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Image courtesy of DNA India

“Shikara” and the trailer of loss – Arshia Malik

It is that time of the year; for the last thirty years it has always been that time of the year. ‘Winter is coming’ was a dread long before the famous series. As the mists descended from the mountains into the valleys below, melancholia and sadness would automatically descend on the general atmosphere. Every year for the last three decades, January is that time of the year when the memories surface whether we like it or not, as soon as the first chill hits the air.

19th and 21st January are traumatic anniversaries for both the Kashmiri Pandit and the Kashmiri Muslim communities. 19th January signifies the start of the pogrom of terror by jihadist forces in the Kashmir Valley – opening the way for centuries of below-the-surface resentment against the “kufar”, the infidel, the Other, the “dalibatta” (derogatory term for a KP because of the frequency of pulses being cooked in their homes – reference to the North Indian vegetarianism, in a Valley where non-vegetarian mutton, lamb, beef is a staple diet). The “Kristallnacht” of Kashmiri Pandits had just begun and despite the canard that the ‘Jagmohan Theory’ spread by the intifada factory, it continued steadily over a course of years gaining momentum until only a handful of KP families were left and new generations grew up without any affiliation to their land.

21st January is the day of the Gowkadal Massacre, when unarmed protesters who were taking a memorandum to the UNMOGIP, were shot at by the Indian paramilitary, and unofficially more than a hundred people died, (officially 60) and scores of others injured; the psychological trauma goes in thousands as the second and third generation hears about it and internalizes it. This massacre and others like it which we repeat like a litany – Sopore, Handwara, Hawal, etc drew an ever increasing wedge between communities and families as the intifada factory and its conflict entrepreneurs spun an ‘us vs them’ narrative, set up shop in Western academia and lobbies, forming alliances with the Left and the Liberals, while using the secular laws of those countries to spin narratives.

This is that time of the year where no trigger is needed to flash back in the past. I, being a personal witness to the forced exodus, and the Gowkadal Massacre automatically grow melancholic as the drab, chilly, misty weather descends, and one wakes up to dark mornings. However, as the trailer for the upcoming movie Shikara came out, I couldn’t help breaking down.

I didn’t expect this; I thought the healing had started. I did expect the intifada factory rumour and academia mill to start their “hate campaign” as on expected lines the Oppression Olympic scale is brought out and the miseries of both the communities are measured, categorized, analyzed and spat out on Prime Time channels and Twitter handles. But I didn’t expect the trauma of those years to be just below the surface as the camera zooms in on the heroine’s face and it dawns on her that someone’s house was burning – a scene I have seen scores of times on my aunt’s, grandmother’s and mother’s faces, with the customary beating of the chest and the Kashmiri cry – “Hatai taawano”!

The whole cinematography of the trailer brought back conversations with my late husband on the plight of Pandits when we first met post 9/11 and exchanged our views about “Azadi” and “Jihad”. Somebody who had lived his whole life in the Valley with a certain narrative was taken aback when presented with the other side of the “Othered” -  a perspective my formative years in New Delhi, my secular education in missionary schools, and my experience of local racism with my family had fermented over the years. Those rooftop conversations atop a building that housed “his newspaper office” run by a former militant-turned-editor, in which I had started contributing my column, led to our meeting and turned out to be life changing. I learnt about the “Great Game” being played in South Asia, and he learned what it was like to be a minority in a Muslim-dominated region where people mistook me for an “outsider” because of the colour of my skin and ‘Endian’ features.

That is when I also learned about how the forced migration of the Pandits had affected actual neighbours who grew up together, celebrated births, deaths together, exchanged gifts, grief, happiness, had the same worries about their children’s future, struggle with infirm parents and sick kids, shivered the same in minus temperatures and lived carefree in the summers of a paradise in Asia. Arshid’s best friend (I’ll name him Vicky) with whom he exchanged comics, rock music, girl stories, went to weddings, mourning, equally faced the wrath of fathers, were pampered by their mothers, worried about sisters, had to leave abruptly too. I recall my father-in-law narrating how years later, Vicki’s father had offered a distress sale of his plot of land, knowing it would be safe in Malik Sahab’s hands and they could return whenever they wanted, To this day, Papa regrets not having even that meagre amount of money to save Panditji’s plot and home in which his son had many a happy memory; it eventually was taken up by a Muslim family who tore down the old, beautiful homestead and built a grotesque monstrosity especially after the funds of the September 2014 floods.

Shikara trailer gave glimpses of those distressing moments – I am not sure I can sit through the entire movie in February. For the time being I’m just watching the intifada factory go crazy. When I first started voicing my opinion on social media in 2011, I had no idea of the Left-Liberal ecosystem and just spoke about the Islamism long before it became known as Islamism (to differentiate between actual peaceful Muslims and those with wet dreams of a Caliphate). The vitriol from my own “tribe” was expected, what I didn’t expect was the mainland Indian and Western liberals enabling radicalism, fanaticism and apologia for the regressive practices in Islam such as the enforcing of the hijab. I guess it shook the narrative of the Indian Left-Liberals to hear a KM speaking out about the atrocities by the ISI-funded militants, first foreigners like the Afghan vets and Pakistanis like Qasab collaborating with the disgruntled local ‘HAJY’ group in the 90s and later, as the petrodollar Wahhabism gained a foothold and defeated the Sufi-culture of Kashmir in the actual battlegrounds of the mosques, the local boys-turned-Rambos a la Burhan Wani style, inspired by ISIS videos.

