THE BHATS: THE RESOLUTE
“I have memories of my home. I still see Kashmir in my dreams!” – Hriday Nath Bhat
In life, what do you hold most dear to your heart? Your family? Your home? Ever imagined a time when you lose one of them, or both? In all likeliness, one wouldn’t even dare to fathom a situation like that even in a nightmare. Starting from 1947, lakhs of innocent Kashmiri Pandits have lost one of the two or both.
That Kashmir has lured kings, leaders, artists and anyone seeking solace in the lap of its exquisite beauty since time immemorial is well known. It’s not called heaven on earth for nothing. But the time when India celebrated independence, this heaven was being scarred by blood and fear. Blood of innocents. Of those who called it home.
Several years later, gruesome incidents of murder, threat and terror led to the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits that began on the morning of 20th January 1990. All that they carried with them were remnants of memories. But justice still seems far after three decades. Perhaps never.
According to Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, out of a total of 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families in January 1990, more than 70,000 left between 1990 and 1992. The community continued to leave till 2000. Any resistance was instantly responded by murder resulting in the killing of 399 Kashmiri Pandits by militants, majority between 1989 and 1990 and continuing till 2011. Only about 800 families are known to have remained in Kashmir now.
Following is a heart wrenching real-life account of loss and agony of the Bhat family – Dura and Hriday Nath Bhat and their daughters Kanchan and Komila who were 10 and 13 years old respectively at the time on the night of 19th January 1990. It’s often said that the deepest and darkest nights may seem like a bottomless pit of despair but it ends to welcome bright sunshine of hope. However, that night gave way to a dawn that changed their course of life forever. To start it all over again, in a new city, with new people.
What was lost was a home, after years of moving from one rented apartment to another. Their forever home was finally built with a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears. But that forever happened to be just 3 months until that fateful night. What was also lost was their city, their dreams, and aspirations of creating a content and happy life. A life in their home. In Kashmir!
Excerpts from my conversation with the Bhat family (referred to as HNB (Hriday Nath Bhat), Dura Bhat (DB) and Kanchan Bhat (KB) respectively:
EARLY YEARS IN KASHMIR
HNB: I was born in 1945 in Baramulla. When I was 2 years old, right after India’s independence, the tribal raiders from Pakistan, looted families and burnt our homes.
HNB: “During that raid of October 1947, 17 members of my mother’s family were killed. She was in shock for many years and lost her health. We ran from our home in Baramulla and came to Srinagar. We escaped by the skin of teeth.”
HNB: We moved from one rented house to another in Srinagar. My father was in a government and didn’t make much money. It was just barely enough to manage our family. However, I worked hard in my studies and graduated as a mechanical engineer, ranking 5th in my university.
HNB: I started with a government job and then worked for HMT for 15 years before starting my own business of precision automotive manufacturing.
DB: I am from Zaindar Mohla, Srinagar where we had a flourishing family business. I couldn’t study further after graduation due to my father’s sudden death.”
DB: “I got married to a very small house but I adjusted. For many years we never had a home to call our own. Sukh kabhi nahi dekha humne.*”
*(We never experienced joy.)
KB: My elder sister Komila and I were born in Srinagar. I was 10 and my sister 13 when we left Kashmir. But I mostly have good childhood memories of going to school, then convent, going to pick up my sister from Gulmarg after her ski course, picnics at Pari Mahal and so on. I have seen the Dal Lake frozen once and I remember my uncle riding his bike on it. So, all fun memories.
KB: Only towards the end, there were some incidents which were scary like the bomb blast which blew off the top of the indoor stadium. It was visible from our house.
THE TURN OF EVENTS
HNB: “It all started in 1982 after the death of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He was so popular, almost the entire Kashmir population came to his funeral to bid him farewell! People with fundamentalist ideas saw this as an opportunity to carry out their agenda of indoctrinating young people about Islamist fanaticism.”
HNB: Towards the later part of the 80s, Muslims had started violence and picking up fights with the armed forces.
