he had no property outside Kashmir, not even at Jammu. He continues to feel uprooted 30 years later. Despite that, he continues to love Kashmir and feel proud of India. Nonetheless, he feels betrayed by one and all. He is a gentleman who has paid a heavy price for being a Kashmiri – a good and peaceful person. He can’t figure out why he has had to pay such a heavy price for being what he is.’ … Bill Koul (with a heavy heart and a tear in an eye, from Perth, Australia, on 27 January 2020)