As Zee News, India’s leading media house is doing an extensive series on 30 years of exile of Kashmir Pandits (KP), I could not stop myself from sharing my experience of our painful exodus with the EurAsian Times.
As I go down the memory lane and reflect on the grave tragedy that befell our Kashmiri Pandit community 1989 onwards, a myriad of images come to my mind of the painful displacement of an educated, gentle and hardworking community.
However, one very painful memory stands starkly etched in my psyche that on one hand shows the wounds that displacement inflicted on our people and on the other hand highlights the stoicism and the resilient survival instinct of Kashmiri Pandits.
This in the face of grave and life-threatening ordeals caused by the mass exodus (which happens to be the seventh to date in the last 800 years) out of the valley where our ancestors had lived for thousands of years.
Kashmiri Pandits were the targeted victims of a terror campaign carried out by the radicalised Kashmiri Muslim youth (aided and abetted by the Pakistani state) who picked up the gun to terrorize the peace-loving inhabitants of Kashmir valley.
I had just completed my MBBS from Government Medical College, Jammu in 1988 and had started my house surgeon job in the surgical department of SMGS hospital in Jammu.
I had already observed for a few months a steady flow of Kashmiri Pandit families arriving in Jammu, being forced to leave due to rising political and religious intolerance and harassment that they were having to face on a daily basis.
Many such displaced families had never ventured outside the comforting lap of nature in Kashmir and as a result of the forced exodus were only just starting to realize the inhospitable and unhygienic conditions into which they were forced to live in Jammu.
As a consequence of living in overcrowded camps with makeshift tents and temporary brick sheds as shelters with poor sanitation facilities many especially the very young and the old suffered numerous illnesses, heat strokes and snake bites.
They ended up in the accident and emergency and outpatients department in SMGS hospital on a daily basis. It was in one such surgical outpatient clinics that I noticed a very anxious young lady enter along with an emaciated gentleman who looked pale and drawn and was seen by the surgical registrar.
Later during the ward round next morning, I came to know that this gentleman was a Kashmiri Pandit farmer who had fled from a village in Kashmir along with his wife and four children, youngest being 5 years old and were living in one of the shanty camps set up for displaced Pandits in Jammu.
As fate would have in store, it was very bad news for Pandit Sahib as he was diagnosed with an intestinal malignancy. The news of this diagnosis hit him and his young family devastatingly hard. He had to undergo multiple operations and chemotherapy and as the weeks and months went by I could see him wither away from the adverse effects of his treatment.
It broke my heart to see his very young children visit him and all had the look of despair and uncertainty on their faces. His wife would express her grief and daily struggle to get support and survive the hardships that had befallen her and her children. There was no hope in sight as her husband was clearly very poorly and except for the meagre monthly paltry relief given by the authorities, there was no other financial support or savings to fall back on for her husband’s treatment.
I found it very difficult to bear the pain that they were going through and in an effort to lessen the impact of the pain decided to offer some monetary help to Pandit sahib. Despite their hardships and despite my assurance that I was no stranger but one of their own community and considered them as my family they did not accept it.
Pandit sahib politely but persistently refused this assistance and so did his wife. They said they would manage somehow. All I could offer was that he should not hesitate to approach me for any assistance in the future if need be.
Time flew by fast and I realized that soon my six months of surgical house job tenure was coming to its end. I went around the ward to bid farewell to Pandit sahib but to my utter shock, I was given the sad news by his team doctor that he had succumbed to his illness, 2 weeks back.
I tried to make some enquiries from the local Pandit Sabha but I was not able to locate the family. I subsequently had to leave Jammu for Delhi on the 19th January 1990 after completing my house job to pursue further training. During my overnight train journey on this fateful day, I came to know of the night of terror for our community.
I sat thinking to myself how destiny had brought me face to face with a Kashmiri Pandit family who were caught in the whirlpool of displacement and homelessness for no fault of theirs and now leading a life of destitution and misery in Jammu without the protective hand of their father on the four children and a wife who was going from pillar to post to make ends meet in very difficult makeshift and squalid conditions of a migrant camp.
Soon after there followed an en-masse Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the valley to camps in Udhampur, Nagrota, Jammu and the community kept on enduring through pain and suffering but never gave up hope.
I have often reflected on the ordeals of this family and to this day whilst on one hand I have great respect for the sense of pride and stoicism shown by Pandit sahib even in the face of grave physical, emotional and financial threat faced by his family but another part of me still harbours a deep-seated regret that I could not be more forceful in putting across arguments to make Pandit sahib accept the monetary assistance.
Once in Delhi, I set about pursuing my medical career and left India to go abroad in 1992. For decades Kashmir continued to be rocked by the carnage of terrorism and the homeless Kashmiri Pandit community continued to languish in exile in Jammu camps with not the faintest of hope to return to their lost homeland Kashmir.
My next opportunity to return to Jammu was in 2008 to visit the Kashmiri Pandit migrant camps where I made enquiries about the whereabouts of Pandit sahibs family but again to my disappointment nobody was able to give me any information and somehow left me with a hunch that something terrible had happened to all of them that people did not want to share with me.
I feel sorry even to this day that I could not help this beleaguered family in any way but I do know for sure that Pandit sahibs’ sense of duty and devotion towards his family and his pride and dignity have inspired a deep sense of respect in my heart for my brethren.
As a tribute to the memory of the sacrifice made by Pandit Sahib in the face of grave adversity, I vowed that henceforth I will always be there for my community and serve it in whatever humble way I can and in doing so pay homage to the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of Pandit families who suffered immense physical and emotional trauma as a result of the forced exodus.
Let’s all pledge not to rest till justice is delivered to the families of all Pandit brethren who have been the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide. My salutations to the fallen heroes of my community whose sacrifices will never be forgotten.
Kashmiri Pandit Cultural Society, UK