As winter strikes Delhi, a middle-aged Vijay Bhat lapses into nostalgia. She happens to be a housewife now but it was not her choice. It was a stroke of destiny that led her to her current status. Otherwise, she used to work at a Government Press in Kashmir.

Winter kindles a fresh memory in her between sips of tea. She now compares the life of Kashmir with that of Delhi during winter. How the winter used to be in Kashmir - how her mom-dad, siblings and relatives used to organise family gatherings at each other’s house. Vijay had spent almost 20 years of her life in Kheer Bhawani, which forms part of Ganderbal district of Kashmir. Everything was beautiful and perfect there until the insurgency reared its ugly face. Their beautiful home turned into a scary place for them.

In the early ‘90s, the Kashmiri Pandits started migrating from the Valley and the Bhat family was one of them, it was a heart-wrenching moment for everyone, they did not have any other option but to leave their motherland. "I have grown up with my Muslim friends, our parents never discriminated between us. We actually have celebrated all festivals together, but as the situation was getting worse day by day, our neighbours (Muslims) advised my family to leave the place," says Vijay. She further says, "The Kashmiri Pandits very well knew who all people were members of terrorist organisations and whom the terrorists are gonna kill next in the Valley. The Muslims were our neighbours, although they became members of the terrorist organisations, they did have a soft corner for us, therefore, before attacking any Hindu family they used to inform that family to leave the place so that Hindu families do not get killed." It is true that Vijay does not hold the entire Kashmiri Muslim community responsible for everything she and her family had to suffer but at the same time, she does not trust them wholely now.

Like every Kashmiri Pandit, if Vijay and her family get a chance then they will head back to their native place to once again and start a new life there, they just want the government to help them in this matter. Vijay really misses her home, she misses her work and she says that if she goes back to Kashmir then she would again start working like she did in her older days. Vijay mentions that before her marriage when her family shifted to Jammu, the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan, had promised the people that he would provide them a secure job and they would not have to leave their motherland, but destiny planned something else for the Kashmiris. But now as the Indian Government has abrogated Article 370 and Article 35 (a), the Kashmiri Pandits have got a new ray of hope. Vijay also says, "I would love to settle down back to Kashmir but I do not want any discrimination between Hindus and Muslims. It would be great if Hindus and Muslims live together and work together once again."

Even Vijay's daughter Simran supports her mother. Simran says, "I was not there when all these things happened in Kashmir but I feel all of them. If my parents want to settle back in Kashmir, we will support them."

Like her parents, she also was very happy when Article 370 and 35 (a) were abrogated, not just because Kashmiri Pandits could go back but also because she thinks that now Kashmir will get a chance to make rapid progress and development. She says, “A lot of things will change now as there is no separate law for the state now. There will be new opportunities that may flourish there. Many big companies will come and set up their business there, the economy will get better, the standard of living will get better. With more companies and brands coming in, it will have a positive effect on the growth of the state.”

After 1990, the life in Kashmir became the worst for the Pandits, but the abrogation of Article 370 has infused the hope of starting a new life in Kashmir afresh.

Photo: Manish Rajput