Delhi has witnessed its worst communal violence in decades, with at least 53 people dead, most of whom are Muslims. The country stands dangerously divided on the citizenship law. At this time, Kashmiri Hindus who remained ignored for thirty years have finally found a voice. Unfortunately, much of what I hear does not reflect the values my Kashmiri Hindu family taught me.
In January 1990, my family travelled from Kashmir to Delhi for my parents’ wedding. They could never go back home as their Delhi visit coincided with the exodus of Kashmiri Hindu families escaping violence in the Valley. I cannot even begin to imagine the shock my family would have experienced and I admire that they never lost hope in decades of turmoil.
As a lawyer, the uprooting of my family pushed me towards working with the marginalised. In the past, I have worked in relief camps housing migrants from Kashmir. More recently, my office received a distress call from a Muslim resident of North East Delhi, seeking our help as he was hiding from violent mobs. Many of his neighbours had evacuated their homes, he said. The panic in his voice felt familiar. The anguish and anger he expressed was the same I had heard in the voices of people who were forced to leave Kashmir.
It is distressing that families in Delhi, mostly Muslim, are now experiencing the same loss that Kashmiri Hindus went through three decades ago.
A lack of empathy
My Kashmiri brethren, I want to thank you for all the stories you shared with my generation about your pain that the world ignored for decades. The stories made me empathise with the insecurity that minority communities experience. It has also made me recognise the challenges before them.
What breaks my heart, though, is to see most of you lack this empathy.
To my aunts who are defending the slogan used by Hindutva groups against the anti-citizenship law protestors – “goli maaro saloon ko, desh ke gadaaron ko” (shoot the bloody traitors) – remember the slogan is not so far from one used against your community: “ralive, tsaliv, ya galive” (convert, leave or die).
To my uncles who do not understand the desperation of Muslim men defending their families in Delhi, I urge you to recall the sleepless nights when you were worried about the safety of your children.
To my cousins who want to justify the hate against Muslims, think of this sister who still hasn’t seen the beautiful hometown you miss so much, even thirty years after you left.
I was born after the exodus, which I have often been told is the reason I don’t understand the magnitude of the trauma my family went through. I have been accused of not knowing the pain that losing your home can make you feel. As a child who called a new place home every two years – the exodus meant my parents had to often move for work – I have never been able to deny that. But even at an early age, I wanted to make sure no one faced the same loss.
My Kashmiri family, I still recall all the stories you told me of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Kashmir who heroically stood up for you. I want to urge you, dear family, to remember those people and let them inspire you.
I am told that our home in Jawahar Nagar, Srinagar, was among the first in the neighbourhood to be broken into by militants. While our Hindu neighbours stood frozen out of fear, the brave Muslim grandmother living next door was the only one who stepped up and stopped these armed men. This great woman sent them away, as she felt accountable to my grandmother.
I want to thank this woman of steel I never met – I hope I have the courage to stand up to armed men the way she did. And I hope, my Kashmiri family, you will remember the immense love you were shown by this Muslim neighbour, which you so fondly recall ever so often.
A lesson in acceptance
Apart from the fact that I did not personally witness the exodus, another reason used by some in the family to dismiss my appeals is that I am not “100% Kashmiri”.
This is unfair to my Goan mother, who raised me as more Kashmiri than Goan. I want to thank her for making sure I grew up relishing haakh even as I frowned upon vindaloo. For ensuring I made tahr, the rice specialty, for my vohrvohr or birthday, even when I was away from home. For inadvertently teaching me Kashmiri words instead of the Hindi ones. For teaching me to live in our small two-bedroom home with tens of relatives who turned the home into a cosy mini-Kashmir for me.
And I want to thank my wonderful family who taught me acceptance, as they opened their arms to this Christian woman, and shared every bit of their inclusive culture with her.
Dear family, open your arms in the same way to our Kashmiri brothers and sisters who are suffering in Kashmir and to our Muslim brethren who have been escaped violence in Delhi.
On my part, I want to promise you that I will do everything in my control to ensure that no one loses their homes in the way you did. We, as a community, should not experience remorse later that we stood silently as our countrymen faced injustice and violence in the same way that we did.
The author is a lawyer who lives and works in Delhi.