HUMANIZING THE OTHER
by Ather Zia
April 08, 2007 11:28 PM
Losing the rose colored lens
In 1991, I a young Muslim teenage girl waited for my Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) friend. I stood outside the only greeting card and gift shop in Kashmir at that time. We were meeting at 11 o’ clock. As any normal teenager excited at this “out alone for the first time” expedition, I looked forward to a fun afternoon with my friend. Our time of meeting came and passed; I kept waiting looking for the familiar blonde head, the face with a golden dusting of freckles and light eyes.
She never turned up.
The phone in her home kept ringing and the only other contact I had for her, a person in the shop belonging to her family, informed she had gone out of the valley and would return after some time.
The answer to my query that I would in my imagination pose to my friend for keeping me waiting; as it finally dawned on me, was not the one for personal explanation but of a very public, tragic, and political nature.
Most of the Kashmiri Pandits by then had left the valley. Many of my friends spoke in whispers about trucks and buses, which had taken them out of the Kashmir, in wee hours of morning, in the dead of night… Some Muslims had helped find vehicles for them and many were trusted with the keys to their house and properties as they fled.
My father called up his Pandit friends only to let the phone ring endlessly.
So started the saga of Pandit community’s migration from the valley which has since been attributed to many reasons and debated greatly. While Muslim begrudge their migration, in moving away from violence and safeguarding their lives, future and education of children. Many attribute the then Governor Jagmohan for engineering their mass exodus. The former pro-India Chief Minister of Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah went on record, as he answered the query about Muslims driving the Pandits out of Kashmir, saying, “No I don’t agree with that. But the situation was such that they were frightened that they could be a target. And the Governor of that time Jagmohan told them to go away for some time promising them that they will be brought back (Shibli, M., Kashmir Affairs, 2006)”
The Kashmiri Muslims for long have had to bear the burden of getting blamed for mass Pandit Kashmiri migration in the early 90’s towards other parts India, mainly to Jammu and Delhi. A huge debate rages within the two communities as choicest blames, are heaped upon each other, the Kashmiri struggle for Independence and the administration of that time. It should also be noted that during the early 90’s not only Kashmiri Pandits but also prominent Muslims with suspect political leanings became targets especially those who were pro-India. Ordinary Muslims who supported but were not a part of the movement opine that they had nowhere to run or were not willing to leave, so they roughed it out while the Pandits left. Pandits on their part blame foremost the Kashmiri movement for selectively targeting Pandits and their Muslim brethren for becoming a silent witness to the treatment meted out to them.
There are grudges on both sides.
This migration, as has the Kashmir issue as a whole has become a great melting pot of problems, resolutions, explanations, and chaos, wherein people draw whatever suits their viewpoints and augments their own arguments.
The Raging Silence In-between
There is always a human need to establish a dialogue over the long angry silences that reign between estranged communities, that is, if the cacophony of hatred is to be driven out. The fact remains, the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims, are entwined together in their shared history, their motherland, tragedies and troubles. In early 2000 I became a part of the group which sought to visit each other’s final reality, the sense of what we had become and if at all, it was possible to reach a common amicable ground even as the death toll in Kashmir continued to rise and the watery political theatre began to dilute the Kashmir issue.
We saw Kashmiri Pandits, in various stages of living their life outside Kashmir.In the camps of Purkhu, Muthi etc in Jammu, at privately-owned residences, businesses, schools they had established by then. We also met many Muslims who had migrated and were living in camps. We met many like-minded Pandits, mainly women, who finally became the Hindu component of our venture and were ready to respond with a parallel process towards understanding and reconciliation (even if returning to Kashmir was a remote possibility).
