[Reader-list] Proposal for Sarai Independent Fellowship

meenu gaur meenugaur at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 23 23:03:14 IST 2002

This is a posting of my proposal for the Sarai Independent Fellowship.
Looking forward to your suggestions and comments.

Proposal for a Research Project,“Camp People: The Refugees from Kashmir”

“I heard you in the other room asking your mother: “Mama am I a   
When she answered “Yes,” a heavy silence fell on the whole house.
It was as if something hanging over our heads had fallen, its noise 
exploding, then silence…
Afterwards...I heard you crying
I could not move.
There was something bigger than my awareness being born in the other room 
through your bewildered sobbing. It was as if a blessed scalpel was cutting 
up your chest and putting there the heart that belongs to you...I was unable 
to move to see what was happening in the other room. I knew, however, that a 
distant homeland was being born again; hills, plains, olive groves, dead 
people, torn banners and folded ones, all cutting their way into a future of 
flesh and blood and being born in the heart of another child...

                            - Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun.

Be it the Tibetan, the displaced “East Pakistani”, the Afghan or the 
Kashmiri Pandit, the refugee has been inalienable from Delhi. With the 
refugees comes a whole culture, which helps constitute the urban experience 
in Delhi. It is at Majnu Ka Tilla, Tibetan Market, Lajpat Nagar, Old Delhi 
and other such familiar spaces that one usually encounters the refugee in 
Delhi. But if one were to just enquire, we would be surprised to discover a 
refugee settlement or “colony” just near where we live. I live in one such 
“colony” in Malviya Nagar where all the land originally belonged to West 
Pakistan Displaced People or refugees from West Pakistan. Not too far from 
where I live is a small Afghan settlement. And such settlements dot the 
entire cityscape of Delhi.

There are about hundreds and thousands of refugees living all over India 
-people from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar and Afghanistan. The Dalai 
Lama, spiritual & political leader of the Tibetans, led his community into 
India after the Chinese invasion in 1950 and about 1, 00,000 Tibetans have 
since settled in 30 or more camps, all over India. Thousands of Afghan 
refugees had taken shelter in Delhi from the civil war in Afghanistan. And 
so did the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. Many of these refugees are settled in 
Delhi. Though migrations of all kind have happened through space and time 
and are usual to any society or culture but most of these migrations were 
forced migrations and often the result of political violence.

The refugees haven’t always come from neighboring countries.  In early 
1990s, more than 3,00,000 Pandits (or Kashmiri Hindus) left Kashmir out of 
fear for their lives, as insurgent violence spiraled out of control. This 
unprecedented mass migration has been the result of the conflict over 
Kashmir. Most of the Pandit refugees are called "migrants" in the government 
parlance as if the community had chosen to leave (“migrate”) on its own. 
Thus the crucial issue of forced migration has often been ignored. The 
Government of India does not officially recognize them as internally 
displaced persons. As such they remain debarred from many assistance 
programmes funded by international bodies such as the UNHCR. Of the over 
three hundred thousand Pandits, most have got relocated in camps and rented 
accommodation in and around the Jammu.

But many of these refugees had come to Delhi. Neglected by the State, they 
live in virtually inhuman conditions in the refugee camps in Delhi. Most of 
these people changed their businesses and their roles in their traditional 
communities were ruptured. They are alienated from the urban experience, 
with which they don’t seem to fully be able to identify. Everything in these 
camps is in short supply, except of course the indignities of such squalor. 
Things haven’t changed
much over the years and most people are suffering in silence.

Most of the times the Camps have proved to be bad solutions for the complex 
problems of internal displacement. Palestinian refugee Camps in Beirut, for 
instance. The Camps for Kashmiri Pandits in Delhi are no exception. If in 
Jammu, the Camps mean tented cities, in Delhi they are Community Halls. This 
interaction between the urban space and encampment is significant. 
Interestingly despite the hardships, the Kashmiri Pandit refugees have taken 
steps to preserve their culture and language, much like the Tibetans. This 
is often reflected in the Camp life. Imagining home and preserving the past 
are the central preoccupations in the Camp community.

My attempt in this research project is to document the everyday lives, 
struggles and experiences of the Kashmiri “migrants” living in camps through 
photographs and recorded testimonies. I hope to witness the dreams of the 
displaced Kashmiri Pandits; interacting with the urban, imagining their 
homelands. These homelands are also the Other of the city they live in, as 
refugees in refugee camps.

