Field Notes: Home Is Where A Future Can Be Imagined 

RAYAN NAQASH

In the weeks after the release of Vivek Agnihotri’s film The Kashmir Files, I had set out to better understand the complexities of the Kashmiri Pandit issue.

I met a family from south Kashmir whose story was appropriated—with twists—in the film, another from downtown Srinagar who now lived in a New Delhi suburb and visited Kashmir every summer as tourists without going back to the neighbourhood they had grown up in. I also met some young Kashmiri Pandits who did not grow up in Kashmir. They knew they wanted a good career and a happy life, but it wasn’t clear where.

What is the future of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir? Whenever I asked this question, framed each time differently, to the Kashmiri Pandits who returned to Kashmir under a central rehabilitation policy, the answer of each was more or less an ambiguous silence and reluctance to even ponder on the subject. 

None of those I spoke to—some not having been born or spent their childhood here—felt secure enough to imagine a future in Kashmir after retiring from their jobs. Their only reason to continue here was their limited options for a better career outside. 

I  wanted to ask if they wanted to return “home”, but they and I couldn’t decide what to call Jammu. The closest was dera (camp).

On 13 May, one such returnee, Rahul Bhat, was killed by militants inside the Budgam district administration’s office where he worked. His killing led to a rare outburst among the resident Kashmiri Pandits who had learned to invisiblise themselves in Kashmir’s chaotic and vulnerable public life over the years.

The next day, I walked about 2 km to reach the Sheikhpura migrant colony, where Bhat lived with his wife and young daughter. Dozens of Kashmiri Pandits had occupied the main road leading to the Budgam district headquarters in protest. 

It was remarkable that though there were expressions of anger against the militants, their ire remained focussed on the BJP government and its policies. Till late in the night, they shouted, “Kashmiri Pandits will not become sacrificial goats”, and later jeered at the New Delhi appointed Lieutenant Governor. 

The police had barricaded the road and disallowed anyone, including the press, from proceeding towards Sheikhpura. Instinctively, a colleague and I took another path through the fields to bypass the heavy deployment of forces. 

We were quietly followed by a man, slightly older than us. When we reached a fence in the field, he broke his silence to ask if there was a way ahead. I responded in the affirmative, and he kept following us till we had circled around to the protest site. 

When he realised that we were journalists, he immediately showed the casings of exploded tear gas grenades from the government crackdown on the protests. When I realized that he was a Kashmiri Pandit, I couldn’t help but wonder how being restricted to the migrant colony meant he had very little idea about the alleys and fields around it.

When I met them in April, Kashmiri Pandits spoke of the dilemma of choosing between job security or their lives. After Bhat’s killing, there seems to be a consensus favouring “returning” or “migrating” to Jammu.

You can read Rayan Naqash’s story here.

Also read:

Write a comment ...