If there was one word to describe why eighty-year old Gawri shri stayed back, it would be love: Motherly love that ignored the ‘orders’ and ‘threats’ of leaving Kashmir in the infamous mass exodus of Kashmiri pundits. She sacrificed a ‘better life’ to fulfill the wish of her son.
Behind many ruins of the once flourishing Butt Mohalla in Zaloora Sopore, an old house exists to show the legacy of Kashmiriyat. When Pandits started leaving this village, Muslims tried to persuade them to stay back. However, no one was ready to risk his life. Every Pandit family left except Gowri and her son, Haidaynath pandith. “Those days were fearful. Even we were taken by militants many a times but every time the Muslim community came to save us. I remember they requested the militants not to harm us,” says Gowri.
She would often hide in Muslim homes when there would be a search operation by militants in the village. “I was very much scared of them, I would shiver but my love for my son would kill all the fear.” She says. Even now, Gowri says that Muslims invite her to their functions and festivities. Though she speaks high of her neighbours but wishes, she had left. It is her love for her son that always held her back. There are many
strange tales about her son, Hadaynath Pandith. Nevertheless, he is mentally retarded; others say he is a sufi, a saint and pay obeisance to him. Devotees throng Zaloora for the divine help. “My son would have been a doctor. He had even qualified the test.”
Gawri says about her mystic son. She narrates an interesting life changing episode in her son’s life. “It was our family practice to go to a sufi saint in Kupwara, when I showed him the selection letter of my son being selected for MBBS, he said ‘He is a doctor already, he can treat anyone. Why do you want to make him what he already is?’ And I couldn’t say anything and from then on he became a sufi saint.”
After becoming a saint, Haidaynath started smoking. Gawri says that for his cigarettes she had to sell grass and get money for his cigarettes and other dues. Everyday Gawri says she lives to see his son. When her son refused to migrate to Jammu, only then she stayed back.
In 2000, when normalcy returned in Kashmir, Gowri Shri was hopeful that it would knock at her door, too. She had almost forgotten what had befallen on her and her community a decade ago. However, she says the fear and pain of early nineties returned like a scary dream in 2008 after the Amarnath Land row. Gawri lives a modest life. She owns some agricultural land, but she says that is not enough to sustain a livelihood. “My son in Jammu sends me some money. It is our only income,” Gowri says.
Gowri is also skeptical about the role of government in rehabilitating the Pandits. She says, “Pandits in Jammu get compensation of 2000-4000 Rupees and some daily things but here in Kashmir they do not get any compensation, even if there houses were devastated, lands were grabbed still they were not helped by the government any way.”
She further says, “Government did not even look at us, are we alive or dead they don’t care anymore. Government was sleeping in 1989 and is still sleeping. If there would have not been the Muslim community to help us, we would have not existed,” says Gowri.
Photos: Muhabit-ul-Haq; Thumbnail: The house where Gawri Shri lives along with her son.