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A Night of Wilderness

by Sh. K.N. Koul

Kashmir has been victim of tragedies, recent one being of international magnitude. There have been massacres such as Wandhama and Sangrampura. Men in large numbers have been killed and women raped and properties usurped by the majority community. All this has been done in tandem with nefarious machinations of our neighbour. Kashmiri pundits have been subjected to atrocious communal violence and forced to migrate from Kashmir on an unprecedented scale. People having no specific place to go landed mostly at Jammu where they were asked to stay in tents. In intense heat some died being unable to bear the miserable situation. Some were bitten by snakes and died.  Some experienced suffering on account of diseases unknown. Government attitude was unfortunately   apathetic and so has been the attitude of International community. While happenings in Europe echoed everywhere and related questions, for solutions, were raised in forums like United Nations, about pundits not a word was heard from any of these sources. It has indeed been a sad and tearful story.

While at macro level so much has been thrown out by various sufferers, at micro level much is still to come. This writer therefore, desires to say something that took place with him and his family.

The writer was born, brought up, educated and later married in Kashmir. He got service in Kashmir in an Institute that had its spread all our India. As such, he got frequent transfers and had to serve his employers in far flung areas of this country. The writer, in the circumstances, could not think of settling till he retired from service in 1983. He had intense longing to be in Kashmir, which he called his motherland. He intensely felt to settle somewhere in Srinagar and have a house at the place. Though communal virus had started surfacing here and there, the writer and his family had delusional belief and a feeling that everything will settle down. There used to be communal riots in the past but communities would patch up and events would cool down. They had been living as such during centuries together. During riots, though properties were affected here and there, not a single killing or raping was there. The majority community always desisted from such vices and adjustments took place with return of peace and normalcy in course of time.

The writer purchased land for housing in 1987, around thousand yards, at Qayum colony Rawalpura situated on old airport road. The land was orchard land with apple and many other plump luscious fruit bearing trees. Some such trees were left untouched in the hope to have sweet fruit in years to come. The boundary wall was completed all over except on one side where a treacherous neighbour with evil designs on our land lived. The stone demarcation was however built up indicating our possession on that side. The teething trouble relating to boundary was overcome and issues settled with surrender or acquisition of land here and there. The greedy neighbour was trying to declare himself as a cultivator so that he could be a tenant with rights in a portion of land. He was fought and such rights disallowed to him legally and otherwise.

In 1988 the family thought of construction of a house. A contractor named Maqbool with his short name as Maga was chosen for the purpose. Maga had his tantrums and had to be tactfully tackled. He would holiday for a large number of days and my plans would get disturbed delaying schedules. The writer also had to move to villages in search of good and reliable materials, undergoing a hard life never experienced ever before.  Once, while pulling up wheel of his car from a ditch, created by an uprooted fruit tree, the writer got his spinal cord muscles pulled up and had to work with writhing pain.

He would lie down on a spread sheet of cloth just on bare ground. The writers’ absence would mean stoppage of work in which case the workers would move elsewhere and create affiliations there. Coaxing them to work at their erstwhile site posed difficulties.

The construction got ready around Nov. 1989 and all essential items, from our rented house, were shifted thereto. Meanwhile, nefarious plans of the majority community reached their pinnacle and difficulties for Pundits increased manifold. Declaration of bandhs and hartals became frequent and plying of vehicles by our members became difficult. Cries of Nallai Taqbir filled the sky everywhere. Once writer’s car was attacked, with stones, and glass panes, lights and mudguards etc broken. The car was damaged badly. The attackers were ready to attack the writer and his grandson aged 10, when the Muslim driver and an electrician, who occupied front seats, rose up and saved us. The child was bleeding perhaps hit by glass pieces scattered all over. At another time, a three wheeler who wilfully touched his vehicle with ours stopped us and started rebuking and asking for damages; there were none as per our assessment. The writer forcefully drove out of the murky atmosphere, but the rickshaw driver followed to his residence. There some Muslim friends drove him back, telling him that there were no damages to his vehicle and that his claim was unjust and frivolous.

When on foot, we tried to avoid awe inspiring roads and bridges. We used by lanes and crossed river Jhelum by boats. While leaving, boatman or others in the boat threw pebbles at our backs treating us heathens, or kafirs or infidels. In Mecca they do so at a particular place where they say that a Shetan deserving a stone lives there.  The atmosphere appeared tense, and the writer thought shifting of family out of the valley. The place, made hellish by our erstwhile brethren, seemed unliveable and this was done on priority basis. The writer learned later, that the bus carrying his family members was attacked by mobs at three places and the passengers thought it to be their end. The police escort with the bus however, saved the situation at all places by their intervention

Being alone and having no place to stay the writer decided to stay in the newly built house for some days and then to decide what to do. Idea was to do something towards watch and ward of the property just created and then to follow children who had already left. Looking however to surroundings my pundit neighbours had already left and the place for the writer looked desolate. He however, took courage and stayed at the house asking the driver to be with him which the man obediently did.

Some Muslim neighbour who had worked for the writer’s house called on him and told him to leave the place as early as possible. They said that the writer was exposed to elimination and death because he was a pundit. It was fear and fear all over and the writer did not know what to do. I t was equally desolation and wilderness that was heart throbbing. The writer decided to pass the awful night and leave early morning. Fear was all over, and sounds emanating from any source caused consternation and the feeling, lest anybody with designs to kill was there to execute his foul designs. It was truly a night of wilderness both within and outside.

Early morning the writer packed up and asked the driver to attend to his car and take to the wheel. A known Muslim neighbour met us and informed that there was a scuffle in which Maga who was now Assistant Commandant and in-charge of the area had been captured by CRP and put behind the bars. He had some days before shot dead four Air Force Officers. These officers were waiting at the nearby chowk for their army vehicle to take them to their offices. The atmosphere had worsened all the more in the area.

The writer while leaving had a lasting look at the house and its surroundings. He saw about hundred or so birds perched on the balcony and other places of the house. These birds mostly ‘bulbuls’ were chirping perhaps telling people that they also had lost their habitat which meant fruit trees in their case. Never the less they looked pleasing to the eye, though these had a common problem vis-a-vis fleeing Pundits from the area.

It was 1st December 1989, we proceeded towards Jammu. Road looked desolate with fear and awe everywhere. At Qazigund   Dogra shops which provided food and essentials to tourists were closed. We had a cup of tea from some Sardar Ji and proceeded further so as to leave the boundary of wilderness and be somewhere in Jammu territory. We made it and heaved a sigh of relief. The losses incurred were however, eating our vitals inside, with no way to console ourselves.                  

In Retrospect

Much water has flown down the river bringing in its wake consequent changes. Some are good and some bad. We got enmeshed with diverse communities. Our boys married girls from outside our community and so has been done by our girls. We have lost our singular and cohesive identity as a community. We are now neither here nor there, rather not anywhere. The writer feels this to be our greatest loss.

A friend met Maga in Jammu jail. Maga was in tears. He said that he was living a lavish life with a chicken at his dinner every day and was now leading a wretched jail life. He cursed his Jihadist advisers who he said put him in the wrong and gave false hopes.

The writer visited Kashmir in 1993, and in company of police escort paid a visit to the house. He found a family living there rearing sheep in one bed room and kitchen. His son had been killed by the Army and Jihadists had handed him over, this house including the attached land as compensation. There was awful smell coming from all sides and none from outside could stand to it. The house stands sold distressfully for a small sum and has now been brought to its envisaged shape by its lucky purchaser.

 
 

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