Paradise lost

One upon a time they lived amicably as neighbours. But the intensifying conflict in Kashmir has forced both Muslims and Hindus to take sides.

    To Faizan Yawer, 3, and Adnan Dawer, 5, it must seem like an act of betrayal that their father, who promised to bring them their favourite toys on a December evening, has not yet come home. Winter has turned into spring but for Ghulam Mohiuddin Lone’s children and his 28-year-old widow Parveen, life has suddenly become one long autumn.


    Lone, 40, was shot dead in cold blood outside his house in Srinagar by unidentified gunmen. In Delhi, where the Lones bought a flat only last year, Parveen has come with her children for a change of air. By now, the children’s craze for toys has been replaced by curiosity about their father.


    “My kids prod me constantly on where he has gone and why he is taking so long to come. What can I tell them? I can’t even cry in front of them,” says their mother.


    Kashmiri Muslim villagers walk
    through the debris of homes.

    Parveen cannot figure out why anyone would kill such a “noble man.” “You come to Kupwara (their hometown) and hear the stories of my husband’s generosity and kindness; the town is still mourning his loss,” says Parveen.


    And, she has no clue who the killers were.  “I want to know why and who killed my husband but my first concern is my children.”  Sometimes Parveen tells the children that their father, who was a construction contractor, would be back when they grow up but under her breath she prays God would help them forget him.

    Living on anti-depressants, she wonders where she can find the strength to restart life. The fact that Kashmir is full of young widows is no consolation. Nor can she relate to the suffering of the minority Hindus who were forced to leave the state because of the fighting and live like refugees in their own country.


    “Hindus closed the chapter when they left Kashmir. We do not have that luxury. Inside the state we are caught between the fighters and the security forces, both of whom are equally bad for us, and outside Kashmir, we are ostracised or viewed suspiciously as though we are all terrorists.”


    “Who are the people who are dying in Kashmir? Muslims, aren’t they? Is displacement worse than death," she asks trying to underline the faulty public perception in which there is no room for sympathy with the state’s Muslims. The public “double standards” anger Parveen. “Mostly in government jobs, the Hindus have got them back - through transfers. Ration and sympathy too are free, but look at us!”


    Until the age of 16, Parveen did not even know the world was made up of people other than Muslims and Pandits (ethnic Kashmiri Hindus), much less that it was divided between them. And, she might never have known about the exodus of Hindus from Kashmir but for the fact that two of her Hindu friends were part of it.


    Parveen, who still nurses deep feelings for her friends, is incredulous that her entire community should be blamed for the exodus. “Why does the government not think of us? Why doesn’t it solve the Kashmir dispute? You should have come to Kashmir when the Agra Summit (between India and Pakistan) took place. People in Kashmir were so excited and hopeful that peace would return to their lives but the leaders did nothing. Why?”


    The Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, says Parveen, are the worst victims of the fighting. “When not getting killed or maimed in daily bomb and gun attacks they are busy fighting the disruptions in their lives and livelihood. Every other day there is a strike or curfew or killing; we have no freedom of movement and our children cannot even attend school properly.”


    Past tense


    The fear and desperation that Parveen feels are also reported by Kashmiri Hindus as well but mostly in the past tense.


    Archana, a government employee living in Delhi for over a decade with her husband, Dileep Dulloo, does not like to recall the circumstances in which she left Srinagar in the winter of 1990.


    Indian soldiers stand guard
    outside a Hindu temple.

    Violence was throbbing in the streets as a huge mob of Muslims marched on Hindu houses. A neighbour, she says, even gave poison pills to her three young daughters.


    The mother told the daughters to take the pills before ‘they’ could lay their hands on them. Archana herself was alone at home with her parents. All night they stayed awake. “If we survive this night, we will leave was the thought on all our minds; we did and we left,” she says.


    The couple have a four-year-old son and they would be happy if he learnt to read and write Kashmiri. They talk of Kashmir’s problems clinically and nurse no dreams of going back. “I am happy we came away. Although we had to start from scratch, we are not living in fear now,” says Archana.


    What would it take for them to go back? “Only when I hear the Muslims cry in the streets for us to come back will I feel safe about going back.”


    Other than the “dreadful night”, what caused them to leave their homes? “Over there I was scared of expressing joy in my Indian identity. I remember an Indo-Pak match right on Diwali (a Hindu festival) day. We burst crackers when India won but had it not been Diwali, we would not have been able to celebrate India’s victory; our neighbours, I remember, banged their windows and shut the television when India won.”


    According to Archana, stories of the Muslim Kashmiris' loyalty to Pakistan are not myths. “Even as a school student I heard my friends say that Muslims in the rest of India are kafirs.” Their parents, they said, were the “real Muslims.” Because, they followed the Pakistan calendar on everything, and even believed that Pakistan had a special observatory that monitored the moon around the festival of Eid.


    Archana is unable to explain what caused the Hindu-Muslim divide or if it is real. All she knows is that her mother “had to hide the Dejuruh (the sacred thread worn by a married Hindu woman) out of fear of being targeted.”


    Does the couple see any message of unity in the high voter turn out in last year’s assembly elections in the state?  “It shows they are not pro-Pakistan or pro-militants but it still does not prove they are pro India,” interprets Dileep.


    The only time Dileep displays any emotion over Kashmir is when he recalls his father’s dying words. “Take me back to Kashmir,” he wrote on his death bed in Jammu where he lived for five years until 1995.


    But with his mother “absolutely reconciled to living in Jammu” and he having made Delhi his home, he has no special sentiments for Kashmir or his hometown and the state’s capital, Srinagar.


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