For those displaced there is poverty and the loss of family and community, 
and little help to deal with the extensive material and psychological 
impacts of displacement. The Indian government has only provided basic 
assistance not because of a lack of resources but due to political 
expedience. The children have suffered terribly as their most basic needs 
such as education and health are neglected in the camps. Most children 
suffer from emotional distress. The need to reconstruct Kashmiri cultural 
patterns in Delhi hasn’t been extended to the children of the Camps who 
remain deprived of a sense of identity. They only have a virtual social 
identity as “migrant” children.  Many children were also born into these 
camps and have lived with the stories of a lost homeland, countless memories 
as narrated to them by the elders of their family. How do they invoke this 
land in their imaginary, what constitutes their images of the homeland, is 
there any lure to this land, and if yes then what?  These are only some of 
the questions that I’d like to investigate in my research on the Camps. 
Reconciliation and normalization in Kashmir is more likely to be achieved 
through reintegration of shattered Kashmiri communities, both inside and 
outside Kashmir, than by religious division and separation. The people of 
the Camps have a vital role to play in any real reconciliation. The idea of 
pursuing this project first occurred to me while shooting for my student 
film in the Kashmiri Pandit refugee camp at Baljit Nagar in West Delhi…a 
young girl, had woken up in the middle of the night and started furiously 
painting…hills, a lake, the Valley…she had never been to Kashmir but 
feverish didn’t stop painting all night. My conversations with the girl and 
other children of this Camp revealed to me that these children in their 
everyday life negotiate with complex questions of identity and politics in a 
predominantly urban milieu. Their parents had mostly grown up in rural 
Kashmir, or at best in Srinagar, and are alienated from their new 
surroundings. Living in these matchbox spaces, the children and the adults 
imagine a lost homeland, alternately as idyllic and terrible.

The “Camp people” seem to belong to Delhi but dream of Kashmir. Their 
imaginary homelands, Delhi-Kashmirs, interact in complex ways with the grim 
reality of an urban Delhi…they become sites of fantasy and also a weapon of 
resistance in a hostile urban environment. The South Extension Kashmiri 
Pandit refugee Camp is an example of a situation where somebody uprooted 
from rural Kashmir, living in a large Community Hall weakly partitioned by 
bed sheets to accommodate many families- is assaulted by the most 
fashionable commercial markets of New Delhi the moment he walks out of the 
Camp. These contradictions have in interesting ways shaped the politics of 
the Hindu Right in Delhi. Many of the young men in these Camps, though 
harbouring little ill feeling for the fellow Muslim Kashmiris, have 
nevertheless joined the revivalist Hindu organizations such as the RSS. The 
Sangh Parivar has manipulated these displaced/migrant communities in 
political agitations. It has been observed that displaced people constitute 
an easy target for political manipulation and propaganda. Hostility towards 
the dominant Kashmiri Muslim community has been drummed up by hyper 
nationalist politicians.  Post – Gujrat, we have been fed with a constant 
rhetoric on the Kashmiri Pandits by the Hindu Right. The people in the camps 
themselves are aware that they have been used as vote banks or to put in the 
words of one of the camp residents, as “playing cards” by the Right. 
However, the Kashmiri Pandits in the camps remain frustrated by the 
antagonism and the indifference they witnessed around them in 1990s and 
thereafter and this only helped in their mobilization by the Hindu Right. 
However what was obvious from my meetings with people in the camps was that 
these people have similar cultural aspirations as do the Kashmiris in the 
valley and that their daily lives have changed forever as have the lives of 
the Kashmiris in the valley and that there can be no solution to what is 
proclaimed as the “Kashmir problem” without a reconciliation between the two 
communities. Any engagement with Kashmir requires of us an engagement with 
the people exiled from the valley and from their homeland.  I would also 
like to explore the ways in which these changing political realities affect 
the life and imagination in the Camps. I also hope the project contributes 
to our understanding of the consequences of forced migration.

I plan to work in the Kashmiri Pandit refugee camps at Lajpat Nagar, South 
Extension, Baljit Nagar, Sultanpuri and so on. I would like to explore the 
spaces that surround the Camps (work spaces, schools of Camp children, 
markets etc.). In addition, I'd like to focus on the multiple meanings, 
which an idea of the home and homeland acquires in a Camp.

The most important aspect of the project is to work with memory. To create a 
reservoir of “good memory” that deals with the historical amnesia that has 
turned the Kashmiris in these Camps into people without pasts- severed from 
a shared life with the Muslims of the valley.  My research method in the 
beginning will involve a survey of the Camps. In-depth documentation - 
visual and written - will then follow. I would like to use photography to 
record the images of the Camp life. The idea is to try and photograph 
without the intrusion of the need to create “great pictures” but to document 
an archive of loss and pain.

The project focuses on the experiences of Kashmiri Pandits as the Internally 
Displaced and will also involve visual documentation [using digital video 
(if necessary)] the multiple experiences of and responses to the violence in 
Kashmir. I’d like to add though that the idea is not to represent the 
Kashmiri Pandits as mere victims but to document the way the violence in 
Kashmir has ruptured Kashmiri lives, regardless of which religious community 
they come from.

STOP MORE SPAM with the new MSN 8 and get 3 months FREE*. 

More information about the reader-list mailing list