What I see today is this very ecosystem denying the Kashmiri Pandits their space, forever conflating their plight with the rise of the right-wing Hindutva politics and ideology in India, constantly apologizing for the role Pakistan military-industrial-complex plays in the subcontinent with its “unfinished business of the Partition” in its establishing a “Second Medina” with the help of “Muslim Zionists”, conflict entrepreneurs both in Indian academia and in Western and Middle East Universities constantly ‘gaslighting’ the silent majority (yes there is a sizeable pro-India population in the Valley, and combined with Ladakhis and Jammuites it does become a majority vs the six-militancy and Wahabbism ridden districts of the Valley).

Post Abrogation of Article 370, the intifada factory has changed gears, projecting the abrogation as a revenge for what the Pandits went through, totally forgetting the three decades of living first in makeshift tents in Jammu, eventual camps and townships and the eternal displacement from their homeland, living in permanent limbo in their own country, forever trying to reach their destination (at least that is what the metaphor of the “Shikara” is for me, a boat used to travel the waterways of the Valley, to the home destinations of houseboats and the ghats).  

Whatever be the outcome of the Abrogation, whether the Pandits in their quest for preserving their culture, traditions and community will succeed in getting rehabilitated in the Valley or not, whether the abrogation proves to heal the wounds of the Kashmiris or not, people need to remember that Kashmiri Muslims were the first victims of the radicalization which started in Aligarh Muslim University in the United Provinces in the 1940s and carved two cancerous regions based on religion, eventually resulting in expelling the Pandits from their ancient homeland for the seventh and last time - what I call the "unfinished business of the Partition". This forced exodus hurt those Kashmiris who were secular like my late husband, and who grew up with Pandit neighbours and shared lives, making Kashmiris like me eternally guilty of returning home for vacations when they can’t.

For a few brief minutes, due to social media Arshid got to banter with a few KP friends of mine on Facebook about rock music, Gabriela Sabatini, the Kashmir sense of humour, the Bab, and other stuff. As I watched the comments flash back and forth, I saw the joy with which Arshid kept replying to the digs, the innuendos and sarcasm – a micro second of bonhomie in a life which could have been had not the first shots been fired in 1989 and the first pamphlets asking Pandits to leave put up. Today generations growing up learning about the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement in the South understand that not only does the discrimination, the cleansing affect the victims, it alters the psyche of the perpetrators also, achieving a collective trauma of a community.

Like Shiv Dhar and Shanti Dhar’s tale in Shikara, the story is incomplete without the love of the KMs who never wanted this to happen but were made to participate in a shameful period of Kashmir’s history unwillingly, forever earning mistrust and censure, and allegations about their role in the exodus. As the intifada factory spins my love story too, (I have heard a very rabid woman analyst on TV blaming me for my husband’s early death) I am not surprised that the factory is working overtime to ask for its boycott, or ban, and even let their Leftist-Liberal watchdogs out to pre-emptively set the stage for building the narrative of how Pandits were themselves to blame for their cleansing, and how this was not the right time to release the film because of the anti-Muslim bigotry in the air of the country (I do not use the misnomer of Islamophobia).

A historical wrong has to be owned, a community’s guilt has to be assuaged by talking about what happened. Just like Arshid’s unresolved and unaddressed trauma of years of incest through his own cousin led to his mental issues and he tried suicide thirteen times, a fact documented by doctors in the only psychiatric hospital of Srinagar, and even published in a Western journal, unaddressed historical wounds will fester and cause resentment even though on the surface it seems things have healed. Our friendship first, then a blossoming love and eventual marriage and the birth of our beautiful boy couldn’t keep the demons of Arshid at bay and he went into a deep depression towards the end of his life. In December, due to a chill caught while traveling to work, he took OTC pills for the cough and cold which reacted with his diabetes, and anti-depressant meds and he succumbed to a heart attack at home while lying next to his son, resting. Kashmir doesn’t have a very good ambulance system, or a post-mortem culture to bring out the truth, something I can see happening widely in the aftermath of the “tehreek” also. No introspection, no reflection, no meditation over what happened, where did we go wrong, why so many of our sons are buried under the ground and continue to die at the hands of a radical ideology.

The people constantly hammering about human rights, right to information, inquiries, investigations, etc never push their community to inquire, doubt, criticize, or critically think about their identities, religions, their biases, their prejudices, their world views. Art, poetry, cinema helps in giving expression to such reflections, and nobody should deny any community this. If the KMs can be proud of a Haider, then they ought to be even more proud of a Shikara because both have love stories at the centre of it and document Kashmir and its tragedy. The intifada factory will try what it does best – conspiracy theories, disinformation, asymmetric digital warfare and propaganda while putting spins on straight forward facts. Such as a simple fact that there are NO cinema houses in Kashmir.

Can the intifada factory reflect why?

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