It has been 29 years since Kashmir's indigenous Hindu community of Pandits left Kashmir on a painful journey to Jammu and other parts of India; leaving behind houses and hearths. For this photo essay, Mudabbir Ahmad traveled to Haal to capture the fading images of abandoned Pandit houses, which are lying in ruin and decay.
The valley of Kashmir lies at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. Unlike its beauty – which is uncontested, its territory is contested by India and Pakistan – both of which claim the fabled region in its entirety. The major portion of Kashmir is under Indian control, which maintains its control through repressive regimes and heavy deployment of its armed forces, around a million according to some, making it the most militarized zone in the world. A resistance movement against the Indian military occupation has sustained in the region since 1947. A smaller part of Kashmir lies with Pakistan, with some autonomy.
In the early 1990s a large number of ‘Pandits’, the indigenous Hindu minority community, moved out from the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir to India as armed insurgency erupted against the Indian rule. This is a painfully tragic event, not just in that it involves the displacement of a community from its homeland, but also because the context and the circumstances of it have largely been ignored, or twisted so much that this event has become a simple tool for the Indian State to justify its war on the Kashmiri people.
The Indian State has been blaming this “migration” on the Kashmiri Muslims, but many believe this event was not as simplistic as this narrative wants us to believe. For a Kashmiri Muslim like me who was born in the year Pandits migrated from Kashmir and who is constantly blamed for being the reason this painful event occurred, what actually happened during those years is difficult to understand.
Looking for some answers and a little closure, I visited Haal, a village that lies 30 miles south of Kashmir’s capital Srinagar, in 2014 with some of my friends. Before 1990, the population of this village was predominantly Pandits. Today a single Pandit family lives in Haal among at least a 100 Muslim homes. What I found at Haal was around fifty desolated and abandoned Pandit houses and a single Pandit family living in peace with their Muslim neighbours.
'Shrukk' is the Kashmiri word for 'knot', or ‘entanglement’. It connotes the situation that Kashmir is in. Through my pictures, I have tried to depict the horror of leaving one's birthplace. I have tried to confine within the frames of my pictures the suffering and helplessness that not just Pandits, but all Kashmiris have been subjected to. The pictures of ruined and deserted homes, with broken windows and forsaken hearths, are a portal for traveling into a realm of trouble and conflict, and represent the abandonment that Kashmiri Pandits must have felt when they had to move from Kashmir, leaving their beautiful homes to desolation and ruin.
(The photo essay was first published in the December 2018 edition of Kashmir Narrator)