My family bore the burden of exile. Coming generations of Kashmiris deserve better.

Is 370 an article of faith or just a number? A privileged identity or a misplaced entitlement. If I leave out the middle number, 30 remains. My age. The years in exile. The age of my mother when she carried me out as an infant from our homeland Kashmir into an unknown land.

As I held her hand in the corridors of a Delhi hospital, I pondered over how it would have been for her to not be able to inform her parents for five months about migrating to Delhi in 1990 with two young daughters and her husband, from our initial transit point of Jammu, after our expulsion from Kashmir. Five months feel all the more arduous when I imagine not speaking to my parents for even a day.

No, we weren’t provided state transport buses to move out of our homeland. And no, we didn’t turn rich overnight. We fled to save our lives from terrorism and religious extremism. Saving lives and staying together as a family through the long period of rebuilding lives from scratch, my mother often says, has been the only virtue of our exile, given that probably many others weren’t even this fortunate. She doesn’t want to talk about our years of struggle, which she faced with grit, patience and determination.

Almost 30 years later, we were trying to connect with her childhood friend, Khalida, in Kashmir. She asked at the hospital if the officials managing the helplines there could possibly help her speak to her friend. I had no answer.

In our first post-displacement visit in 2012, my mother somehow arranged her friend’s contact details and we went to meet Khalida at her home after marriage in the outskirts of Srinagar. For the first few minutes, while hugging each other, they didn’t utter a word. Her friend said, “Ba aesus sochaan agar aseye maelav zaanh, che gachak na mae nafrat karaen” (I often hoped that if we ever met again in life, you shouldn’t have hatred against me), and my mother broke down. She replied, “Che kyazyi karaeye nafrat, yimav kor taeman vuche paanaey hyerum” (why will I hate you, those who were responsible, their actions will be judged by the Supreme Power).

The previous day, my mother had taken us to her former home in Habba Kadal, Srinagar. The place where she grew up with her grandmother, parents, brother and two sisters. Though the new occupants welcomed her, as she hesitatingly made her way upstairs to show us the study, they made it a point to tell her she could roam around “unaccompanied” and may feel free to “steal” small things as the bigger ones would be difficult to take away. I had a lump in my throat. I looked at my mother, she just smiled calmly. She asked if they had retained some of her books/documents/certificates. “We thought you won’t return, so we threw it all away.’’ Neighbours, who had turned encroachers.

Over the past two weeks, friends have messaged to ask about my view on the abrogation of J&K’s special status. Was I happy with the decision? In the almost 30 years of exile, it’s the first time others have sought my view on Kashmir with such eagerness. And I want to tell them — it’s not about us.

My maternal grandparents passed away yearning to return to our homeland. My parents struggled through their youth to raise us and now grapple with health issues, as they put us before themselves. I never got the chance to choose or ask questions, a childhood lost outside our homeland. When I hear the official announcements, there’s no mention of us. But there’s certainly a mention of the Kashmiris living there.

A promise of hope, change and transformation. A promise of getting rid of deceit, terror and the power nexus. A promise to give our much beloved motherland, Kashmir, a chance of peace. Will the promises hold? I don’t know — the same life lesson that I have figured out while making my way through the uncertainties emanating from our displacement from Kashmir. But, what I do hope for is peace. In my birthplace. In my homeland. Kashmir, the place of saints, scholars and mystics.

Let’s give peace a chance. The chance it deserves. I, as a Kashmiri, owe it to the next generation of Kashmiris.

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