Kashmir As a Palimpsest of Violence: Reading The Wonder House (2005) and The Homecoming (2008)

Mohammad Atif

Mysterious mountains, intriguing rivers and picturesque valleys, caught between political controversy, insurgency, militancy and infiltration: Kashmir has been a topic of interest for many writers. Throughout history, Kashmir has been known for its scenic beauty and closeness towards nature while being there. But in the past half century, these valleys have moved past their love for scenic beauty, become engulfed with political instability and have been an active warfront for India, Pakistan and China. The political instability has disrupted lives of many innocent families trying to lead a simple life. As is the case in any land going through tough times, the dingy valleys and silent mountains of Kashmir too have witnessed many innocent lives ending or leaving their homeland in search of a better life elsewhere.

In this paper, I will write about two things- first, how the domestic lives are disrupted because of alienation and second, argue against the stereotypical assumption that Muslims in Kashmir are untouched by the violence, by showing how lives of Hamid and Javed of Shashi Warrier’s novel The Homecoming, and some characters of Justine Hardy’s novel The Wonder House, are affected by the violence. And finally, conclude that there always are immoral forces that get the better of a situation, benefit from it and try perpetuating it. These forces are not controlled by hatred of a particular section of society or religion, but by the absence of love and compassion for fellow human beings. In Kashmir, not only the Pundits who migrated, suffered, but the general Muslims who stayed behind and watched the drama unfold suffered too. In short, humanity as a whole suffered.

Kashmiri Pundits and Migration

The issue of migration of Kashmiri Pundits has been a hotly debated topic. The references given in this paper tell that a lot of writers have expressed their opinions on this topic. A mass migration of Pundits took place in late 1980s and early 1990s. The migrants who were forced out of their homes lived in refugee camps at Delhi and Jammu and suffered endlessly.

Tanvi Misra, from NDTV Media Institute, in her paper on Kashmiri Pundits has given reference of a ‘report issued in 2005 entitled The Impact of Migration on the Socio-Economic Conditions of Kashmiri Displaced People by the Jammu and Kashmir Centre for Minority Studies came up with some shocking conclusions about the physical and mental state of those in camps. Among others it finds that “An alarming 79% of migrants suffer from depression, while 76% suffer from anxiety disorders such as phobias and panic attacks. 8% even suffer from delusional disorders and psychosis.”(Jammu and Kashmir Centre for Minority Studies 2005)’

The number of Kashmiri Pundits who migrated has been reported several times. Government reports have been rejected by Kashmir Pundit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS). In the year 2008 KPSS initiated an Independent Census Program of the Kashmiri Pundits living in the Valley and visited every nook and corner of the State to collect the data related to the Kashmiri Pundits viz-a-viz population (pre 1990 upto 31.03.2008), Killings, temples, health, jobs, financial status and other important factors.

Population (Pre 1989 upto 31.03.2008) / Migration

No.Time PeriodKashmiri Pundit Population
Kashmir Valley FamiliesMigration Families% Age
1Till Jan 01, 199075,343--
2Jan 01,1990 - Aug 31, 199040,74134,60245.93
3Oct 01, 1990 - Mar 31, 19926,46034,28184.14
4Apr 01, 1992 - Mar 31, 19983,7732,68741.59
5Apr 01, 1998 - Mar 31, 20086513,12282.74
Total74,69299.14 %

These figures reveal that out of 75,343 (3, 67,289 souls) families; 74,692 (3, 64,130 souls i.e. 99.14%) families of Kashmiri Pundits living in Valley opted for migration from time to time. It has been assumed that Muslims are untouched by the conditions. The exact number of Muslim families affected by the violence has never been reported.

