A Dream Of Settlement

In the 1990s, many Kashmiri pandits had no choice but to leave their homes behind. This is one such story of displacement

Artwork by Salman Lone titled ‘Stack of Dreams’ symbolises confinement and sacrifice

The memory of that fateful morning in March 1990 when, amid the unfolding horror and threat to our lives, we boarded a truck to take us away from our home in Srinagar, Kashmir. To Jammu. The memory of that 12-hour road trip still haunts us.


March 1990

Batwara, Srinagar

In our truck are the six members of the Koul family, my nine-year-old sister and I. There is room for only six passengers in the driver’s cabin, but 10 of us, including a helper and a conductor, huddle together, partly to avoid sitting in the back of the truck’s carriage and partly for warmth—it is a cold wintry morning. The truck is made to stop at a check post at Batwara near the Badami Bagh Army Cantonment (five kilometres from Lal Chowk).

Hundreds of trucks, buses and cars full of Kashmiri Pandits fleeing their homes are lined up on the road. The paramilitaries are inspecting the vehicles, checking the luggage of passengers, and frisking and questioning them as though they are the culprits with guns and grenades hidden in their luggage.

All we are carrying is a bundle of clothes. Some have nothing. The Koul family believes they will be able to come back soon to get the rest of their household belongings. More and more Pandit families are running towards the vehicles, desperately searching for vacant seats. All their efforts are in vain.

Picture this: a family of four—an elderly couple and their son and daughter-in-law. The two women are sobbing. The two men are begging them to hop into our truck. The expression on their faces reveals the urgency: ‘hurry or else’. The unspoken words: ‘or else we will be left behind… or else we will be…’

At last, the four manage to jump in the carriage of our truck. The two men also get their gas cylinder into the carriage and place it between the two women. I sit next to them. The women hold the cylinder in a tight embrace as if it were their only child. Their hushed sobbing continues. Their hands are smeared with dough, painting the picture of an unfinished meal at dawn. (Little did we realise then that those unfinished meals would be our last meals in our homes.)

10 am

Qazigund (75 km from Srinagar)

We step out of the truck to have chai and tchot (Kashmiri bread) at a shop. Muslim tea vendors are serving chai-tchot to Kashmiri Pandits. A strange feeling—of being on a picnic—grips me. ‘We shall be back in our home before it gets dark,’ I whisper to myself. Then suddenly, the truck conductor’s whistle flings me back into the horrid reality. We hop back into our truck. The Muslims wave goodbye as though we are indeed on an excursion.

2 pm

Banihal, Ramban

The truck comes out of the Jawahar tunnel. The tunnel separates the Valley from the Plains. The two women break into a fit. ‘Where is she?’ they cry. ‘Take us back… She must be looking for us… Please… We beg you… We will die without her… She will die without us…’

5 pm

Chenani, Udhampur

The truck stops by a highway dhaba. The two women turn their heads toward the home they have left behind. A black mountain blocks their view. At home, this time, they would have been sitting by the window overlooking their garden, sipping chai and thinking about the things they have to do tomorrow and the day after. They still believe the truck will turn back and take them home. The reverie ends with the truck’s honking.

A milestone reads: Jammu, 90 km.

June 1994

Camp for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits


The women who left their calf behind for no fault of theirs still curse themselves for mistaking the gas cylinder for the calf when they were forced to board the truck. In the camp, they feed stray cows and calves every day. They plod from one wretched day to another. Their lives are empty.


Now picture thousands of such men and women who didn’t want to leave their homes that horrifying morning in the winter of 1990, but had no choice. Thirty-four years on, their lives are now encased in an inexplicable silence that very few can comprehend. We belong to it now. This silence, which has now become our fate, is also an act of courage and shows our resilience. This silence will spread and consume us someday. This silence is our home now.

May 14, 2024


About 15,000 Kashmiri Pandits living in exile in Jammu for the past 34 years cast their votes for their ‘home’ constituencies in Kashmir. Their voter identity cards, issued by the Election Commission of India, still bear their Kashmir addresses, though their chances of going back to Kashmir are very slim. They will vote for those who still have a home, hoping that when they are elected to power, they will rebuild the lost homes and rehabilitate the Pandit exiles. They believe that even this is a blessing because it binds them to their homeland, Kashmir. The names of thousands of others are missing from the electoral rolls.


My domicile certificate, issued to me two years ago based on voter registration records, reads: ‘This is to certify that Siddhartha Gigoo, son of Arvind Gigoo, of Khankah-i-Sokhta, District Srinagar, of Kashmir, Pin Code 190001, whose photograph is attested below, is a domicile of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. That the applicant is eligible in terms of the following clause of Rule 5 of the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Domicile Certificate Rules, 2020.’



‘What will you do with my things after I am gone?’ my grandfather asked me once. He didn’t leave a lot of things behind except two Made-in-England microscopes, a wristwatch, a shaving kit and some letters he wrote to me from Udhampur when I was studying in Delhi. His wooden chest full of his favourite things was pillaged after he was forced to leave his home in Kashmir. But he left us with memories of a lifetime. And between one memory and another is a long silence that will take us a lifetime to decipher. It is the only heirloom that we must preserve.


(Views expressed are personal)

Siddhartha Gigoo is the author of, among other books, A Long Season of Ashes

(This appeared in the print as 'A Long Dream Of Home')