(Subhashini Ali is former MP, former Member of the National Commission for Women and Vice President of the All India Democratic Women's Association.
Exile from one's home is difficult to bear even when the decision to leave has been made voluntarily. When the exile has been forced upon not just an individual or a family, but upon an entire community, the wounds it inflicts never heal; their scabs split open at the slightest touch. And when this forced exile is one that is surrounded by silence, when those exiled have no listeners for their dirges, no sharers for tales of the pain of enforced and inexplicable separation from all that was familiar and theirs, when their very real injuries are refused recognition, then exile becomes an unending nightmare from which there is no escape.
24 years ago, in the bitter cold of January 1990, a small trickle of Kashmiri Pandits who were leaving their beloved Valley to prevent the humiliation of becoming refugees in Jammu soon developed into a flood of terror-stricken people who were suddenly denied the right to live in their own homes for no reason other than their religion.
The strident cries for 'Azadi' that had started resounding in the Valley some months before had turned into threatening war cries. Azadi took on new definitions. In addition to liberation from the oppressor's rule, it assumed first a religious dimension, and then a religious core. Once that happened, it could no longer be inclusive or national, it had to become exclusive and sectarian.
The victims could hardly believe their descent from being neighbours who spoke the same language, revelled in the same music and poetry and were bewitched by the same beauty, scents and magical properties of their beloved Valley to becoming aliens who could no longer be allowed to share a common space because its very nature was to be transformed from one that could accommodate difference to one that was to be forced into becoming part of another, unaccommodating whole.
Nothing has captured the tumult of those months and the unending tragedy that followed more poignantly than Rahul Pandita's memoir, "My Moon Has Blood Clots", published in 2012. There is hurt on every page. The hurt of betrayal. The hurt of friends turning strangers. The hurt of the loss of home. The hurt of the realization that the loss is permanent. There is hurt at the silence that this hurt evoked.
Perhaps the silence was the result of the fact that the tragedy engulfing the exiled was very soon rendered small and insignificant by the magnitude and dimensions of the tragedy that befell those responsible. The sorrows and deprivation suffered by an entire community condemned to a life in camps and cramped rooms; a life of humiliation suffered at the hands of their co-religionist hosts; a life of poverty and despair; a life of loss of status and identity. All these were soon dwarfed by the horrors, the violence and violations that those who turned their backs on them have had to endure after their enforced departure. The Kashmiri Muslims were caught between the violence of the militants and the security forces.
Whatever the reason for it, the silence cannot be condoned.
Recently, a young Muslim Kashmiri, Sualeh Keen, has wielded his pen like a scalpel to cut through the prevarications that the exile of the Kashmiri Pandits have been shrouded in. He makes the crucial point that "We all should realize that all claims to 'victimhood' are interconnected. If we don't believe the victims of the minority community, how do we expect them to believe or sympathize with the victims of our own community? We need to acknowledge the truth - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Truth comes first in Truth and Reconciliation and there can be no reconciliation without the former."
Sualeh Keen is speaking to fellow Kashmiri Muslims. The 'minority' he refers to is the Kashmiri Pandits. What he is saying must be heard by those to whom he is speaking.
In the rest of India too, where those in the minority and those in the majority are the reverse of the situation in Kashmir, his words should be heard with the same attention and urgency.
The use of religion to alter the definition of home, neighbourhood, community and nation can lead only to unending tragedy, both for those excluded and exiled and for those excluding and exiling.
What happened to the Pandits has a new relevance today. After an election that will see a change of government, there will be talk of bringing them home again. We have heard such talk earlier, but it seemed little more than propaganda to intensify the bitterness and reinforce the hatred of those who had rendered them homeless.
Governments must undo injustice but Kashmiris in Kashmir must realize how integral the Pandits are to their Kashmiriyat.
Our nationhood is being defined now within the narrow confines of a religious identity. If this succeeds, what has gone before will be infinitesimal in comparison. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.