24 long years!
Yes, 24 years of longing for roots; 24 years of longing for knocking those heavy wooden doors with very long and heavy iron latches that open up into my very own small foyer (vuz); 24 years of longing to quickly run up those soil-painted circular stairs to my very own little attic (kane’) with its exclusive balcony (dub); 24 years of longing to wash my hands with freezing water dripping slowly slowly out of that one popular faucet in the front yard; 24 years of longing to breath in that heavenly and intoxicating breeze; 24 years of longing to walk in those narrow Habba Kadal lanes while relishing delicious Nadur-Churma (Lotus roots fries) and not worrying about what might be dropped on my head from the windows above; 24 years of longing to kiss my homeland.
Yes! 24 years of longing, pain, anguish, dreams, and hopes!
The tally marks in the picture above are not just tally marks. These tally marks remind us every day that our struggle is far from over and why we ought to keep fighting for our just rights. Each of these lines represents a year of pain and suffering our community has suffered and continues to suffer in exile. Even though we, due to our fortitude, have been able to sustain and get ourselves back on our feet, the loss of homeland is immeasurable. Away from our homes and hearths, we suffer day in and day out. Living a life of a refugee in your own country, without any access to your homeland and permanent homes, is not the life anyone looks forward to.
Twenty-four years ago today, my community found itself on crossroads. The night intervening between 19th and 20th January 1990 is so deeply etched in our memories that only death can erase it. And death was what we were facing that night. Incessant threats of “Raliv, Galiv Ya Chailv” (Convert, Die or Escape), broadcasted from the loudspeakers atop mosques all over the valley of Kashmir that night, were ominous signs of what was going to hit us next morning. Local majority Muslims paraded in the streets of the valley raising slogans for Aazaadi (Freedom) and demanding our departure from the valley. Slogans like “Hindustan Kay Mukhbiro, Kashmir Chodo (Indian informers, Leave Kashmir)”, “We want Kashmir, without Kashmiri Hindu men, with Kashmiri Hindu women”, “Kashmir Mein Rehna Hoga, Allah-u-Akbar Kehna Hoga (If you want to live in Kashmir, You will have to say Allah-u-Akbar)”, “Ae Zalimo, Ae Kaafiro, Kashmir Hamara Chod Do (O! Marauders, O! Infidels, Leave our Kashmir)” were blaring out the entire night and created the fear psychosis in the minds of our entire community. It was a night of terror, perpetrated by Islamic terrorist and widely supported by local Muslims. Notices threatening us to leave within 24 hours were pasted on our doors and windows. Similar threatening notices were published in local vernacular Press. It was not their fight for freedom. It was a clear signal of the start of our ethnic cleansing from the valley. Entire night, Muslims residents all over the valley were banging the inside of their tin roofs to send us the message that our time in the valley was up and we should pack our bags. Pack we did – not the bags but ourselves. We packed ourselves in the first vehicle that we could get our hands on and escaped to save the honour of our mothers, sisters and daughters. That was 24 long years ago. Our ethnic cleansing had begun. More than 4,00,000 Kashmiri Hindus had to flee in coming months and take refuge in make-shift refugee camps in sweltering heat of Indian plains. From a sizeable population of about half a million in the Kashmir valley, we have been now reduced to about mere 2,000 in these past 24 years. Rest of us are all spread around the nation, living without any permanent address – with no home to call ours.
During these 24 long years, we have seen a generation pass away withering in the hopes to go back to their valley and die peacefully in their homeland. This generation that lived the prime of their life in the serene valley had to live their twilight years in horrendous conditions prevalent in uninhabitable refugee camps. They had to suffer the humiliation of being a refugee in their own land and still not get recognised by their Government and any so-called human rights organisations. During the same time, another generation has born in-exile and grown up with strong desires to go back and explore the land of their ancestors. They are acutely aware of the atrocities their fathers and forefathers have faced at the hands of Islamic terrorism and what it means to lose a homeland. It is this generation that gets inspired from its previous generation and continues to fight for our homeland. It will ensure our safe return to our homeland with our fundamental political, economic and religious rights secured. It will ensure that once we are back in our homeland, we will never ever be hounded out of our homeland again. Never ever again!
Twenty-four years ago, we were hounded and thrown out of our homes like that unfortunate wrongly addressed letter with no return address. 24 years later we are still homeless and struggling in the wilderness of political apathy and chess.
How many more lines do I need to draw on the tally chart before I could frame this away for posterity?
How many more?