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I am a Kashmiri Pandit, and with the curtains finally falling on Article 370, I feel empowered and vindicated

My family and I had been waiting with bated breath as the anxiety through the night gave us feelers about something bold in the offing. There was no way we could keep calm. After many years, the night felt long, very long. Fingers crossed, we hoped our destiny would take a fresh new turn in due course of time, and were thankfully proven right!

Yesterday, as the curtains to the ongoing suspense prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir fell, the whole of India erupted in a unanimous wave of joy. Not just the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, but every Indian who feels the pain of our community, exhibited similar sentiments. Together, the Hindus living outside their homeland along with patriotic Indians witnessed the historic events unfold.

My family and I had been waiting with bated breath as the anxiety through the night. There was no way we could keep calm. After many years, the night felt long, very long. Fingers crossed, we hoped our destiny would take a fresh new turn in due course of time, and were thankfully proven right!

As a Kashmiri Pandit woman, mother, wife, and daughter, a golden moment in history was waiting to be scripted. Finally, when Home Minister (HM) Amit Shah let the cat out of the bag in Rajya Sabha by announcing the “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill,” my happiness knew no bounds. The declaration inundated my heart with a million emotions.

Subconsciously, my eyes were transfixed on the television screen. The joy of witnessing the historic occasion unravel in my lifetime appeared like a dream. I had to pinch myself hard to come back to make sense of it. Then, one after the other, HM demolished the lies, deceit, and propaganda of 70+ years that had been lurking over our rights to a dignified life. Thereafter, every word sounded like sweet music to my ears. Then, tears of joy rolled down, making way through the floodgates.

Suddenly, my 9-year-old son, who was watching TV with us, said, “Mumma, now that Kashmir is a UT when can we return home?” His words hit me like a bullet. After all, Kashmir is the land of our ancestors, where our roots belong and our souls yearn to return!

His heartwarming statement forced me to step out of my thoughts and feel the reality, up and close. A few seconds later, it all began to sink in. That is when we hugged and made merry. We sang and danced. We screamed hard and let the emotions flow uninterrupted.

Three decades of struggle and a million sacrifices later, finally the Government of India (GoI) had grabbed the bull by its horns to serve justice to the now ‘displaced aboriginal peace-loving community’ of the valley. Well begun is half done, and this move has indeed set the precedent for the next course of actions in line with serving complete justice to the Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, Ladakhis, Gujjars, Bakarwals, Dogras, and all other communities that have been at the receiving end of the step-motherly treatment by the Muslim leadership. Justice delayed is justice denied. But for our community justice has been elusive thus far!

If you come to think of it, all it took a strong political will, since independence, to correct the “historical wrongs.” A moment of pride embraced us with warmth when the strong-headed government, chose to ignore the threats by local politicians, to prove what robust grit and determination mean. The J&K Reorganisation bill tabled by HM Shah, mirrors his party’s stand, promises, and commitments towards the people of India. It certainly needed a Modi and Shah to meet the aspirations of the real stakeholders of the Kashmir issue.

This political Jodi is well known to beat the odd and swim against the tide. While the hopes were pinned on Modi-led GoI, these two made the impossible look this easy!

By bifurcating J&K into two Union Territories vis-a-vis Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, the GoI, in one masterstroke, has undone the historic wrong. The local leaders did not expect a shock value this magnitude and have since been left in a tizzy. The dynastic politicians who are crying foul now, are the same who remained mute spectators, while an intellectual community was left to fend for itself. The horrors of 19 January 1990 and beyond still give us goosebumps! In one night, the KPs were forced into their 7th exodus in history. In a well-planned massacre, the entire community was forced to run for their lives.

That night, the tranquil air of Kashmir suddenly became sombre when loudspeakers blared threats to leave our homes or be prepared to face the wrath. In the blink of an eye, all you could hear is the hate speeches and sloganeering against Pandits, who suddenly became kafirs. The cacophonous slogans such as Agar Kashmir Main Rehna Hoga, Allah-u-Akbar Kehna Hoga (If you want to live in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-u-Akbar), Battav Ya Raliv, Chaliv nate’ Galiv” (Pandits- either join us/convert, leave or die) and Aes gacche’ Kasheer, Batav ros’ te’ batnev saan (We want Kashmir – without the Pandit men but with Pandit women) amongst a score of other spine chilling war cries made us shiver in fear, anger, and disgust.

As a six-year-old, that night, I remember my panicky mother ordering my maternal family to pack our bags and be ready to leave Srinagar in the dead of the night. We were perplexed and shocked, without a clue. My grandparents were not ready to absorb the news and threw a fit. They bombarded my mother with a volley of questions, which unfortunately she had no answers. Later that night, as the rain Gods grieved along, we were bundled into a truck that quietly steered out of Kashmir, pushing our future into a pit of uncertainties, miseries, and struggles.

The nightmare of that dark night continues to linger on, generation after generation.

Our elders, who were forced by circumstances to unwillingly migrate, had a hard time making adjustments for the longest period. I witnessed my mother’s grandmother, who had fine eyesight even at age 90+, succumb to heatstroke. Till her death, she clung on to her culture and tradition, refusing to compromise her food and lifestyle habits despite living in a comparatively warmer geographical locale.

Like her, every household has a heartbreaking story buried deep within that subconscious corner. We believe, our elders still await justice for the atrocities they endured and today they would be smiling.

Therefore, the historic decision is in a way, gratification for the tyranny that many like my mother’s grandmother have endured for no fault!

Ever since my phone is abuzz with calls, and messages on social media with congratulatory messages about the GoI’s tough stances on Article 370. The participation of Indians in this glorious moment speaks volumes about the ills that had created a divide between us and them.

As temporary, draconian, and discriminatory, Article 370 started to crumble into pieces, one bit at a time, our hearts skipped a million beats. It gives us immense pleasure to thank the GoI for their decisive stand on this biased provision, responsible for a million problems that Kashmir is facing today.

For the uninitiated, scrapping of Article 370 (and Article 35A) from Jammu and Kashmir will usher in a new dawn of opportunities and make J&K “accessible” to Indians. As I write this, the bill has made it through the Lok Sabha too with a massive mandate of 367 (Yeses) vs 67 (noes). One word to sum up these events and my feelings right now is – WOW!

At the moment, the entire Kashmiri Pandit community could not have asked for more. The new bill is certainly the gateway to hope, peace, development, and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir. We are taking it as writing on the wall that this bold move will end the step-motherly treatment given to Jammu and Ladakh regions comprising the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, Kashmir province has a lesser geographical composition compared to Jammu and Ladakh while 1% of the population living there thrived on 10% of funds (taxpayers money) that too with zero accountability. The bifurcation of J&K into two UTs is a significant move in terms of Centre’s penetration (within J&K) that was missing until now.

Today is a day when the historic wrongs have been rectified. We want to live this moment, undiluted. Today, our souls feel liberated from the shackles of the punitive laws. We feel empowered and vindicated. This bold move emboldens the struggle of our community and manifests our unflinching desire to reclaim our glorious past! Today, we feel India is on the verge of taking a giant leap, across the bridges, inching closer towards our lost paradise – Kashmir!

Waking up to a new dawn post Article 370, ushering and embracing new opportunities seems like a dream come true.

It matters not how fast light may travel, darkness shall always be there awaiting its arrival- Mark W Boyer. I rest my case!

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