IndiaThe Kashmir Files: 'Those camps were hell, the Hindus in the gardens...

The Kashmir Files: ‘Those camps were hell, the Hindus in the gardens had become beggars…’

The Kashmir Files: From the point of view of a photojournalist and an artist, the exodus of Pandits Exodus from Kashmir had all those elements, which were proper from the point of view of journalism. But, when you yourself are its victim and have lived as a refugee, that pain makes its place in the Trauma of Exodus. The same thing happened with Vijay Kaul. For them the trauma of escape will never subside. He expresses his pain in the many photographs he took during his exodus or engraved them on canvas.

His photographs tell the story of helpless people who became refugees overnight in their own country. He clicked the torn-out tents, the desperate faces, the sufferings and the struggles even as he himself was trying to find a place to live among the thousands of people in the camp.

“I moved to Jammu at the end of December 1989. I tried hard to find work in Jammu and then I moved to Delhi. I had only 100 rupees, out of which I bought a train ticket for 75 rupees. After three months of struggle, I got a job as a photographer and artist in a newspaper and my first assignment was Jammu refugee camp.

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Kaul said, “I visited the Muthi Parakhu camp and took pictures of the dilapidated tents that were torn down. The fist was in a very bad place. People were living there in pathetic condition without water and electricity.

He said, ‘Because of the way people had to flee, most had no extra clothes, no bed, no utensils, no money. There was no stove for cooking and no toilet. People in Jammu helped a lot. In the camps the women learned to cook on those earthen mounds and sticks. When it rained, there was mud all around. In one night people living in big houses, gardens and gardens had become beggars. It was pathetic.’

Courtesy: Photo by Vijay Koul

Kaul says that the crying of women, the elderly, who were finding it difficult to live in 45 degree temperature, their suffering, lack of treatment. There was hell in those camps… Many people died and many lost their composure.

But most notable, he said, was the determination of parents to educate their children as it was the only way to move forward in life.

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Kaul says, ‘My pictures speak about the exodus, the struggle of the tents, the fury, anger and pain, uplift and escape from the camps. I also clicked on Chapnari massacre in Doda district. Twenty-five Hindu villagers were murdered there on June 19, 1998.

On January 19, 1990, a month before the mass exodus began, Kaul had fled the valley.

He says, “I was the only person who knew silk screen printing in Kashmir at that time. The groups which were supporting terrorism wanted me to print the JKLF logo and some pictures on the T-shirt on a large scale.

He said, ‘I knew that if I did this, the government would not spare me, but if I did not, terrorists would kill my family. An area commander of JKLF had come to me and it was he who asked me to do the printing. I didn’t refuse because he had AK 47. I politely asked him to give me some time to get ink for printing t-shirts from Delhi, to which he agreed. The next day I ran away with my family. Apart from JKLF, there were many other groups who wanted printing of T-shirts. Some wanted a huge picture and hoarding of Maqbool Bhat. I had to run away.

Several years later, Kaul released a series of paintings on Kashmir, which were displayed at the Habitat Center in Delhi. The pain, which has been largely ignored, can be seen on Kaul’s photographs and canvas.

Vijaya Kaul