New Delhi: 26 years after Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Valley, their heart wrenching and poignant tales of persecution, struggle and plight speak of wounds that are yet to heal and a yearning to return to a peaceful co-existence with their Muslim neighbours.
"A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits," -- a collection of first hand narratives of "never told before" stories by several generations of those evicted from their own state-- was unveiled here last evening.
At the launch, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah said, "Don't wait till the last guns stop firing. Come home!".
The Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of their homeland in 1990 to live in exile and 26 years since then governments at both central and state levels have changed, and myriad policies have also been formulated but "the rhetoric remains unchanged", said Varad Sharma, who along with Siddharth Gigoo edited the tome published by Bloomsbury.
There have been several attempts in the past to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley by proposing the erection of townships but that, Gigoo said , "will not be home. It will be nothing less than a house arrest."
According to Gigoo, Sharma and other contributors to the book, the Pandits essentially want "justice", which means getting back their way of life - a peaceful co-existence with their neighbours, i.e. the Kashmiri Muslims and more importantly, no threat to their lives.
Sharma suggests a "dialogue" to restore peace in the Valley.
According to Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, the major impediment in the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits lies in the fear of losing their lives and homes all over again.
"Kashmiri Pandits will find reconciliation very difficult because they have gone through a deep sense of hurt and betrayal," Tharoor said.
Despite assurances by authorities about "reduced militancy" in the state, Tharoor pointed out that the Pandits continue to reel under the post traumatic effect of their ouster that followed a massive devastation of property and loss of lives.
"Even though Farooq has his heart at the right place but even he cannot guarantee the security and nobody wants to be the guinea pig," Tharoor said.
The narratives of friendship and love in the book act as evidence that the exodus has not made the Pandits bitter towards their Muslim counterparts who they admit had suffered too.
In an anecdote, Gigoo mentioned the kindheartedness of a Muslim cab driver in curfew ridden Jammu who offered to take him home to his ailing grandmother when everybody else had refused. The driver also declined to take any money from him.
Even though his grandmother passed away by the time he reached, Gigoo said he still remembers the stranger's act of kindness. "Kashmir is still surviving because of such instances of humanity," Gigoo said.
According to the authors the exodus in the Valley , has often been compared to the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.
The only difference, they say, essentially was that the Partition did not leave those who had left their homes behind with any hope for returning.
"Pakistan became a different country so, there was no hope of going back, but there is a constant noise of hope here," he said.