The excitement, emotion, compassion, and fear were visible at the celebration of the abrogation of Article 370 and integration of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions into India as well as giving hope of visiting the lost land.
People from various community organizations showcased their solidarity with Kashmiris over Kashmiri Kahwas (tea)at the India Community Center in Milpitas, California, on Aug. 11, at the event hosted by the Kashmiri Hindu Foundation (KHF).
Naveen Zalpuri, an activist and one of the core members of the KHF, told indica on the sidelines of the celebration of learning about the abrogation of Article 370, “I was so excited I did not sleep for first three days.”
Zalpuri, who had to leave his hometown of Sri Nagar when he was 15 years old, said he followed each and every news report possible, even the Raj Sabha and deliberation happening at the Lok Sabha, and followed every possible source both nationally and internationally.
“I was excited, and this is the most wonderful week. It’s still hard to believe,” Zalpuri said, recalling 1989 and how his family had to escape his home the night of Jan.19,1990. Even though his father was a bank officer, Zalpuri said, it wasn’t easy not just for him but half a million who moved out of Kashmir.
“I first thought we would be back (in Sri Nagar) in three months, but that never happened,” he said. The threat of being killed and the announcement made through a loudspeaker at the mosque would say if you are kafir (polytheist) either leave or convert to Islam. “Oh, we have gone through a lot of trouble,” said Zalpuri
When asked if he will visit Kashmir now, Zalpuri said, “I don’t think so. But abrogation of Article 370, it’s not just about the Kashmiri pandit, it’s about the idea of India. Might be I have not benefitted right away, but what is important is that India as a union of states and India as one big country under one flag and under one constitution.”
“And the way it has been implemented, I don’t think they have any other way. Sometimes hard things called for certain ideas,” said Zalpuri.
Kuldeep Trisal, another Kashmiri native, had to leave when he was 9 years old with his uncle, but his mother stayed behind. While talking to indica and recalling the fear he still feels, Trisal said his Muslim friend Kabool (name changed for safety reasons) was the first to call him on the night on Aug. 5 to congratulate him on the abrogation of Article 370.
“He called and was excited,” said Trisal, pointing toward Kabool standing beside him.
Trisal said he lived with his uncle in Andhra Pradesh but would visit his mother, who used to teach first Sanskrit and Hindi, but since no one was left to study the two languages. She again did a master’s in Kashmiri and taught that the Kashmiri language written in Urdu script.
Trisal, sounding a little emotional, said his mother stayed behind alone, and they had a big house in Chanapora Srinagar. In 1994 the militants occupied the house, the army would come, and she was forced to sell it. She moved to a temple along with other Hindus.
Sharing further how bad the situation was there in Kashmir, Trisal said he has to wear a fake beard to look like a Muslim to visit his mother. “The fear was always there,” he said. “Honestly, I am not against the Muslim because I feel they are also the biggest sufferers. The Islamic ideology was coming from the mosque, and he (Kabool) has the courage to speak. But a lot of Muslims don’t open their mouths because they are scared.”
“Time will tell now, about the consequences,” he said. “I used to visit wearing a beard and to look like a Muslim. When the army stops you they talk to you normally, but point the gun at you and pat down, then you face militants, again. And this happened until 2005. Presently it was much better,” he said.
Kabool, who was not confident in giving his real name, told indica he is afraid because his family is back home in Kashmir.
On abrogation of Article 370, Kabool said, “It was expected. We all have our own perspective, and I feel this is genuine. This action, they should have done this 40 years ago”
He said, “The fear is there of the consequences. We cannot say the fear is gone, not yet.”
“Mental health is very important right now because there was so much turmoil there,” he said, adding that he hopes people will manage.
But the new fear is that others will come and dominate, he said. Hopes are that the government puts some limits on outside investment. “There should be some domicile cap on investment or property.”
“We want a good investment,” he said referring to Kashmir.
Sharing his view on terrorism he said it will calm down, “I think it is politics and intentional issues.”
“Look, local (Kashmiris) never had said in the government. I grew up under the influence and part of that influence, the fear is all over South Asia and Kashmir I feel was the concentration of that fear,” said Kabool.
Ankit Monga, founder and president of KHF sharing his thoughts at the celebration, said the revocation of Article 370 and 35A, the formation of two new union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and of Ladakh from the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the biggest event in the history of independent India.
After three decades of forced exodus, Aug. 5, 2019, will go down in the history books as a day as important as Aug. 15, Indian Independence Day.
“I think Kashmiri Hindus finally see a ray of hope to settle back in our motherland or at least visit the place, not as a visitor but as our own land,” said Monga. That hope will only get fulfilled if the government of India takes steps to declare all the properties sold by the displaced Kashmiri Pandits after 1989-90, as “Distress Sales” and declare such sales null and void and, accordingly, restore possession of the properties back to respective Kashmiri Pandits, who were recorded owners. In addition, a high powered commission led by Supreme Court justice to look into Kashmir Hindu genocide and punish the culprits.
“If these key steps don’t occur, then Kashmiri Hindu heritage and identity is forever at risk to perish. Survival is our only politics and getting back our motherland is our only dream,” he told indica.
Also at the celebration was Mihir Meghani, board member and co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), who said, “One of the greatest days of my life will be when Kashmiri Hindus can walk around Dal Lake without worrying about their lives and with Indian flags hanging from houses.”
He told indica on the abrogation of the Article370 that while laws have changed, they have much work to do to correct the false narrative being spread. The changes that the Indian government made were done in a legal and democratic process to provide equal rights to all the people of the former state.
“We should all devote some energy to getting out the reality that the regions of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh are integral and ancient parts of India,” said Meghani, adding that recent changes in how the regions are administered are meant to improve the education, health and economic opportunities of the people of the state, and that most people of the former state and the overwhelming majority of the people of India, members of India’s Parliament, and political parties wanted these legal changes to happen.
The Hindu American Foundation looks forward to continuing the partnership with the Kashmir Hindu Foundation that began this summer where they jointly advocated on Capitol Hill for Kashmiri Hindus, he said.
“We urge people to tell the U.S. Congress you support the Indian government’s move toward resolving the Kashmir Conflict by contacting their representative and telling them you support the Indian government’s abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A,” he said.