Since 2006, I have visited Kashmir number of times. When I first went to Kashmir after 16 years, I was impressed by the hospitality of the Kashmiri Muslims. I recall vividly, my first visit to Nehru Park in 2006.I was sporting a “Tilak” on my forehead. There was a man selling “ Makai wat”( Maize/ corn).He was saying,” 5 rupaiy ka Ek, 5 rupaiye ka ek”(one corn for 5 rupees).I too approached him, and said in Kashmiri,” Kya se lala, yutah drogh kyazi chuk kinaan?”(why are you selling it so costly?).His face suddenly beamed with glee, He said, “ Oh ! you are a Kashmiri Pandit!, you are my brother, For you it is just 3 Rupees”. I was really touched.
I again visited in 2007, 2008.In 2009, I stayed in a rented room at Rajbagh for 2 months. I was repeatedly getting a feeling that Kashmir will return to pre-1990.I even purchased a plot of land near Avantipura from a Sardarjee. I made new Kashmiri muslim friends in Kashmir. I even used to joke with them about their favorite separatist Politian or Pakistan. Many times I used derogatory words for their chosen leaders or for Pakistan. I even had a religious discussion with them. They did not mind at all on the choice of words that I used in these discussions.
But my recent visit belied my faith, I had developed in my previous visits, forcing me to believe once again that Kashmir is not safe. At least not for Hindus.
Just a week back,I drove to Kashmir with my Dogra friend-Amit and my Business partner Atul from Haryana. The forced exile to jammu has made me learn to speak Dogri and Punjabi fluently. During most of our journey, we spoke in Punjabi. We reached to Jawahar tunnel at around 5p.m.We were stopped by two policemen. The name plate on their uniform suggested that they were Muslims. They asked us to come out of the car. We obliged. They asked us our names. Their faces suddenly hardened upon hearing our names. “Show the documents of this car” said one policeman in an authoritative tone. I promptly did as he desired. All the documents were up-to-date. Then suddenly, the other policeman hurled philippics on Atul accusing us all of smuggling opium. We all protested. In the meanwhile, many local taxis passed-by and the Drivers of the taxis waved their hands to the two policemen saying loud, “Asalaam-walikaum”. The policemen waved back while they said “Salaam”. The two policemen checked our vehicle in detail. The footmats, carpet, Bonet, seats, Dashboard, everything was checked. The whole operation took at least an hour. We were allowed to go later on. We were all feeling humiliated by their invidious behavior. Atul said repeatedly that we were targeted because of being Hindus.
Somehow, we reached Srinagar. I took my friends to a lodge at Rajbagh. Atul always wanted to stay in a Houseboat and I had assured him that we will sure stay at Houseboat at least for a night after a couple of days. we were at Kashmir in connection with a business deal.
I could visibly feel a difference in the attitude of the local KM’s. They seem to have a visible resentment and hatred towards us, whenever they came to know about our names. The bonhomie, it seems has again got lost somewhere. I could again feel from the eyes of the KM’s, what I had felt in 1989-90.I was scared this time. And I was not wrong.
As, I had promised Atul,I took him to a Houseboat near Nehru Park, Dal-gate. We took a “Shikara”(boat) to reach the other side , where there are number of Houseboats. Atul started a conversation with the Manager/owner of the Houseboat. The Manager agreed for Rs 1200/night/room for all three of us. In order to re-confirm with me, Atul said in Punjabi ,” Is this rate OK” .I too answered in Punjabi, “yes”. As we were talking to the manager, a person came into the Houseboat and started speaking to the Manager in Kashmiri, “Are they tourists?”, the manager said,”yes”, “Are they Hindus ”asked he. The manager said, “yes, they are”. Suddenly he raised his tone and said loudly in Kashmiri to the Manager, “ Let us kill them all tonight”. The manager didn’t answer.
They didn’t knew that I too was a Kashmiri. My friends didn’t knew what had transpired. I calmly intercepted the two Kashmiri muslims, as I said in Punjabi,” We will go and fetch our luggage”. The manager nodded his head in agreement, While the other man used scurrilous language for our group in Kashmiri. I asked deliberately to the Manager,” What did he say?” The Manager said,” he is saying OK, Let them stay here”, I smiled at the Manager. He smiled back. I asked my friends to leave that place. When we reached the other side of the lake near the Road, I narrated them the whole episode. They were shocked and scared. We decided to return to our previous lodge at Rajbagh and leave the valley early morning.
These incidents, I believe are a pre-cursor to the incidents that are going to follow. I sometimes used to think that KP’s shouldn’t have left the valley, even in 1990.But looking at the recent events that took place with me, Kashmiri pandits did the right thing. I don’t know why, but my Kashmiri Muslim friends have again got into the mould of 1990.The emerging trend is dangerous. Many more lives will be lost before the peace will dawn again in the valley which Sage Kashyap drained thousands of years back. I have my fingers crossed.
Narrated byRavinder Koul