Muslims As Victims of Violence in Kashmir

The Muslims in general have also suffered in Kashmir as the fanatics who are the propagators of violence can never remain restricted to a particular community. Those living near the border had to leave for refugee camps because of constant shelling. Shashi Warrier in The Homecoming talks of Hamid, a distant cousin of Javed. He lived at his farm in Rajouri with his wife Salma and his son Najib. “Hamid and his family, it turns out have arrived after an exhausting, frightening bus journey from Rajouri via a migrant camp at Jammu. ‘We left Rajouri the day before yesterday,’ Hamid explains, ‘a little late in the morning. They told us Jammu had camps for people who had to leave Rajouri because of shelling…’” (Warrier 199). Shelling from Pakistan side first had damaged his farm killing six of his workers and then a stray shell had damaged his house. He too, along with his wife and son, had to leave his place like Kashmiri Pundits. “He’s about forty, Salma five years younger. He is too old to learn a new trade, and he has a wife and son to look after. As things stand, none of them has a future”(Warrier 203). The army had also taken Masood’s neighbour for interrogation, who died some time later. “It had been complicated because his right lung had still been so weak. One of his ribs had punctured during three days of interrogation at the Fairy palace above the lake, the place he and his sons had been taken to on Eid night, and where the two boys were still said to be” (Warrier 215).

Javed is the protagonist of Shashi Warrier’s The Homecoming. Like other migrants, he too left Kashmir, though not due to political reasons, but to earn a living. By the time he decided to come back and retire in Kashmir, the political scenario of Kashmir had completely changed. While coming back, a couple of policemen stopped him and checked through his luggage. His children had grown in this environment, it was common for them but not for him. He was infuriated by this act and sought help from his childhood friend Ghulam who was an Inspector only to be turned down by him. His father discouraged him when he told him his plan of retiring in Kashmir, and said, “The world is different, Javed. This place is not what it was when you left it” (Warrier 10). He was thought of as an outsider by his own family members who presumed that he had lost touch with the homeland.

The direct cause of violence is different for characters of Warrier but they are essentially victims of violence. The Kashmiris lived in fear of army and terrorists alike. Houses were raided by army personnel or police searching for militants. In Justine Hardy’s novel The Wonder House there are instances throwing light on oppression by the army. Major Kumar came to Masood Abdullah’s house one day and started questioning him. He brought some soldiers with him who “… were pushing around the Eid dishes, knocking lids on to the floor, spilling a bowl of pulav, the rice, cashew and raisins scattering around their boots” (Hardy 115). Similarly, the house of Zamruda Parveen had been raided some time back, her husband and sons had been taken away for interrogation and were never found again. Zamruda had been to every possible location where they might have been taken or imprisoned, in vain. One day while returning from the market Lila Abdullah was raped by soldiers.

Militants troubled the natives for food and shelter, threatened them, and many families had to give in unwillingly. Like the house of the farmer where Irfan’s group and his commander stayed: “The militants are demanding shelter and food from them…”(Hardy 312). Initially, the farmer unwillingly provided them with food and shelter, but later he turned them in to the army.

If the families suffered sandwiched between the army and militants, they could have worse fate. They got involved in “terrorist” activities. This is more painful, because it is not only a suffering for body, but mind too. The Muslims who were brainwashed into “terrorist” activities too were, in a way, victims! “He’s also being manipulated, isn’t he? When he comes and shoots someone who really gains? Not him, believe me, he’s a victim too”(Warrier 205). For example, Irfan Abdullah of Shashi Warrier’s The Homecoming and Parvez Parveen of Justine Hardy’s The Wonder House had taken up arms. Irfan realised his mistake and came back, but only after he had bombed four unarmed soldiers. Because of Parvez’s mistake, his brother and father were also taken for interrogation and were never found again.

The children also suffer in Kashmir because of violence. Hassan, a doctor said he had seen a lot of cases like Najib. Afsaana Rashid of The WIP in her report dated August 29, 2008 talks about the effect that circumstances in Kashmir had on children. She writes, ‘Dr. Bashir Ahmad Dabla, former Sociology Department Head at the University of Kashmir, says the conflict has caused out-of-control behavior and attitude in many children, increasing delinquency and school dropout rates (now up to 40%). Dr. G. A.Wani, a psychiatrist, says that children in the schools of Baramulla, Tangmarg, Badgam and Rajbagh showed signs of depression and hysteria after being examined. Often these signs are not recognized or acknowledged by parents, mainly because of social stigma attached to psychiatric disorders. Fearing social rejection, many do not seek counseling for their children. Educationally disturbed, physically ruined, mentally tortured, socially isolated and politically harassed, many of the children fall between society’s cracks. “Ten years ago, we did not get more than 30 such patients a day. Today, we examine nearly 200 such cases,” says Dr. Wani.’ Hamid’s son Najib had been affected mentally:

