First Person

Kashmir. In October 2021, The 1990 rerun

Two more non-Kashmiri workers have been killed by terrorists. Thousands of migrant workers, most of them abjectly poor and here from Bihar in search of work, could be corralled into secure police and army camps.

The horror of the present and the fear of the future makes me look back at the past.

The year that was.

Something died within me in September this year when a young probationary Sub Inspector, Arshid Mir was killed in a terror strike in broad daylight in Khanyar, Srinagar, point blank from behind. The entire country saw it in vivid, macabre details on CCTV footage. Immediately my happy memories from all the trips in June, July and August felt like a lie. Suddenly all the dreams of resettling back in my hometown were washed away. It is funny how just a few days ago, our family was discussing where to buy property in Anantnag. But that June, though just three months apart, feels like a different decade than this October. How can two decades exist within the same quarter of a single year? .

By Khushboo Mattoo, 17 Oct 2021

Who are these people targeting workers without whom no tourism, no economy can revive in my homeland? When we see Kashmiris milling in the evening on the boulevard around the gol-gappa sellers, everyone is happy, chatty and friendly. So, what is the message his killers want to send ? And to whom?

The flood of videos leaves me gutted.

Terrorists are now scared of a gol-gappa wallah? Birendar Paswan was shot from behind while pulling his cart at night, unaware of the fate he sealed for himself the day he boarded that train to that valley everyone calls paradise. Now he is joined by Arbind Kumar, another street vendor who stood with his cart in the Eidgah area next to a mosque considered among the holiest places of worship in the city. What was their mistake?

What was the crime committed by school principal, Supinder Kour, a Sikh or her fellow teacher, Deepak Chand who were picked up from a set of teachers made to stand in single file and then shot dead because they had names that were not Muslim.

And what of the city’s favourite, most beloved pharmacist, ML Bindroo who refused to leave Kashmir in 1990 when lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits like me were forced out in the dark of the night? Let me answer these questions.

The non-local street vendor is a lynchpin of the alleged normalization in the valley, he is threatening the homogeneity project that the Islamist extremist ideology has over the years glorified. The gol gappa seller also represents hope- a resettlement of religious minorities – something terrorists haven’t been ready to accept since 1989.

Experts who analyse it instead of living this tragedy call it collateral damage. Some say it is like trying to light a fire inside a burning house?

But the larger message to those of us who know how to read it is clear. You can have as many glossy magazine covers as you like on skiing on the slopes of Gulmarg or fishing in the waters of Pahalgam; you can buy carpets worth lakhs, but – you cannot and will not be able to settle here,ever – or call this your home.
So much so that even if there are just 800 households like yours left, we will spread so much panic and terror that every single Kashmiri Pandit family that dared to not leave,will.

They will make sure our world has to go back to 1990. Our home still remembers those warnings fro loudspeakers three decades ago- ‘Chaliv, Raliv and Galiv’ (run away, mix with us or get eliminated”) My friend Srishti Kaul, reminds me that we are now witnesses to what our generation has escaped.

“We were kept away from the fear psychosis our parent experienced. But the last ten days have changed that. People rushing to Jammu in fear, taking extended leaves, the government being a silent spectator, the courts doing nothing and the majority of our fellow residents remaining silent except for lip service condemnation – nothing has changed.”

The Resistance Front, TRF, believed to be an off-shoot of LeT, has taken responsibility for these murders. They claim they are countering the centre’s ‘occupation’ designs. They are trying a crafty attempt at ‘secularizing” terrorism by avoiding all references to Jihad or Islam.

But it’s not just the TRF that is responsible for the fear among Kashmir’s Pandits, Sikhs and workers from other parts of India.

The silence among the people at large and no reassurance of security from neighbors and locals is what really hurts. Shah Faesal, the former IAS topper-turned politician-turned activist, says history will not accept any alibi if there is another enforced exodus.

But the exodus has already begun.

More than 33 civilians have been killed this year by terrorists. If it carries on like this, non-local street vendors, daily wage workers, PM Package settlers and KPs – whatever is left of them, will leave and complete the circle of 1990.

I might be sadder and angrier than most of you, because it feels like a personal loss to me – a loss where I can get buildings and roads renamed after us but cannot ever go home.

I was recently talking to a KP friend who had been raised in the shanty camps of Jammu. He had been really excited about his past winter trip to Gulmarg in January, taking his 8-year-old son for the first time. But he sounds foggy now in October. And he sounds broken. He said that the hot tinned roof at Purkhoo was much better than the bullets of Kashmir. The skin would peel but the soul would stay.

(Khushboo Mattoo is a lifelong student of art and conflict. She often writes on J&K, Art, Culture, Entertainment and matters of the heart with various publications. Dreamer of the World. Eats a lot. Gains None.)