Paimroo: It was January 1990 and the whole of the Kashmir Valley had erupted against the current administration. I was on my way back to Srinagar from Goa as I heard the news about massive demonstrations in the city. My journey from Jammu in the south to Srinagar was scary in itself. As I reached the Banihal tunnel (opening to the Valley) I could sense the tense situation – the atmosphere was scary and frightening.
After reaching my home in Bal Garden, Karan Nagar, few miles from the city centre Lal Chowk, my Muslim neighbours visited me and asked me that some militants were looking for you (they had a strong network those days). I was shocked and asked, Why me? But then I came to know that they were tracking my landline phone, which previously used to be the number of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (former Indian Home Minister and leader of People’s Democratic Party). They might have thought that I had some connections with him.
Wahid: What forced you to leave your roots, your homeland?
Paimroo: During the night time, loudspeakers from Mosques would blare out slogans like Allah-o-Akbar and we felt terrified and it seemed we were attacked from all sides. Letters were posted everywhere asking us to leave within 24 hours. My father was already in Jammu as he used to stay there to escape harsh winter. I told my wife that we could have risked our lives by staying there but we can’t risk the life of our 3-year-old son. The next day, we left the Valley in our own car and within a few days, almost all the Kashmiri pundits left as well.
Wahid: What was your next stop and how was it living outside the valley?
Paimroo: I was luckily working with a private pharmaceutical company who faced no issues to adjust me in Delhi and then I kept shuttling between Delhi, Pune and Ludhiana. Since I had been travelling across the country, it didn’t matter much. But obviously it was hard to accept the reality that we had to leave our house. Even in Delhi, people didn’t understand our problems and they still don’t have a clue what exactly are our issues.
Wahid: When did you return to Srinagar after that fateful day?
Paimroo: I had to visit Kashmir regarding my job in 1996 and it was the first time since 1990 when we left. And I could see it was still scary. Srinagar was half-burnt and it seemed it was bombed. I felt very sad about it. I went to see my house and to my shock, I found it occupied by ex-militants. My Muslim friends persuaded them to leave it and they did but not taking away whatever was there. The house was in a dilapidated condition, its walls were collapsing and roof leaking. After my return, I convinced my father and got it sold in 2000 (not sure whether it was 2000 or 1998) at a cheaper price. Whenever I would go there, I would sit on the Dal Lake, which once belonged to me. It is painful to lose your home.
Wahid: When did you shift to Srinagar and how does it feel now?
Paimroo: Three months before, I shifted to Athwagan after my wife got a job with Delhi Public School. We have been given an accommodation inside the school premises. Now I have retired from the job so I relax there and keep playing golf. Now the situation is better and I would always pray that it gets even better and peaceful.
Wahid: How was your bonding with Kashmiri Muslims before 1990 and has it changed since?
Paimroo: My Kashmiri Muslim friends participated in the marriage of my engineer son who is now settled in the US. They stayed with us for 3-4 days and were like a family. One-on-one Kashmiri Muslims are fantastic and at individual level we enjoy great friendship but whenever there is a communal atmosphere in any society, minority becomes a victim.
Wahid: What led to the migration of Pandits?
Paimroo: It was an ugly situation and it was terribly sad that we had to leave that place. We were pushed out of the place. There were vested interests behind our migration. It suited some people. There are people saying that Governor Jagmohan was responsible for that. That was all crap and nonsense. The posters were all over the place, asking us to leave within 24 hours. We were obviously frightened.
Wahid: What was the reaction of your neighbours. Didn’t they ask you to stay?
Paimroo: Some of my neighbours asked me to stay back but most of them advised me to leave the place. They were not wrong. I appreciate that as they wanted our security and were worried so asked us to leave. We didn’t care about anything other than saving our lives.
Wahid: Do you think government’s approach was right to shift people to Jammu?
Paimroo: I didn’t see any govt transport taking people out of valley. They were leaving in private trucks. Like they (government) established camps in Jammu, they could have established them in Srinagar as well. With the wisdom of hindsight, we can say that govt should have tried that.
Wahid: Since most of the younger generation of Kashmiri Pandits are settled outside valley. Don’t you think they won’t return unless they have better career options there?
Paimroo: I have a three bedroom flat in Gurgaon. It would have been much better if I had it in Srinagar. My son would have visited me there instead of Gurgaon. In this way we are losing our Kashmiri identity. Yes, our children are settled outside India and across various cities here as well. They don’t have career opportunities back home in Kashmir. But at least these children would have visited their parents in Kashmir. People deserve to be there.
Wahid: Would you recommend gated communities for Pandits who return?
Paimroo: We have to be very practical about it. It isn’t easy to buy a house these days, even in Srinagar. The government should procure some land in the city outskirts and builds houses or even flats, which could be sold to both locals and migrants. In this way we could get back our valley and our Muslim neighbours. We don’t want to and we can’t live in isolated gated communities.
Wahid: What do you think was the motivation behind threatening Pandits to leave?
Paimroo: I don’t know the exact reason why we were asked to leave. There were various militant groups and even among them there were individuals who had different ideologies. Some of them might have thought it was better to throw Pandits out of the valley.
Wahid: What if there would have been a civil society. Do you think it would have prevented the migration?
Paimroo: I can’t blame it on fellow Muslims that they didn’t form any civil society to prevent the migration. The atmosphere was such that everyone was running for his/her life and even if they had tried to do something about it, I am sure that they would have faced the ire. The atmosphere was charged.