In Hall village of Pulwama, an aged Kashmiri Pandit tells how love of a newly purchased house made him resist migration years ago when members of his community fled and left him alone to witness an otherwise prosperous village disintegrating into mounds of rubble.
In 1989, Omkar Nath Bhat had retired from the Horticulture department as field assistant and purchased a new house.
He had put his life’s savings in buying it but before he could settle in the new house, Kashmir witnessed into a wave of militancy.
The rumour mills set in and it was circulated that a youth from the Kashmiri Pandit community was shot dead in Shopian and sister-in-laws of a person from the neighbouring Drussu village were killed.
It created a sense of fear among the Kashmiri Pandits of Haal and other villages.
The worst was yet to come – threat letters with stamps of militant organisations appearing in Haal at many places.
Bhat recalls that Kashmiri Pandits were accused of being spies and warned of dire consequences although no resident asked them to leave.
Due to fear psychosis, most Kashmiri Pandit families from Batapora locality of Haal migrated to Jammu and different Indian states in groups to mark the displacement of the community from Kashmir.
“Batapora was a prosperous locality of around 100 Kashmiri Pandit families, most of who left in 1989,” Bhat says. “Three of my neighbours stayed till 1994.”
When they too left, Bhats became the only Pandit family to live in Batapora Haal.
What caused old Bhat to stand his ground and resist migration?
He gives two reasons.
“I had purchased a new house and didn’t want to desert it to live a shelter-less life and my mother had promised a local militant, Muhammad Ayoub Parray, who was the area commander then, that our family won’t leave the village and in turn he had assured her of all possible help and safety,” he says. “I didn’t want to break that promise.”
Batapora’s magnificent houses, each of which has a separate story, deserted by Kashmiri Pandits of Haal, started decaying slowly.
The houses of Batapora, built in traditional Kashmiri style with unplastered bricks stacked in timber frames and a projected bay window in the middle of the third storey, have turned into a scattered group of ghost houses.
The deserted houses have been reduced to mounds of rubble while bunches of bushes and grass are overgrown in the unbounded compounds of these deserted houses, making them a pasture where villagers graze their cattle.
Bhat said the land of his erstwhile neighbours was unsold until recent times but a few years ago, two of them sold off their land.
Batapora, which was deserted years ago, has now started disintegrating.
Today it is a story of a Pandit, a militant, and a ghost village.