Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old in 1990 when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits: the Hindu minority within a Muslim-majority Kashmir that was becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of ‘Azadi’ from India. The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality of the Indian state, and the pro-independence demands of separatists. But there is another part of the story that has remained unrecorded and buried. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which it was purged of the Kashmiri Pandit community in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed, and about 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss.
I was around 9 or 10 years old in the 1990s when I overheard my parents talking about Kashmir, about people leaving their orchards and homes and fleeing from the valley. There was nostalgia in their tones as they spoke about the idyllic beauty of the Kashmiri countryside, mixed with something I now recognize as horror and sorrow over the events unfolding in that beautiful valley. I didn’t quite understand then why anyone would want to get up and leave their beautiful orchards, what was the meaning of curfew, or why the Kashmiris would be asking for azaadi (freedom).
Fast forward to the present day. I now have a slightly better understanding of the Kashmir situation. And I say slightly because it is a complex web of politics and border incursions, with varying points of views and a lot of things that are still left unsaid and unrecorded. Which is why I was keen to read this first person account of an exiled Kashmiri Pandit.
The book, however, disappointed on many levels.
Pandita starts by explaining the history and culture of his people, which is interesting, and then moves to detailing the atrocities that have been committed against the Pandits down the ages. He focuses the bulk of his ire on the Mughal rulers, squeezing the more than hundred years of genocide perpetrated by the Sikh and Hindu-Dogra regimes in the pre-1947 era into a few measly sentences. And that skewed perspective is just a taste of things to come. Because in Pandita’s story, every Muslim in the valley was baying for Pandit blood, including Pandita’s own young, school-going Muslim friends.
One of them looked at me and then all of them ran away suddenly, throwing a bunch of papers onto the floor…I picked one up, and recoiled in disgust – the paper was covered with snot. I threw it away. It was then that my eyes fell on another, particularly crumpled paper. A shiver ran through my body. It was a page torn from the school magazine – it was a portrait of the Goddess Saraswati. It was covered with snot too.
According to Pandita, neighbors turned on one another and Muslims pointed out Pandit families to the mujahideen just to settle petty scores or take over Pandit farms. In the entire saga, not one Muslim came forth to help Pandits – or if they did, it was just to warn them to escape or they would be killed. This I find impossible to believe. When you can find examples of Germans who helped Jews in the midst of the Holocaust it defies logic to believe that not a single Muslim came forward to help the Pandits. More so when I have heard first hand stories of Kashmiri Muslim families who tried to help their Pandit neighbors for as long as they could.
The next part of his rant is against Jammu, where a refugee camp was set up for Kashmiri Pandit families. Everyone knows that it isn’t pleasant to live at a refugee camp – the shelter is inadequate, there is a total lack of comfort, food is often scarce, and when there is a large influx of refugees, employment is almost non-existent. By presenting this as yet another instance of injustice against Pandits in particular, rather than as a problem faced by refugees the world over, Pandita shows just how deluded and misguided he is.
He then goes into a statistician mode – detailing the Pandita families that were killed and chronicling the supposed abject fear in which the few Pandit families in the valley live today. I would take these claims with a pinch of salt considering how biased the book is – perhaps it’s 100% true, perhaps just 50% of it is true, I can’t say with any certainty. But if there is even the slightest truth in these stories of continued fear, Pandita has done grave injustice to his community by creating skepticism in the minds of rational readers.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is the story of his feelings as an exile – the longing for home, for news of friends and family, and his mother’s constant refrain of “Our home in Kashmir had 21 rooms”. If only he could have been less biased and more objective, his book would have been a landmark achievement in explaining the Kashmir situation to youngsters and people who are not too familiar with the happenings in the valley.
Overall, I would give this book a big thumbs down. If you want to read an unbiased book on Kashmir, I would highly recommend Curfewed Nights by Basharat Peer – beautifully written, poignant, and rather unbiased.