During my 48-year long love affair with Tibet, many Tibetan and other friends have asked me the same question, “What made you fall in love with Tibet?” Their question is quite valid because as journalists we regularly come across so many issues. We go deep into one, write about it and then move ahead to something else. As we move on, most of us forget most of these issues with passage of time. Moreover, in a country like India where every journalist and photographer has a huge variety of social, political and developmental issues worth specializing and writing about, how a journalist like me could continue with Tibet while many of my colleagues sincerely believed that it was a ‘dead’ or a non-issue?
When I look back and revisit my first encounter as a journalist with Tibetan refugee community and their leader HH the Dalai Lama in 1972, I discover that the reason of this love affair was my father and my mother. Meeting first time with the energetic refugee youths like Lodi Gyari, Jamyang Norbu, Tenzin Geyche, Lhasang Tsering, Tendzin Choegyal, and Sonam Topgyal, the fire in their belly for Tibet was very much same as I’ve been noticing since my childhood days in my father for his lost homeland in Kashmir.
My parents too were refugees from that region of Kashmir which was occupied by Pakistan only three months after the Indian Partition. When I met a middle aged Tibetan lady Tsering Kiya in McLeod Ganj Chowk, her enthusiasm about narrating her home place back in Tibet was as infectious as my mother telling me about her home in Mirpur, her school and life in the town. May be this Tibetan encounter was a case of self identification. And I was hooked.
My father became refugee three times in his life time. He was just two years old in 1931 when followers of young Sheikh Abdullah, a fanatic leader of Muslim Conference led a dreadful communal massacre as part of his anti-Maharaja movement in J&K. All property of my grandfather who was a prosperous businessman, an accomplished Hakim (Amchi), a famous story-teller and a popular preacher of Quran (despite being a Hindu), was looted and burnt. He was forced to leave his ancestral village of Panjan and migrated to Mirpur.
The family became refugee and lost its entire belongings second time in 1947 when they were forced to leave Mirpur overnight in the wake of attack by Pakistan Army and tribesmen. The surviving members of his family were among those 18 thousand out of 42 thousand Hindus and Sikhs of Mirpur who survived the violence. The family settled temporarily in Jammu city but was soon pushed out by the state government of Sheikh Abdullah to neighboring Punjab on the ground that it did not want to handle too many refugees. That was his third and final exile from his homeland. Following a long exploration in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh the family split in many parts and my father finally settled in a refugee slum of Delhi. I was born in this slum near Old Subzi Mandi.
Faceless, Hopeless Refugees
But as the luck would have it, a large majority of refugees from POK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) who migrated to other parts of India were deprived of their identity and status as ‘citizens of J&K’. While all State governments of J&K had refused to accept these POK refugees as ‘State Subjects’ of J&K for over 72 years now, the New Delhi government had her own reasons to deprive this community even the status of a ‘refugee’. For over seven decades the central government was shy of accepting these children of POK as refugees for the fear that this formal labeling will weaken her claims over POK in any future legal fight with Pakistan. This approach of he Centre, unlike victims of Indian partition from Pakistani Punjab, Multan, Sindh and East Pakistan who were compensated for the properties they had lost in Pakistan, automatically deprived my father, his parents and the entire POK refugee community of being compensated for the properties they had left behind in their homeland. Till the last days of his life when he passed away last year in June, my father had written innumerable petitions, participated in demonstrations and lead delegations to win justice and formal identity as the children of J&K. But to no avail.
He lived all his life with his pain of being denied even the right to call himself a legitimate son of his own motherland. Leave aside having any legal right to send his children to settle permanently in J&K as proud ‘citizens’ of their ancestral homeland, he could not even win a chance to send any of his children for higher education in an Engineering college of the State which were reserved exclusively for ‘State Subjects’ of J&K and are actually funded by the tax money he and other Indians were paying.
The last hope
In his last few months, my father had lost his eye sight. His only interest in sitting near the TV or radio was to hear some news about his homeland Jammu & Kashmir. He had big hopes from the Narendra Modi government in its first five years. But had started losing heart gradually. In his last days the only words he could speak after big efforts was his only one question, “Modi Kuj Karega?” (Will Modi do something?). All of us knew what ‘something’ he was looking forward to. This ‘something’ did happen but only on Aug 5, 2019 which came 50 days after he had already breathed his last. On May 24, this year when my mother heard Modi government’s announcement about the new domicile citizenship laws for J&K her quick reaction was, “He was waiting all his life to hear this news. Had he (my father) been alive today, he would have died of his happiness shock.”
My father lived for 90 years and struggled for 72 years to win the Kashmiri identity for himself, his children and over a million other faceless Kashmiris like us who left their homes in Mirpur, Muzaffrabad, Bhimbhar, Kotly, Dev Batala, Kainy, Ali Beg and thousands of small villages like Panjan. Most of the co-refugees of my father’s generation are already dead without seeing the dawn of May 24, 2020 or hearing the news that their home State of J&K has finally recognized them as her own children. Me and my children’s generations who have never had a firsthand feel of what it feels like being a citizen of our own motherland J&K, can now hope to win back our original identity. But the dream of my father’s generation to bring back our original ancestral homeland in POK is still far away. Still, many among us are now more hopeful that this term of Modi or the next one might bring back the lost POK back to its mother J&K one day.
There were many occasions when after reading my newspaper articles on Tibet, watching me in a TV debate on Tibet or hearing about my speaking in a seminar about Tibet, he would quietly hold my hand and ask me, “You are working so much for the Tibetans who are from another country. Why don’t you fight with the same spirit for your own people?” I could feel his pain but I had no such answer which could reassure him about his painful situation. On some occasions I could just muster some courage to tell him, “Don’t you think we are still very lucky that despite losing our homeland we are living in our own motherland as free citizens? But poor Tibetans have lost their homeland and motherland both. They are too few to fight it out with China. Don’t you think they need some friends like me?” On a couple of occasions, he just smiled and said, “It’s a smart answer. But you are also right.” I don’t know whether his answer was out of his understanding of the Tibetan situation or his own hopelessness about his own fight.
Today as I remember my father on his first anniversary I don’t have an honest answer to the question which has shaken my conscience during all these years of my love affair with Tibet, “DID I LOVE TIBET TO CHEAT MY FATHER?”