A brief historical
background is in order to introduce this work, which is an expression of
my experiences of the last violent decade in Kashmir.
Having failed through three major wars
to annex the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan hatched a low intensity
proxy war by fuelling insurgency in the state. She cashed on the religious
sentiments of its Muslim youth and provided them incentives to cross over
to training camps in that country for religious indoctrination and instruction
in subversion and guerrilla warfare. During the years 1986-1990 thousands
of these trained youth were pushed back in batches as warriors (Mujahids)
and equipped with sophisticated arms and lethal ammunition to wage a war
of ‘liberation’ (Jihad) under the command of numerous terrorist outfits
remote-controlled in Pakistan. The ‘Jihad’ started with threats, abduction,
torture and killing of the minority Hindus of the Kashmir valley (the Kashmiri
Pandits), who were forced to flee. It resulted in the exodus of nearly
three hundred and fifty thousand people into the neighbouring province
of Jammu and the plains of India in the first half of 1990.
Meanwhile, death and destruction continue
in the valley, the armed bands burning down educational institutions, bridges
and vital communications, looting, vandalising and burning the leftover
properties of Pandits, enforcing Islamic diktat on the masses and holding
civil servants to ransom in order to run the administration by proxy.
Soon what was believed to have started
as a freedom movement degenerated into a massive operation of loot, extortion
and rape. The majority of Kashmiri Pandits having fled, the guns were now
turned towards the moderates amongst Muslims and the common village folk.
Their initial enthusiasm and support for militancy cooled off as the Mujahids
who started as their heroes showed their true colours as they indulged
in a relentless spree of plundering forests, looting properties, collecting
forced donations from the salaries and earnings of every working person,
coercing people to enlist their young boys for training in the camps, and
demanding their unwed girls in matrimony. As a vested interest developed
in militancy, new power equations evolved and foreign mercenaries were
pumped in to fill the vacuum created by the capture, surrender and death
of ‘local militants’ in internecine battles and counter insurgency operations.
In spite of some containment of militancy, the militant groups have expanded
their field of operations into Jammu with their hit and run tactics of
causing bomb blasts in busy bazaars, bus stands and railway stations and
the selective killings of Hindus in remote villages, the militants entrenching
themselves in inaccessible dense forests.
These poems written during the last ten
years have been arranged in three sections. The first section unfolds the
rise of militancy in Kashmir which was touted as the bastion of Hindu Muslim
amity and the epicentre of cultural synthesis (Kashmiriyat) and religious
tolerance. The Pandits and their gods are under attack as the Muslim fundamentalists
seek to cleanse the valley of ‘infidels’, creating terror, charge sheeting
them for treason, exhorting the masses to revolt and throw them out of
The second section describes the exodus
and the rootlessness of exile; the hurt, trauma and anguish of an itinerant
existence away from home; the haunting memories of the past and the present
persecutions; the vulnerability of life and the spectre of death in the
refugee camps. Their preoccupation with the search for their roots and
their gods and the mental debate as to whether they failed their gods or
the gods failed them is an ongoing process of self-appraisal with the Pandits.
The crisis of identity on the one hand and the attempts to re-create the
lost paradise on the other is part of the unfolding moral, psychological
and spiritual struggle that goes on side by side with the struggle
for day to day survival in exile.
The third section depicts the urge to reclaim
the roots as hope kindles with the reports of containment of terrorism
coupled with the conciliatory postures of Muslims in the valley and as
visitors from there bring the nostalgia of homeland to the Pandits in exile.
The poem ‘Arrival’, capturing the images
while on his travels to his exiled relatives in India, is authored by Dr
Robin Chowdhury, my brother, living in Australia. I could not resist the
urge to include it in my collection here and ‘On Your Arrival’ is my response
to his sentiments.
The poems bear the date (or month) and
the place of writing. Because of arrangement in three sections some poems
written on an earlier date appear later or vice versa, but the poems in
each section follow a chronological order.
K L Chowdhury
Jammu - October 1999