HNB: “Even employees from my own factory used to go to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir for 2-week short courses and come back.”
HNB: “There were also episodes like muslim labourers like carpenters who visited to fix something in our house asked us, what was the need to build such a large house and used to scratch their names on our wooden almiras.”
KB: Not clearly understandable to my 10 years old brain but I knew things were not right because randomly firing would start from nowhere, schools would be shut regularly, there were barbed wires everywhere and curfews would be imposed often.
KB: “There are scary memories during the time when we were supposed to keep the lights off throughout the night after dark. I remember once, one man knocked on our window pane with the butt of a hand gun. We had switched on just a small 3 – 4 watt bulb to have dinner. He asked us, light kyu on rakhi hai, tum log ko marna hai kya?* So, we switched it off completely and had dinner in candle light.”
*(Why have you kept the light on? Do you all want to die?)
DB: “Muslims and Hindus lived in harmony for decades. They used to work for and with us and even visited our home regularly for meals and come during Shivratri. They knew everything about the plan to get rid of Kashmiri Pandits but remained tight lipped to ensure we get to know nothing of it.”
HNB: We knew something seriously dangerous was going on but what exactly was on the minds of the Muslims, we did not know.
HNB: On one occasion, just to gauge their reactions I suggested to my Muslim colleagues that it might be a good idea to operate part of the business from Bangalore. They were quite perplexed, finally one of them blurted out, ‘Bhat Saab, Karachi is better than Bangalore.’
HNB: “One of my good friend Farooq Ahmed Hajini was a kattar jamaati (follower of Jamaat – I – Islam) – he once asked me how many states does India have. I was stunned by the question. He then said – 28 and their aim is not just ‘Kashmir ki azaadi’ – that is a given, hamara maksad ye hai ki Hindustan ko 28 tukdo main baant de.”
*(…our aim is to divide India in 28 pieces.)
HNB: Eminent Kashmiri Hindu personalities like high court judge Neel Kanth Ganjoo and BJP leader Tika Lal Taploo were murdered by militants along with Lassa Kaul, director of Doordarshan. Yasin Malik, (a Kashmiri separatist leader and militant) is known to have killed four Indian Air Force officers.
HNB: “The problem in punishing the militants is, like Farooq told me, ye sab jo aatank aur dhamake ho rahe hain Kashmir mein, ismein dhamaka karne wala hamara aadmi hai, police wala bhi hamara aadmi hai, investigation karne wala bhi hamara bhi aadmi hai, judge bhi hamara hai…to saza dega kaun.*”
*(…whatever murders, blasts and other terror activities that are taking place throughout Kashmir, the one who is doing it is our man, the police is ours, the investigator is ours and even the judge is our man. So, who will punish the culprit?)
HNB: “With respect to Muslims also claiming to be victims during the Gawkadal bridge massacre, what will happen if you start firing at the armed forces? They did it to defend themselves. They were not carrying out peaceful protests. They wanted to drive away the army too. Pakistan also calls itself a victim of terrorism but in reality, they themselves sponsor it so, it is collateral damage.”
A HOME TO CALL OUR OWN
HNB: After many years of living in rented houses, we finally built our own three storey house in 1989.
KB: We were very excited to be in our first house. I understood the concept of being on rent when we came to our own house.
KB: “It was a very pretty house with 11 rooms and an outhouse. I remember we used to play hide-n-seek and we were also planning our garden and do it up room by room. We had an elaborate pooja. Our whole extended family came. But our joy was short-lived. We lived there only for 3 months.”
DB: Ghar ki yaad bahot aati thi, vahi sataati thi…zaada rona usi pe aata tha.*
*(I terribly missed my home. Often shed tears thinking of it.)
HNB: “The cause and aim of the Islamic extremists was completely different from the Kashmiri Pandits. We were always with India. They never saw us as their own. Their main agenda was to scare us away and they succeeded in that. Slowly the exodus began!”