Hamid’s eyes show pain, but Najib’s are haunted with something deeper. He is only a child, and my heart goes out to him. He hasn’t spoken a word since he got here. I pat his head and he looks with those liquid, haunted eyes. He hangs on to his father and never goes more than a few feet away, looking at Hamid every now and then as if for assurance. Occasionally, he trembles (Warrier 207).

Mental rupture is only the tip of an iceberg. There are physical traumas too. The stories of Najib and Hamid represent in microcosm the reality of existence for all Kashmiris. The stereotypical assumption that Muslims are untouched by the circumstances is wrong as it is only a political interpretation of the suffering milieu in terms of religious background. There were many Muslims along with the Hindus who had to endure sufferings and bear loss of a peaceful life and property because of the circumstances. Hence, I conclude that violence cannot be confined to any particular community. It is pervasive in Kashmir and every section of society, irrespective of religion, is affected.

A question arises who stands to gain from this whole fiasco? Not Kashmiri Hindus, not Kashmiri Muslims. Shashi Warrier has given a reply in The Homecoming- ‘I would say the Pakistanis are the only ones who stand to gain. They point their rougher elements that have come over from Afghanistan, all their drug runners and gun runners, at the Indians… And they have an old grudge against the Indians- Bangladesh’(Warrier 205). By Pakistanis, Shashi Warrier does not mean the general people of Pakistan, but those who despise India. As far as the question of India leaving Kashmir is concerned Javed says, “Do you think there can ever be peace? Now that the militancy has brought Afghans and Pakistanis into Kashmir, what do you think will happen? Even if Indians do eventually agree to withdraw from Kashmir, will these people leave quietly? Or will they rule you? Will they ever be able to put down the sword by which they live?” (Warrier 27)

The answers to all these are yet to be known. As the Kashmiris continue to live a life of depravity, the violence continues to control their destiny. Both the literary works point out the life-changing events of families who are, psychologically and physically, victims of continued and incessant violence. The futility of human lives are constantly highlighted- a gloom, dark reality in today’s Kashmir.


References

  1. Warrier, Shashi. The Homecoming. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.
  2. Hardy, Justine. The Wonder House. New York: Atlantic Books Ltd., 2005. Print.
  3. Centre for Minority Studies. (2006). Report on the Impact of Migration on the Socio-economic Conditions of Kashmiri Displaced People. J&K Centre for Minority Studies. Jammu, India
  4. Kashmiri-information.wordpress.com. “Main camp sites in Jammu and Main camp sites in Delhi”. Kashmir Information Network. 14 April 2013 < http://kashmir-information.com/Miscellaneous/genocide.html>.
  5. Misra, Tanvi. “Dopesheet, NDTV Media Institute, Batch 5”. ndtvmi.com. Dopesheet. < http://www.ndtvmi.com/b5/B5_Dopesheets/Tanvi_Dope.pdf >
  6. Rashid, Afsaana. “Violence Touches “each family living in Kashmir””. Thewip.com. 29 August 2008. 14 April 2013 .
  7. Tickoo, Sanjay K. “99.14% Kashmiri Pandits forced to migrate out of Kashmir”. Press Release. Thekashmir.wordpress.com. Ed. Sanjay K. Tickoo. 7 April 2010. 14 April 2013 < http://thekashmir.wordpress.com/tag/kpss/>.
  8. yarikul.com. “Current Status and political divisions of Kashmir”. 14 April 2013 .

Mohammad Atif iscp pursuing B.E.(Hons) in Mechanical Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science(BITS), Pilani. This article is based on his visit to Kashmir during a research visit to Kashmir in the summer of 2012.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: