The tragic story of modern day Kashmir has always symbolised different things to different audiences. For the liberals and the left-inclined, Kashmir is about the ill treatment of a vulnerable Muslim populace and unenlightened repression by a militarised state. For conservatives and the right, especially for those tinged with Hindutva ideals, Kashmir is entirely about Pakistani cross-border meddling and the ethnic cleansing of the Pandit community from the Kashmir valley.
In this polarised debate - with the Kashmiri Pandits neglected by the liberals because the Hindu right adopted them - the government and large swathes of the intelligentsia and the media have glossed over the brutalisation, eviction and subsequent cold-shouldering of an entire community. It was almost as if there was an unspoken compact: in a tragedy as numbing as that of Kashmir, why churlishly quibble about a lakh or so Pandits? Like with the Jewish community in pre-world war Europe, the Pandits' affluence and education have worked to their disadvantage, allowing the subliminal rationale that this elitist community had somehow brought upon themselves their fate.
Rahul Pandita's deeply felt book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots, is an unapologetic challenge to this neglect of the plight of the Pandits. This is not the shrill rhetoric of the Hindutva right, which exploited the imagery of an evicted Hindu minority even while the BJP-National Conference J&K government did nothing for the Pandit refugees in Jammu besides packing them into hellish camps. Instead, Pandita presents a moving personal account, from a liberal personal perspective, of how scared and vulnerable Pandit families were transformed into apparently permanent refugees. By naming victims and detailing accounts of the intimidation, threats, violence and massacres that drove tens of thousands of Pandit families out of their homes in the valley, the author has effectively humanised a story that dry statistics and partisan accusations have never yet brought to life.
For that reason, Our Moon Has Blood Clots is essential reading for any student of the Kashmir issue. Challenging monochromatic clichés that romanticise the myth of a culturally and communally homogenous Kashmiri society, Pandit states up-front: "I have made it my mission to talk about the 'other story' of Kashmir." Referring to the media's obsession with the suffering of Kashmiri Muslims, and the ignoring of the Muslims' victimization of the Pandits, he declares: "I have become determined that my memory must come in the way of this untrue history."
Weighed down by the burden of activism, and also perhaps from being an experienced media person rather than a writer, Our Moon Has Blood Clots ends up less a work of literature than an exceptional piece of journalism. The clunky title, paraphrased from Pablo Neruda's "Oh, My Lost City," jars rather than captivates. And the excessive use of Kashmiri words, intended apparently to give an authentic flavour, might succeed in that mainly with Kashmiri readers.
The literary device that does work terrifically is the account, in the words of Pandita's uncle, of the 1947 invasion of the Kashmir valley by Pathan tribal lashkars, organised by the Pakistan Army. As the tribal invaders sweep down the Jhelum, from Uri to Baramulla to the outskirts of Srinagar itself, their targeting of Pandit families and the immediate divisions that emerge between Muslim and Pandit, presages the divisions of 1990 and after.
The author deserves enormous credit for preventing the book from becoming a rant against Kashmiri Muslims, even while painstakingly documenting the slow ratcheting up of pressure against the Pandit community, from insidious threats to overt violence, to killings and full-scale massacres. The book is as unsparing of the exploitative Jammu officials, landlords and contractors, who viewed the Pandit refugee influx as a burden before realising that this was a cash cow that could be milked almost endlessly. The author manages even through his obvious bitterness to maintain the distance of the observer, reluctant to judge his Muslim friends even when they - shaped apparently by their own ordeals - were unable or unwilling to grasp his outstretched hand.
Our Moon Has Blood Clots passes the most important test of a book: it leaves you wanting more. Random House India has produced a slim, handsome hardback with a readable font, for which it deserves credit. In the final balance, Rahul Pandita has produced a notable addition to the literature on Jammu & Kashmir, one that sheds light on an under-explored facet of the state's history.
OUR MOON HAS BLOOD CLOTS: THE EXODUS OF THE KASHMIRI PANDITS
Random House, India
253 pages; Rs 499