THE FATEFUL NIGHT
HNB: It was the night of 19th January 1990. All the mosques were making announcements simultaneously from loud speakers that Kashmiri Hindus should leave immediately. We could not sleep that night. It was terrifying.
KB: “The announcement that was specifically being made were ‘Raliv, Chaaliv ya Galiv’ which means either convert and join us, run away or die! They said women and children can stay and men should either leave or choose to die. They intended to kill the children and convert, marry or rape the women. ”
DB: We got scared, more for our young daughters than us. And so, the next morning we escaped with whatever we could fit in just one small suitcase for all four of us.
KB: It was dangerous while we were on the way as the Muslims pelted huge stones at us. My father drove the car very fast. We could’ve either died by stone pelting or misbalance of the car leading us to fall into the deep ravine. But thankfully we escaped.
HNB: “It’s a completely false narrative by Muslims that some of them supported us or asked us not to leave. Each one of them were hand in glove with the militants. Most of them were under so much pressure by the terror of the militants, that they had no option but to do as they say.”
A NEW LIFE AFTER EXODUS
KB: We reached Jammu at my maasi’s (mother’s sister) home. They were very kind and vacated their master bedroom for the four of us. I remember at one point we were living with 15 other strangers under the same roof because people kept trickling in from Kashmir.
DB: “We lived at my sister’s place for a year before moving out to a rented place in Jammu. We faced acute financial crisis because we had no income. ‘Par karte the guzara.* My husband managed somehow to ensure we sustained on whatever limited means we had for ourselves and children’s education.”
*(We somehow sustained ourselves.)
DB: “The refugees on the other hand had to survive in dreadful conditions. Many died of snake bites, while the old died of heat. Bal Thackerey at that point offered significant support to Kashmiri Pandits.”
KB: “Jammu was a completely new world for us. We were shocked. It was a transition from day to night. We faced quite a lot of abuse from the locals, first for not fighting back to save our land as they failed to understand that a handful of Hindus stood no chance of surviving a fight with armed militants, second was frequent molestation that my sister and I suffered.”
HNB: The migrants were supported by some cash by the government but eventually I had to move my business to Jammu which happened in 1991.
HNB: “When I planned to get my factory machines from Srinagar, I called some of my Muslim friends but no one offered help except for one person who also had an ancillary unit next to mine. When I reached there, even though I had the local police escort with me, I found myself surrounded by a group of militants and their commander asked me for a heavy ransom in return of letting me take the machinery. He was carrying grenades in his pocket. The police escort acted as a mute spectator and seemed to be on their side. I negotiated as much as I could as I literally had no earnings in Jammu. Finally, I was let go once they were paid some amount and I made my way back to Jammu. It was a truly gruesome experience. It was a situation where they could have easily harmed me in any way they deemed fit but thankfully I got lucky this time.”
KB: My mother struggled just as much as my father did. My sister and I were quite young so we weren’t able to fully grasp the gravity of the situation but our mother dared us not to demand anything except for what is necessary for our studies. She explained the condition we are in and that there was nothing much we were left with.
KB: “After school, I decided to pursue architecture. Bal Thackerey mandated all the universities in Maharashtra to reserve one seat for Kashmiri Pandits as migrant quota. It was hurtful to be called migrants in our own country but it worked in our favour when we were in need.”
DB: Our elder daughter studied English (Hons.) at Delhi University and later married and settled in London. The younger one was studying architecture in Puna, so we decided to move there.
JUSTICE DELAYED. JUSTICE DENIED.
DB: “Hamare andar se nahi niklega jo unhone hamare saath kiya, kabhi khatam nahi hoga kyuki humne bahot dard bahot dukh saha hai. Kisi ne help bhi nahi kiya uss waqt.*”
*(The trauma and pain we went through will never leave our conscience. No one even helped us in our hour of need.)
HNB: Every family lost a member or their immediate relative.
HNB: “Recently Chidambaram said, ‘we have lost Kashmir’. I am not sure if he said that because he wants to please the constituency in Kashmir or is it really the true feeling of the congress. Whatever Congress has done so far, their only objective has been to be a part of the ruling creek. They have created this problem but done nothing to solve it.”
