Those Who Stayed Back in the Valley

An excerpt from Sahba Husain's book, 'Love, Loss and Longing in Kashmir', published by Zubaan in 2019.

Ganpatyar in Srinagar was a Pandit-dominated locality until 1990 when the majority of the families there decided to leave because they were facing mounting militant violence. The narrow lanes in the area are flanked by abandoned homes which were either dilapidated or in a state of disrepair at the time of our visit.

The temple, located on the main road, with the river Jhelum on the one side, led into the mohalla where some of the Pandit families continued to live. A tailor in a shop across from the temple greeted us and told us how he, a Muslim, was entrusted with the temple keys for more than forty years. He told us that he opened the temple doors each morning for all those years but everything changed after 1990.

‘Even the fabric and design of the clothes in my shop has changed,’ he said, adding that the majority of his clients now were Muslim women; the Pandit women no longer came to get clothes stitched. He remembered well the hustle-bustle of the streets before the migration, but his greatest sadness was for the loss of the privilege of opening the temple door each morning.


Sanjay Tickoo accompanied us and introduced us to some families in the area. We first met Bhushan Lal and Lalitha who lived on the first floor of a small, one-room house opposite the Ganpatyar temple. Other than their one room, there was a tiny makeshift kitchen and an abandoned cattle-shed adjacent to the house, which served as a bathroom and toilet. The Hindu Welfare Society helped them to move here after their house down the lane was gutted in an accident in 1994.

Sahba Husain
Love, Loss and Longing in Kashmir
Zubaan, 2019

Their room was earlier part of the temple, and was used by the head priest to store many rare Kashmiri Pandit manuscripts and it doubled as a reference library. The room still had two small cupboards built into the wall with books and papers chaotically dumped in them. ‘These are the only ones left from the ancient texts,’ said Bhushan Lal, ‘all the rest were robbed and sold during the peak of militancy when thefts had become common.’ The broken locks on the cupboards and the cracked glass on the shelves had not been repaired or replaced, perhaps as a reminder of those times.

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The couple greeted us warmly. ‘Our biggest paap (sin) was that we were born in India’, said Bhushan Lal as we began to talk. ‘People less educated, but politically connected are all in high positions in the government or at least have jobs, unlike most Kashmiri Pandits and many Kashmiri Muslims who are educated yet frustrated because of unemployment and government apathy.’

He recalled how relations between the two communities had become strained during the peak of militancy: ‘Initially, at the peak of militancy the Hindus and Muslims did not talk to each other but our humsayas (neighbours) told us to stay at home for our own safety. It was very sudden. One day we were friends and the next day they wouldn’t even talk to us, perhaps for fear of being branded informers. Pakistan played a crucial role by pumping Kashmir with money and arms but those who gave their lives were not Pakistanis but Kashmiri Muslims. It was the Pandits and Muslims here who faced the consequences of army crackdowns and killings – over a lakh of us have died as a result. Our landscape is dotted with graveyards.’

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Lalitha vividly recalled the time when Pandits migrated and how her own family had almost left but stayed back because of circumstances beyond their control.

I remember the day when all the Pandits left from here. Trucks came and people packed up what they could and left. I also packed a few belongings. I got my boys ready, made a little rice for the journey and decided to buy vegetables on the way. We had asked the truck to come here by 1:30 in the morning so that we could leave quietly in the dark. Suddenly that evening a curfew was declared because of which the truck never came and we stayed on. But we did not unpack till a year later by which time we began to reconcile ourselves with the fact that we were going to stay on here. Also, the people-to- people contact had improved. Some people who had left from this colony came back to stay here. And anyway, where could we go? We had heard stories of snakebites, health problems and the dismal conditions in the camps from our relatives in Jammu. They are old now and will never return here, but I often wonder how they lived in those conditions.

My eldest son finished his engineering over three years ago and yet he has not found a job and has been sitting idle at home. If he doesn’t get a job here, we will be forced to leave too. The Muslims are doing the same because their sons don’t have employment either. We seem to share the same fate with Muslims but those who have moved out have done much better. I have three sons, but if I had even a single daughter I would havleft from here under any circumstances. Militants would enter houses; demand food -it had to be good food – and having a daughter would have made it unsafe.

Sahba Husain. Photo: Youtube

We heard this from many displaced Pandits. The safety of women was a strong reason that pushed them to leave, but we also met others in Kashmir such as Santosh Koul who told us that once she made the decision to stay back with her family, she had decided to live without fear and saw to it that her daughters went to college and to work. In a period marked by such insecurity, how did she manage to cope with the fear? ‘My faith in a Muslim saint has kept us here. He lived in Dirvesh village and was someone I had come to trust greatly. When so many Pandits started migrating, I went to him for advice as I always did in times of trouble. He assured me that we should not leave and that nothing would happen to us. It was only this that stopped us from leaving. Once you have that faith, all fear disappears,’ she said. She went on to say, ‘I have a 24-year-old son and two daughters, one of whom had just got a job when militancy began. Those times were hard with her having to go to work despite the fear and risk. The other daughter was 19 and in college. Militants used the house next to ours for interrogation but we were never troubled because of this. But some militants did come home once asking for some food in 1991. I said, “Look- we don’t have enough for ourselves, how can I give you any?” They didn’t trouble me after that.’ She also told us how, in 1990 every mosque would have a Kashmiri Pandit hit list, indicating the ones to be targeted: ‘The Muslims would see this in the Masjid when they went to pray. They would come home and quietly send their children to inform the listed family to leave. They protected us this way’.