Srinagar: Three days after Roshan Lal Mawa, 75, reopened his dry fruit shop in Srinagar’s Zainakadal area, it still feels like a dream. The Kashmiri Pandit is back home for good, nearly three decades after he fled the Valley following a failed militant attack, and his joy knows no bounds.
“I have been a frequent visitor [to Kashmir]. I never stopped coming but there were times I felt I would never resettle here permanently,” said Mawa, as visitors flooded his shop Friday to congratulate him on his return. “It feels surreal, but I am finally here and I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
The reopening of Mawa’s shop was a big affair in Qaziyaar, the locality where it’s located. Neighbours, acquaintances and old friends poured in, jostling for a chance to hug Mawa when he rolled up the shutters, Wednesday. Fellow shopkeepers honoured him with a turban or ‘Dastar Bandi’ — and Mawa broke down.
“There were at least two to three thousand people. Some held my hand, others hugged me and some kissed me,” said Mawa, who lived in Delhi during his exile. “I was showered with rose petals and candies. Tea was arranged for the visitors. I have never received so much love in my entire life,” he added, “I wish to die in my homeland. May this soil be my eternal abode.”
Coming back home
The businessman told ThePrint that it took a lot of convincing before his family agreed to move back to Kashmir.
His son, a doctor, used to shuttle between Delhi and Srinagar along with Mawa to maintain business ties. However, moving back, permanently, was a scary proposition with the memories of their traumatic departure still vivid.
Before they fled, Mawa, 46, and his family lived in the Bohrikadal area of Srinagar. According to Mawa, on 13 October 1990, when Kashmir militancy was at its peak and Pandits were being driven out by the hordes, a young boy pumped bullets into Mawa’s stomach
His neighbours helped him reach a hospital, where he was saved. But his family was shaken as the situation in the Valley worsened each day.
Mawa was handling his father’s business in the Valley but he decided to move out and start from scratch in New Delhi.
“Delhi people gave me a lot of love,” Mawa told ThePrint. “I had everything that I needed except for my friends, my nation (watan) and my love. There was no one with whom I could share my thoughts, or talk in my language. My neighbour of 29 years (in Delhi), I don’t know him to date,” Mawa added.
Mohammad Ibrahim, one of the locals who flocked to see Mawa Friday, used the opportunity to appeal to the Kashmiri Pandit community to return to the Valley. He also accused certain media houses of defaming Kashmiri Muslims.
“They should come back. We will welcome them here,” he said.
“We have asked our Pandit brethren to return home. There is nothing to fear,” said another local, Mohammad Shafi, “We have suffered a lot now… Time has come to heal our wounds.”
Mawa said he was overwhelmed by the kindness he had experienced since his return.
“Even today, one boy came and asked me if I was Roshan Lal, I said, yes, and he hugged me tightly. He kissed my forehead and gifted me almonds,” said Mawa. “He said it was his moral duty to welcome me.”
He felt that peace between Pandits and Muslims was something the local population had to pursue on their own, instead of relying on politicians.
“I want to appeal to the people. The government will not do anything for us. They have taken us for granted,” he added. “We [Kashmiri Pandits] are probably their vote bank and they don’t want us brothers to meet,” he said.
“Kashmir is OK. It will be all OK again,” he said.