I Am a Kashmiri, Hear Me
I did not believe that I would live to see the day when my family could rightfully return home to Kashmir. Article 370 being revoked in Kashmir on Aug 5, 2019, is one of the best decisions by the Government of India to restore secularism in Kashmir, a land whose demography has been changed by the systematic targeting of its minority Hindus/Sikhs.
For me the relief is personal, since my own family (parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors), along with other Kashmiri Hindu communities, was part of the mass exodus in 1990, when we were brutally targeted and cleansed from Kashmir by militant Islamic groups aided by Pakistan.
As is well known and documented, in 1990, mosques throughout Kashmir blared threats to all “kafirs,” (non-believers) “Ralive, tsalive, ya galive” (Convert to Islam, leave, or die). Various terror groups posted posters on our doors declaring, “Allah-o-Akbar, infidels get lost. Jihad is approaching.” Thousands chanted on the streets, “Kashmir banawon Pakistan, Bataw varaie, Batneiw saan” (“We will turn Kashmir into Pakistan, with Kashmiri Hindu women, but without their men”).
We were terrified. I remember the mobs that roamed our neighborhood with slogans of wanting to rape and kill Kaffirs. Hindu families with girls were especially vulnerable. My mother kept poison ready, having taught me, even at 8 years of age, that we both needed to poison ourselves if any terrorist entered our home. I began to regret being born a girl.
My parents and relatives finally decided that they could not live with this constant looming threat. We fled from our homes, carrying just a few belongings, hoping that we would be able to come back in a few months.
Life as a Refugee
In Jammu I smelled the fragrance of freedom for the first time and felt welcome. This was a change from my experiences growing up in Kashmir, where we always felt ostracized; be it a cricket match, when stones were pelted at our homes to mourn a Pakistani loss or when we hoisted the Indian flag or tried to celebrate our Independence Day (August 15th) or Republic Day (January 26th).
Life in Jammu came with its own challenges. We were refugees in every sense of the word—distressed and helpless, living in tents, until we found rooms for rent. Even the weather was punishing, with temperatures rising up to 48 degrees Celsius, a shock for us Kashmiris who were used to much milder climes. The sudden change of climate took the lives of many refugees, as they lacked adequate protection against the elements in their tents.
I was a student at the time and often fainted from starvation. There were no facilities for students, so we tried to study under the shade of trees in the searing summer heat. There was little support from local, state or national government bodies - our only aid came from the local Hindu community and organizations like BJP, Shiv Sena, and RSS.
During this mass exodus, no ruling political party made an effort to support our families. Nor did they ever address the trauma we live with. The last 29 years have been brutal. Many Hindu Kashmiris, including my own grandparents (who were in their sixties at the time we fled Kashmir), passed away as refugees, longing for a chance to return to their motherland.
Kashmiri Hindus are the original inhabitants of Kashmir. Named for the Sage Kashyapa, it was our home for thousands of years.
We gave up our ancestral lands, our communities, our places of worship, and our futures. The removal of Article 370 has revived hope in my community, as is evident from the many private and public celebrations that followed. Even though it’s too late for my elders, the new status offers a ray of hope for the rest of the community: a chance to return home, to pray in historic family temples that have been abandoned for decades, to once again be Kashmiri in every sense of the word-irrespective of our religion.
I finally have hope that we will see a dismantling of the systematic infrastructure that oversaw the genocide of the Kashmiri Pandits. The abrogation will allow an Indian citizen, of any faith, to live where they like and pursue occupations of their choosing. The abrogation of Article 370 finally delivers on the promises of the Indian Constitution.
[Ruchi Kolla was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She now lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is her first piece about life in Kashmir.]