HNB: “The abrogation of article 370 is an ideal solution to Kashmir. Most Muslims are not in favour of it but that is the only way we can have some semblance of relief to the trauma we suffered. Whatever some parties are saying – ye kyu kiya, ye galat hai,* is all nonsense, all politics.”
*(Why did this happen? This is wrong.)
HNB: I don’t think Kashmiri Pandits will ever be able to go back. What will we do even if we go back, our home is not there anymore. My business is now set up in Puna. My children are well settled in their own lives.
DB: Modi government abrogated article 370, usse humein shaanti mili. Par humein koi ummeed nahi hai, itne saal ho gaye, kuchh nahi hua, ye abhi aisa hi rahega.*
*(We felt relief with the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammy & Kashmir by the Modi Government. But we don’t have any expectations, it has been a lot of years now. Nothing has happened so far, it will remain as is!)
KB: “This was not the first time, this was the seventh time that Kashmiri Pandits were tried to be kicked out of Kashmir. Justice cannot be delivered after 30 years. If action was taken right after our exodus, may be something could’ve happened but not now. There are no evidences, people who had evidences were silenced or have died over the years.”
KB: It was a very difficult thing to happen to us but what has happened has happened, it is done! There can be no justification and no justice.
DB: “Kashmir ki yaad aati hai par phir sochke achha nahi lagta. Bahot dukh jhele hain humne, bahot takleefe dekhi hain. My daughter (Kanchan) was crying one day, I told her, ‘ab kuchh nahi hai vaha, sirf khaakh hai, kam se kam yaha shaanti se baithe hain. Uss din ke baad wo kabhi nahi royi.”
*(I miss Kashmir but then I don’t feel good thinking about those times. We have suffered a lot. My daughter (Kanchan) was crying one day, so I told her that there’s nothing left for us in Kashmir, it has all burnt to ashes and that at least we have peace here. She never cried after that.)
DB: Hum yahi khush hain ab. Agar ho sake to jayenge kabhi. The most important thing is that we made our daughters study well. Bheekh kabhi nahi maangi humne. Baaki apni kismat!*
*(We are happy now where we are. If at all, we will go to Kashmir someday. The most important thing is that we made our daughters study well. We never had to beg. Rest, everything is fate.)
KB: When Ghulam Nabi Azad said he is lucky to be born in India and not Pakistan, I agree to his point. Muslims in India do not have the kind of restrictions that other Islamic countries impose on them, specially women.
KB: “I do not support religious fanaticism. If someone compels me to harm or kill someone on the name of Hinduism, I will never do it because I have a brain of my own which tells me what is right and wrong!”
DB: “We once went to Srinagar after many years and saw our home. It was heart breaking to see that they had removed everything from the house even the plumbing fixtures. It was in a terrible condition. The whole foundation of the house had weakened. Uss waqt main bahot royi thi, tab mahsoos hua kya humne ghar banaya tha aur kya inhone kar diya.*”
*(I cried that time. It pinched to see how we had made our home and what it is today.)
KB: “I can’t forget the way we left, I can’t forget what happened to us. It will remain this way, so yes there is bitterness!”
KB: However, what happened does not make me judge anyone based on their religion or ethnicity. I have friends of all kinds. My only rationale is that extremism of any kind is not acceptable, you do you and let others be themselves.
The Bhats (Hriday Nath, Dura and Kanchan) are settled in Puna, while Komila is in London. Hriday Nath set up and resumed his precision automotive manufacturing business in the city. After pursuing architecture from Puna and further studies in Australia and gaining experience working with renowned corporates, Kanchan now works alongside her father to run their business. She also has her own consulting firm for sustainable buildings and is also a fitness enthusiast. Komila and her husband are raising their young daughter in London.
Below are glimpses of the Bhats’ memories from Kashmir that includes Hriday Nath and Dura Bhat’s wedding ceremony, Kanchan & Komila’s childhood and their extended family and friends!