Mudabbir Ahmad Tak
Kashmir is a mountainous region between India and Pakistan that has been contested by the two nations ever since they were born out of the withdrawal of British colonial rule from the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The major portion of Kashmir is under Indian occupation, which maintains its control through oppressive laws, curbs on freedom of speech and protest, and heavy deployment of its troops (around a million, according to some), making it the most militarized zone in the world. The people here have been asking for the right to self-determination, as enshrined in the United Nations resolutions, since 1947. A smaller part of Kashmir lies within Pakistan and enjoys some autonomy.
In the early 1990s an estimated one hundred thousand Pandits, the indigenous Hindu minority community, fled the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir for India as armed insurgency erupted against Indian rule. This was a painfully tragic event, not just in that it involved the displacement of a community from its homeland, but also because its context and circumstances have largely been ignored—or twisted so much that it has become a simplistic narrative by which the Indian state justifies its war on the Kashmiri people.
The Indian state blames this “migration” on the Kashmiri Muslims, but many believe the actual history is much more complicated. They suspect an Indian conspiracy to defame the indigenous Kashmiri struggle for freedom and to portray it as religious fanaticism and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. I was born in Kashmir in the year of the Pandit mass exodus. For Kashmiri Muslims like me, who are blamed by trolls on social networks for having caused this painful event whenever we question the Indian state, what actually happened during those years is difficult to understand.
Looking for some answers and a little closure, in 2014 I visited Haal, a village that lies approximately twenty-five miles south of Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar. The population of this village was majority Pandit before 1990. Now, just a single Pandit family lives in their ancestral house among at least one hundred Muslim homes. What I found was the Pandit family, the Bhats, living in peace with their Muslim neighbors, expressing helplessness at the politics of Kashmir but blaming the Indian Army, which has a camp nearby, for harassing them through searches and crackdowns in the 1990s. Although no Pandit from the village was killed, the Indian Army’s constant warnings about how they would not be able to protect them if any untoward incident were to occur forced the Pandits to leave in April 1990.
The Bhat family said that it was at their Muslim neighbors’ insistence and guarantees of safety that they stayed and did not leave. But their house is surrounded by about fifty other Pandit houses, all desolate and abandoned.
“Shrukk” is the Kashmiri word for “knot” or “entanglement.” It connotes the situation of Kashmir. Through my photographs, I have tried to depict the horror of leaving one’s birthplace. I have tried to confine within the frames of my pictures the suffering and helplessness to which not just Pandits, but all Kashmiris, have been subjected. The pictures of derelict and deserted homes with broken windows and forsaken hearths are a portal for travelling into a realm of trouble and conflict, and represent the abandonment that Kashmiri Pandits must have felt when they had to flee Kashmir, leaving their beautiful homes to desolation and ruin.