Through her series ‘In Exile at Home’, Uzma Mohsin brings forth issues of displacement, uprootedness and forced exile faced by the diasporic community of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, India. Evicted from their own homeland since the 1990s, this mass exodus has led to fears and anxieties regarding the extinction of Kashmiri Pandit culture and a shared sense of belongingness within the community, which currently forms the milieu under which they live and work.
In Exile At Home
– Uzma Moshin
Following the start of the insurgency in Kashmir against the Indian State in 1989, an estimated 100,000 Hindu residents of the Kashmir Valley – known as Kashmiri Pandits – embarked on a mass migration southwards to Jammu. For more than 20 years now, these men, women and children have lived a rootless life in one-room tenements of the refugee camps set up by the Jammu administration.
For the ‘migrants’, returning to the Kashmir valley is a wish that they don’t even dare to dream. They are the unwanted. Radical Muslim politicians and clerics have no interest in allowing them back into the Valley. Their Muslim friends and neighbours are afraid to risk limb and life. And the local Jammu Hindus sneer at them.
The one-room tenements they live in may protect them from rain and heat but it also strips them of self-confidence and dignity. The cramped accommodation, where often a family of five or six has to share one room, is meant to make them uncomfortable and force them to move. But where will they go?
In 2008 Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had promised to rehabilitate them. But the project is yet to take off. In the interim, each family gets a maximum Rs 4,000 cash assistance, nine kilos of rice and two kilos of wheat flour per person. Just enough to keep them alive.
The following pictures were taken by photographer Uzma Mohsin at four different refugee camps in Jammu – V, X, Y, Z – during 2008 in the run up to the Legislative Assembly elections in J&K. The BJP, at the time, professed to support their return to the Valley, but fell quiet after the elections were over. The Congress saw and continues to see ‘migration’ as a temporary stalemate. The regional political heavyweight, the National Conference, meanwhile, turned a deaf ear.
In the march of time and conflicting political positions, Kashmiri Pundits have been left to fend for themselves. They remain – in exile, at home.
This photo-feature was first published in Tehelka news magazine, Volume 5, Issue 47 in 2008.