Sunday, 27 January 2013
Book Review: Our Moon has Blood Clots, by Rahul Pandita
There are many recorded instances of victims of discrimination, violence or even genocide dishing out similar treatment to others. Kurds, long oppressed by the Arabs and later by the Ottoman Turks, were instrumental in the Armenian genocide during the First World War. Jews, who fled the Nazis and settled in Palestine, haven’t been too kind to Palestinians. In Sri Lanka, the LTTE was rather nasty to the Muslim community in areas under its control, at times forcing Muslims to vacate places like Chavakacheri and Jaffna enmasse. Poles, who were at the receiving end of multiple aggressors ranging from Russians and Germans to Tartars, are rather anti-Semitic even now. To a certain extent, the violence unleashed by the Kashmiri Muslim community against Pandits living in the Valley falls in this category. Kashmiri Muslims may claim with some justification that they have received a raw deal from the Indian government and the earlier Dogra rulers. However, their treatment of the Pandits whom they drove away from the valley in increasing numbers since 1990 will always be remembered as yet another instance of a majority community oppressing a defenceless minority community.
Rahul Pandita, currently an Associate editor at the Open Magazine, and author of Hello Bastar, an account of India’s Maoist movement, tells the story of how his family was forced to flee to Jammu from the Kashmir valley when he was fourteen and live in squalid camps where his mother never tired of telling people that their house in the valley had 22 rooms. Pandita’s favourite cousin Ravi stayed on in the valley and was killed along with two others as they travelled by bus. There is no doubt that countless other Pandits have similar stories to tell.
In Our Moon has Blood Clots, Pandita doesn’t offer any answers, despite the innumerable questions that pop up during the discourse. Pandita makes a half-hearted attempt to be neutral and unbiased, there are references to how Dogras rulers were ‘rough’ with the Muslim community and how Hindus in Jammu tried to exploit the refugees from the Valley, but the book is almost entirely the story of the Pandit exodus and Pandita doesn’t even try to present the other side’s point of view. I don’t blame him. Pandita’s pain is still too raw and fresh to even think of making an attempt to provide the other side of the story, though Pandita makes it clear that he has maintained his humanism throughout. Once at a television studio for a debate on human rights, as Pandita argued in support of a zero tolerance approach in respect of human rights violations in Kashmir, he was reprimanded by a drunk army general who reminded him that the militants whose human rights he advocated had forced him out of his home. ‘General, I’ve lost my home, not my humanity,’ Pandita retorted.
Pandita makes it clear that the atrocities (murder and rape) against Pandits were carried out by fellow Kashmiris, with a different religious persuasion, and not just by foreign militants who came from across the LoC. Pandita tells us that divide between the Pandits and Muslims existed much before 1990. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan always brought the differences to the fore. The Muslims in Kashmir supported Pakistan and the Pandits naturally rooted for India. On April 18, 1986, when Javed Miandad hit Chetan Sharma’s last ball for a six in Sharjah, ‘ít was as if it was Diwali in Kashmir. I think every cracker available in Kashmir was burst in the next one hour. People streamed out of their houses and on to the streets chanting Allah ho Akbar. In the nippy April weather of the Valley, people drank gallons of Limca to celebrate, the way they had seen cricket stars celebrate with champagne.' Earlier, on October 13, 1983, when India had played Pakistan in Srinagar, the first ever international cricket match held in Jammu & Kashmir, the stadium had erupted in support for Pakistan. Vengsarkar was hit with a half-eaten apple. Pandita and his cousin Ravi had watched with disbelief. Was it always like that? Did Kashmiri Muslims always support the Pakistani cricket team since the time of the Partition? Pandita doesn’t provide a clear answer.
Pandita uses Ravi’s father as a narrator to describe the lie of the land at the time of the invasion by tribal levies immediately after the Partition. One gets the feeling that at that time the divide between Pandits and Muslims wasn’t so wide, though it did exist. Pandita doesn’t make it very clear when exactly the Hindu-Muslim divide grew to the extreme proportions one sees now.
In 1990, did Governor Jagmohan encourage Pandits to leave the Valley so that he could take stringent measures against the militants? Pandita rubbishes this theory. According to Pandita, Jagmohan was helpless. The administration had collapsed completely and sections of the state police were sympathetic to militants.
Even before I reached the end of the book I started wondering why the Indian government wasn’t taking more steps to make it possible for Pandits to return to the Valley. Create settlements for them, my brain screamed. When I reach the end of Pandita’s memoir, I find out that the Indian government has done just that and it isn’t working very well. A few thousand needy Pandits have moved back to the Valley and live in protected settlements which lack basic facilities. When they venture out in public, they, especially women, are targeted and harassed. The divide between Muslims and Pandits remains as wide as ever.
An honest account and a very good one at that, Our Moon has Blood Clots is a must read for anyone interested in the Kashmir dispute.