An online initiative is trying to ‘virtually’ reconnect Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims – old neighbours, friends and schoolmates – who had lost touch with each other following the migration of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s.
Srinagar: Keeping aside decades of bitter political discourse and divisive blame games, Raabta (a connection), an online initiative, is virtually reconnecting Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims – old neighbours, friends and schoolmates – who had lost touch with each other following the migration of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s.
Jaibeer Ahmed, an advertising professional based in New Delhi, who’s one of the curators of Raabta, said the idea was born when he heard his grandmother talk about Dina Nath, a Kashmiri Pandit, who was like her son. “She is 82 years old and hopes to see him once,” he said. The online forum, which was opened on Facebook earlier this year, has over 21,000 likes.
“Prior to the 1990s, the two communities shared a relationship of care, warmth and respect, but today there is bitterness, anger and animosity,” said Jaibeer, adding that on social media this hatred is played out every day in the form of abuse and slander, pulling the communities further apart. “In the mayhem, people lost contact with each other. Even today, after almost three decades, people yearn to meet their old friends and neighbours.”
The online forum facilitates search of old friends, neighbours and colleagues, helping them reconnect and rekindle old relationships.
Take the case of Bansilal Kuchroo, an elderly Kashmiri Pandit who wrote a message on the forum, expressing a desire to reconnect with his erstwhile neighbour, Murtaza Sheikh, from Harwan ares of Srinagar.
“I am talking of 1970. I had a friend Dr Murtaza Mohamad Shiekh who was a doctor from the first batch of Government Medical College Srinagar. He was a close friend,” Kuchroo wrote on Facebook. “He was a doctor and lived in Srinagar up to 1969 and was transferred to Baramulla in 1970. After that he met me and told me he will go for further studies to UK and after that never met him… Anybody who has any information please tell him that I am waiting for him to see him”, he added.
Jaibeer’s grandmother, Brega Apa, who lives in South Kashmir’s Mattan area, too wrote a post seeking any leads that could help her connect with her old friend Dina Nath, a Kashmiri Pandit. “Dina Nath was my third son, just born in a different house. Despite the age gap, he was like a friend to me and my late husband,” Apa wrote, adding that there was no decision that they would take in their house without consulting Nath. “He left a message for us before leaving, promising us that we will meet soon. It has been 28 years. He lived in Siligam, Anantnag. Few years back, I heard that his family is in Udhampur now. I am 82 now and I wish I could meet him once.”
Jaibeer wants the online forum to bring together people from both the communities so that they can also later meet in person. “Imagine two neighbours finding each other after 28 years. There can be a million stories like that,” he said.
Decades of mistrust and suspicion between the two communities, which spills on to social media debates, hasn’t deterred the curators of Raabta. “Despite the polarisation, we continue to share a bond as individuals and are bound together by our common heritage, culture, music, poetry, food and phiran (winter cloak),” said Jaibeer.
Jaibeer said his friends were helping him out in multiple ways with design, animation and illustrations to go with the messages. A lot of artists and youngsters from both the communities have extended their support to the forum. “Besides this, several friends sent their posts and messages looking for their friends which also helped kick-start the initiative,” he said, pointing out that while he was curating the page, it was a completely collaborative platform.
The response to Raabta has been “overwhelming”, claimed Jaibeer, adding that so far, three sets of people (Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits) had reconnected through the forum and many more were in the process of doing so.
The curators said they wanted to continue reuniting old friends, colleagues and neighbours from the two communities through social media as well as radio partnerships. “We would like to build the platform through collaboration with artists and create reunions at the ground level,” he said.
The initiative is being appreciated by Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits alike. “Wonder why it took so long to start an initiative like this. The name itself brings forth a surge of emotions,” Vinod Kak, a Kashmiri Pandit who lives outside the valley, wrote on the Facebook page of Raabta. “Excellent and noble work, must be backed with some practical initiative,” wrote Arif Maghribi Khan, who lives in Srinagar.
Jaibeer believes emotional bonding between the two communities already exists, and Raabta and other such platforms can only act as enablers. “Raabta’s dream is to see neighbours share a meal together again at their homes”, he said.
The essence of the initiative is captured best by a post that calls upon all erstwhile neighbours to meet again. “The Kangri that kept us warm has turned cold. Let us warm it again. Where are you?”, it says.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar, Kashmir.