A Nakba Close To Home

It was 2014, I was travelling on a train to Pakistan. For somebody who grew up in Srinagar, stories of Pakistan were always fascinating to hear. From my grandfather who was an activist of the Pro Pakistan Muslim Conference, leaving Kashmir in 1950 to Pakistan. He returned three years and a one year jail sentence later. To my grandmother, who was asked by her father to wear green clothes to greet the Azad Kashmir forces closing in on Srinagar. Or the stories of my uncle who was part of a student led Pakistan parade in Islamia College in 1985. Or the fact that it was the country of my most favourite cricket team in the world.

On the train, I met a woman who was from Rajouri in the Chenab region. She was to travel to meet her brother in a village not far from her home. A kilometre or so she told me. To meet him, she had to first go to Jammu from her village on the mountains to Jammu and board a train to Delhi. In Delhi, she had to fill the visa form at the Pakistan embassy, thereon she had to book a train ticket. Then she had to go from Attari to Lahore, then Muzzafarabad and all the way to her brother’s village. A village that is a kilometre or so far from her home. This is a partition of a different kind, the unsung and the unknown partition.

Dr Ayub Thakkur wasn’t allowed to be even buried in his motherland.

In Karachi, where I met Faisal, who I had befriended on the internet. We had promised to meet, were I in Karachi. Faisal’s family was actually from my city in Srinagar. They had some property left here but he was unaware of its whereabouts. His family was in exile from their homeland. The first time he had mentioned this to me, a lot of things made sense. Dars, Mirs, Mantos, Khawajas, Butts, Naqashs and Reshis among other surnames were in Pakistan too. They were actually families of Kashmiri origins. So was Iqbal, whose grandfather had migrated to what’s now Pakistan. Thousands of Kashmiris had left Kashmir after the treaty of Amritsar, and the subsequent exodus during the famine in 1877.

When I went to the Foreigners Registration Office, I met a Kashmiri who had come to visit. He had come along with his cousin. While this Kashmiri was talking to the officers incharge, I struck a conversation with his cousin. He kept saying that since he two was a Kashmiri, he was always refused a visa by the Indian embassy in Pakistan. He had applied many a times, but to no avail. It was his lifelong wish to visit his roots in Kashmir.

Molvi Yusuf Shah. His mortal remain lie in Muzafarabad as he passed away in exile.

A couple of years ago, one of my friends Khalid* got married in the United States. He being a Canadian citizen of Kashmiri origin and his wife a US citizen of Kashmiri origin (from Azad Kashmir). As is a custom, Khalid was to bring his newly wedded wife to his home in Srinagar. He took it for granted that since the couple were citizens of western countries, it wouldn’t be a hassle to enter Srinagar.

Khalid and his wife applied for a visa to Srinagar. Khalid got his visa, since he has a People of India Origin Status (PIO). But his wife’s request for a visa was rejected citing his birthplace in the passport which stated Muzzafarabad, in Azad Kashmir. A struggle began for these newly weds, that took them from one office to another. Until after one year, when they both travelled to Srinagar.

In 1947, during the Muslim genocide in Jammu over a million people became refugees fleeing to the nearby city in Sialkot, a city of Kashmiri emigre. They left their properties and homes, that were later taken over by the state. In the valley too, many Kashmiris who were exiled had to give up their ancestral properties and homes. Most of this property was taken over by state, in fact some quarters of Kashmir University stands on the refugee property.

Most of the Kashmiri refugees that were exiled in 1947 have not been granted the right to return. So aren’t many refugees who fled to Pakistan during the 1965 war. The latest mass refugee migration being in the early 1990s, where in thousands of Kashmiris fled to nearby Pakistan. Most of them still living in dilapidated conditions in Azad Kashmir camps.

Some Kashmiris have also taken political asylum in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries post 1947. Notable among them being the Kashmiri businessman Farooq Kathwari, The Syeed Family that has Kashmiri American Filmmaker Musa Syeed, Dr Ayub Thakur (who wasn’t allowed to be buried in his motherland by NDA government) among many others.

Yousuf Buch and Dr. Fai

Like many Palestinian refugees who are not allowed to travel to their ancestral homes, Kashmiris too have been subjected to this sheer violation of human rights.

This is a Nakba close to home.