Born and brought up in Lahore, I always proudly introduced myself as a ‘typical Lahori’. But my grandmother constantly told me that we do not belong here and are settlers. The word “settler” always pinched me. I used to argue with my grandmother and tell her that I am a Lahori at heart and I love my city.
Those were my teenage days, when I used to spend time with her, listening to her stories of migration from Amritsar and how her sister had to hide in a suit case to dodge the violent mobs. She passed away in January 2016 followed by my grandfather, who passed away in June the same year.
Losing them left an irreplaceable void in my life. My maternal grandparents were no different as both families had a similar pattern of migration. My great grandfather and his family migrated from Srinagar to Pathankot and then to Amritsar to join most of the relatives already settled there before 1947.
After partition, they moved to Lahore. While digging my ancestral history, I got to know that my family still has some property in Amritsar and Pathankot. My uncle, who is quite fond of history, told me that his aunties occasionally visited Amritsar even after partition.
A large community of Kashmiris is settled in Lahore, Sialkot, Islamabad, and Gujranwala. The younger generations, however, are not interested in their roots. Neither do they know of the struggle of their ancestors, nor are they keen to know.
When I started to study my family tree and history, I was told that I am “wasting my time”. But I cannot explain to them what is moving me to do all this. They won’t understand.
Earlier this year, I got the chance to visit Azad Kashmir. I also have a lot of friends in Indian Occupied Kashmir. As soon as I entered Neelam Valley, my friends in IoK told me they could wave at me from the other side of the river, which divides India and Pakistan. I could not share my exact location with them due to poor network coverage.
My trip, however, took me back to my teenage years when I used to argue with my grandmother for calling us “settlers”. She was right, and I was wrong. We are settlers. Settlers who migrated to another land because they were thrown out of their own land. We have our own culture, we still have preserved our norms and traditions, our food, living style, family values are different from typical Lahoris. We still put salt in our green tea and prepare Shab Daigs. We still are trying to preserve our traditions.
Last week, I got a chance to meet many Kashmiris at TRT World Forum. During a session on Pakistan and India, I asked panel whether I and millions of Kashmiris, who migrated before 1947 or at the time of Jammu massacre in 1947 till 1956, could go back to their homelands. They didn’t have the answer. It seems as if no one ever will.
I asked many of the Kashmiris living in Lahore, including my elder family members if they would like to go back to their beloved homeland. Some instantly said “yes”, while others were hesitant to leave a land they have now settled in.
I don’t know about other youngsters but I can speak for myself. I want to find my own identity as a Kashmiri. I want to go back to my land, which is fighting for existence, the land which has given blood for freedom of its people, the land which existed even before India and Pakistan did. I want to serve my land while living in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world.
There is a good old saying that “you can take Kashmiris out of Kashmir but you cannot take Kashmir out of Kashmiris”. The land is in our hearts and soul, and we will continue to campaign for our freedom. As long as the last Kashmiri lives, we will continue to chant this slogan: “Ham kya chahtay hain (what do we want)? Azaadi (freedom).