“Chz Bozekh Kaath?” Every night before bed, my father would ask me and my brother if we wanted to hear a story about his life in Kashmir. We would rest our heads against his belly as he told us tales of working on the farm, walking miles to school, and playing by the river. As we grew older, his stories matured, too. We were slowly introduced to the horrors he faced as an adolescent- radical insurgency, terrorism, and deaths of innocent lives around him. Kashmir continues to be a disputed territory bubbling with turmoil and has been a site of religious intolerance and persecution.
Kashmiri Pandits, or Kashmiri Hindus, have been cleansed from their homeland since the 1300s and the most recent exodus of 1990 continues to plague the hearts of our community. On a dark, freezing January night, my grandmother, father, and his siblings were forced to flee from their ancestral lands on foot as they took refuge from radical violence solely due to their religion. On January 19th, 1990, the terrorists threatened to murder them if they did not leave by dawn of the next day, leaving no time to perform any memorials or rituals for the dead. They chanted “ralive, tsaliv, ya galive.” Convert, leave, or die.
They hid in an empty school building overnight before leaving the Valley for what they did not know would be forever. At the age of 20, my father had to abandon his livelihood and mourn the massacre of his Hindu family and friends. After living in a refugee camp, he started life anew with hopes of maintaining Kashmiri Pandit culture and returning to his homeland. That second wish has still not come to fruition. 2021 marks 31 years since the seventh exodus of Hindus from Kashmir. He has not been able to go home because of the continued violence and threats against religious minorities.
Kashmiri Pandits are now dispersed across the world as they are constantly shut out from the Valley. This separation from community and land takes a horrible toll on cultural identity and mental health. Many Kashmiri Pandits witnessed the murder of their own parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Paired with those memories comes a daunting sense of loss. They left everything behind- photographs, family heirlooms, traditional clothing, religious idols, and the opportunity to pass on physical artifacts of their history and culture.
As Kashmiri Pandits come together and spread awareness of their plight, they are extremely vulnerable and unfortunately often overlooked. They relive these painful memories through every conversation, discussion, or argument they have regarding the brutal exodus. As a community of American Hindus, it is our duty to support them in sharing information, seeking justice, and putting an end to this on-going misery.