Yours is not a just a political book. It is a very intense and a personal story. What led you to write this particular book?
I say it to my friends; this is the most important book I will ever write. And this is the main reason I chose to become a journalist. This book has always being inside me. This is the story of me and my family and of hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to leave the Valley in 1989-90. I’m just so overwhelmed by the commonality of response from all over India and even aboard, from the Kashmiri Diaspora. They are calling me and telling me what they have gone through, exactly the same hardship and difficulties and the freighting experiences in 1990. So this book has been extremely important for me to write and I’m glad I have done it after struggling with it from many years.
The subtitle of your book is ‘the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits’, it is also being called the untold story. Almost every book on Kashmir claims to be an untold story. Do you feel the story of Kashmiri Pandits is really untold?
I think, in a conflict zone like Kashmir, it’s always good that more and more stories are coming out. Personally I’m of the belief that more narratives should come out from Kashmiris because we have suffered pain for more than two decades in this bloody conflict. Specifically talking about Kashmiri Pandits, I think the story of Kashmiri Pandits has unfortunately been relegated to the margins. I think the last few years, what has really made me angry is the fact that it has even being kicked off those margin because some how it is not fashionable to talk about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.
That’s an interesting point. Many young Kashmiri Pandits accuse the media as well as the politicians for ignoring the plights of Kashmiri Pandits. Why do you think it is so?
I think the answer is multifold. As far as the Indian media is concerned, it’s a black and white situation for them. Here are one set of people who have been brutalised at the hands of the Indian state but they conveniently forget or ignore that the same set of people have victimised another set of people who happen to be Kashmiri Pandits in this case. So some how they talk about Indian brutality in the Kashmir or the Northeast, I call them part of the ‘Fab India’ narratives. When I wrote my previous book (Hello Baster), so many people from that ghetto added me on Facebook, because they thought I was one of their own. If something wrong is happening in Chhattisgarh, as a journalist it is very important for me to chronicle those stories. Now the same set of people are looking at me and thinking of me as a class enemy because I have come up with a story which doesn’t fit in their scheme of thinking. There are people who will live in a permanent state of denial. I don’t even wish to engage with them. I would rather engage with someone who is willing to walk half the mile and I’m willing to cover the rest. But not with someone who is hell bent at maintaining his position at the extremes.
What is fascinating about your book is you refuse to take any of these extreme positions. You fully accept the plight of both Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims is part of the circle of violence that has been part of Kashmir history. You even acknowledge that the Dogra rulers ill treated Kashmiri Muslims. So in that sense your narrative doesn’t fit in any of these prescribed boxes.
I also mention in the book, an episode right after the exodus, where I meet some RSS members who tried to channelise my anger towards Kashmiri Muslims. But thank God my father told me that I should not get into these things and should concentrate on my studies. I’m very glad that he was there to advice me and made me undertake this course correction. I have been going to Kashmir as a journalist for the last 15 years and I have been in exile for the last 23 years. I think in the last 15 years, I have covered every aspect of Kashmir. I have reported about the forced disappearances, half widows, human rights violations, state brutality, I think I must have written on every aspect. I have done dozens of stories on the plights of Kashmiri Muslims and I have reported on the fathers who have been made to frog jump in front of their sons. I think in my whole career in these 15 years I have done only 4-5 stories on the plights of Kashmiri Pandits, so no one can accuse me of turning a blind eye. The problem is this extreme state of denial which I was talking to you about. May be members of my community don’t raise their voice or they don’t talk about certain bad things which have happened to the Kashmiri majority community like the Gaw Kadal massacre or the Kunan-Poshpora which happened in 1991. They might not talk about it, but the fact is that nothing is being denied to Kashmiri Muslims as far as these narratives are concerned. We don’t go to them and say that you are lying, that look Gaw Kadal massacre never happened or the rapes of Kunan Poshpora never happened. But in turn they do it to us.I mean hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the land on one single night and thousands people assembled in different mosques all across the Kashmir and shouted these anti-India slogans and anti-Pandit slogans. I mean what happened in 1990 was very unfortunate and I think the bigger betrayal is insulting our collective memory by saying that nothing happened in January 1990. I found that very insulting and my book is a response to that denial and the manipulation of the truth.