As we met, the decades old tragic history, which we (Muslims) were living and breathing and which they (Pandits) had left behind had produced two different symptomatic effects, that made us what we were and the reason for doing what we were doing, to each other per se. Our group from Kashmir comprising of Muslim women, seeking to understand, ease the estrangement and bridge the divide somehow, were living in a litany of incessant deaths and witnessing the political theatre wedded to eroding the very soul of Kashmir struggle; the Kashmiri Pandits, pursued explanations and deliverance while frozen in the amber of the ordeal they had faced and left behind in the early 90’s.
The conversations, between us to an outside ear must have seemed to emerge from two different time zones. From the point we had broken off in history, both the sides had walked different paths; our views were colored uniquely by dalliances in the homogenous cocoon of our insecure and estranged communities.
While we as Muslim Kashmiri women were journeying over the piling heap of over one lakh deaths and gross human rights violations in the valley, Pandits lamented the early deaths they had faced and the excruciating loss of the homes and property. Although it seemed a common ground was a shaky prospect, we soon came to realize there was too much to lose in not going further with the process that we had begun.
After that fist meeting of rage and fury, it seemed a certain catharsis had taken place. In due course, tears replaced the anger, the biting words became a muffled cry; at least at personal level, it seemed something like a travesty of empathy and patience was taking root. At least that was a start. Even if the vested political interests would not take heed for yet another decade and more.
Celebrating Freedom – Looking Forward
Such events have taken place since, in the personal lives of countless people in the valley, as the resistance movement goes on and a political solution remains elusive. There may not be an overflow of empathy or acceptance, but there is a modicum of tolerance in the narratives emerging from both communities. At an intellectual level, where film, theater and art steps in, artists from both Kashmiri Muslim and Pandit community are trying to understand the humanizing realities of each other’s situation.
As a certain validation for this sentiment, a film titled, “Jashn-e-Azadi” (translates into celebration of freedom) has been made by a young Pandit Kashmiri filmmaker, Sanjay Kak, who is based outside Kashmir. For sure, the communally dividing hawks must be eating their heart out to see a young Kashmiri Hindu making this revealing and honest film about a movement that has been predominantly seen as Muslim resistance to a Hindu India; an issue that has been exaggerated as being more religious than political.
Sanjay’s film tries to understand Kashmir’s cry for freedom in the less sought historical perspective wherein Kashmir has always been oppressed by external forces. The film has been received well in Kashmir where pro-independence audiences have been moved to tears, some bestowing Sanjay with emotionally significant gifts, which they relate to their right for self-determination and ultimately independence.
Kashmiri papers have called it by far the “boldest political statement in the contemporary Kashmiri discourse.” The film tries to understand freedom, not only in the contemporary context but through a historical perspective where Kashmiris have never been free of occupation. The film is significant not only for the rare and profound exegesis on Kashmir’s cry for Independence and resistance to occupying powers, but also for the fact it is conceived and made by Hindu Pandit.
This unlikely contribution validates the universal soul of the Kashmiri struggle from a historic and contemporary lens.
In the scenario of what is the Kashmiri carp-club (Kashmir sympathizers or non-sympathizers who use Kashmiri bashing to explain the tragedy that has befallen the valley); it’s a welcome departure that explains it is not weakness but centuries of “handed-down” subjugation that has deprived and oppressed Kashmiris.
The film weaves in the “Bhands”, the traditional folk theatre troupes of Kashmir, who have incorporated theme of resistance in their plays and have been performing them since centuries. A leading daily reports, “The apparent contradictions in the people’s quest for Azadi (independence), for example, elections, their own people unleashed as collaborators on them, plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, or, a man struggling to locate the grave of his son in Srinagar’s Martyrs Graveyard, vanish in the film’s grand narrative.”.
The most poignant and crucial realization from the film is, “The ultimate reality that people want Azadi (independence) emerges untouched among these contradictions.” This is no news to Kashmiri ears or those who have witnessed the struggle around them, the fact that the validation is coming from the other side of Kashmiri community, marks a significant moment in the history of Kashmiri struggle.
Kudos to Sanjay for taking the first step.