Updated: Apr 24, 2021
"Why did Kashmiri Pandits leave?" is the question of children of Kashmir to their elders. Who claims responsibility of barbaric exodus of Pandits in 1990s or do they altogether change history, can they?
This short narration comes directly from a Company Commander of Rashtriya Rifles Battalion serving in Kashmir valley. The piece is intriguing, at the same time dwells in mind of a Indian Army soldier fighting militancy in Kashmir valley and how!
“Where has Raja uncle gone?” Five year old Irfan asked me as I moved out of my base.
I told him that he had left for Himachal Pradesh. I had seen this sweet kid for the first
time. On enquiring I came to know that he was an affable kid who always greeted the
“He likes to play with Chitta….” one of my boys told me, referring to the dog that lived
outside our base and accompanied all the parties that moved out on foot.
Irfan asked me where I came from… I told him that I was from Meerut. He was amazed as to why I was serving so far away from my home.
“I can go anywhere during daytime but I always come back to my home at night. I like to
sleep alongside my mother” was his innocent observation. He then asked another naïve
question. “Don’t you feel like going back to your mother at night?”
I was wondering how to answer the question, “I would like that, but I have to stay
here…” I replied, trying to finish the conversation.
“What is it so important that you’re doing?” was his next question.
“We make sure that people stay safe” was my reply…I was not sure that I could make
him understand about the complexities of serving in the Valley. On seeing him
perplexed though, I tried to explain further. “Would you like if some bad people came
and troubled you or your family?” I asked. He shook his head vehemently in the
negative, “Exactly!! we are here to make sure that it does not happen” I replied, feeling
glad to have explained my point.
“But then why didn’t you do it earlier?” he asked, pointing to the ruins of a house of a
“Whose house is that?” I asked him.
“This was the house of the ‘Bhattas’ (Pandits). My grandmother tells me stories about them sometimes”, he added somberly. “Her best friend Ratna used to stay in that house. Her father used to teach in the village school. My grandmother and all her siblings were taught by him. They were old friends of the family and used to celebrate all our functions with us. Ratna was the same age as my grandmother and they both used to spend their days together at either of the houses. They also had a dog at their place and my grandmother used to love playing with it” he added. “But one day, some bad people came and scared the ‘Bhattas’ away. They said that they’ll do bad things if the ‘Bhattas’ didn’t go away. The ‘Bhattas’ tried to stay for some time but then got scared and left overnight. When my grandmother went to their house in the morning, she didn’t find anyone but the dog who was left behind. She brought the dog with her to her home, but it got ill and died in a few days. That is the reason my grandmother doesn’t allow me to keep dogs. They remind her of Ratna whom she never got a chance to say goodbye. Sometimes she stands in front of the ruins of Ratna’s house and stares at it for long time…I do not know why.
She tells me ‘Bhattas’ are good people…they are like us…they eat like us and speak
the same language …only, their way of praying is different. If you were here at the time
‘Bhattas’ were told by bad people to go away, perhaps you could have helped.”
I was at loss to explain to this innocent boy the complex story that unfolded in the late eighties. The fact that it was a collective treachery that made the ‘Bhattas’ go away….though everyone was not involved directly in the game plan but were ‘complicit with their silence’. Perhaps the boy will understand as he grew older. I did not want to hurt his innocence by telling them why ‘Bhattas’ had to leave and who was responsible for it.
Irfan got busy playing with dog ‘chitta’ and followed the patrol for some distance. As he crossed his home, his grandmother called him inside. He waved at me ….as a mark of newly formed friendship.
The patrol went past the ruins of houses of Pandits….standing desolately as a grim reminder of hatred, vengeance, jealousy, treachery, backstabbing, injustice, collective complicity, ethnic cleansing and inhumanity. How will Irfan be explained the whole thing by his elders is the moot point.