KASHMIRI PANDITS: REFUGEES IN THEIR OWN MOTHERLAND

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By Waseem Gull
19th January 2021 marks the 31st Anniversary of Kashmiri Pandit exodus. Kashmiri Pandits are in exile since last 31 years with no hope to return to their motherland. It was the cold, pungent and startling night of 19 January 1990 when the life of Kashmiri Pandits entwined into one of the worst nightmares. In the midst of political rivalries and militant uprising, the Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley were driven out of their own mother land in one of the most prodigious exoduses in the history of world.

The plight of the Kashmiri Pandits is a convoluted and difficult one to narrate. several Pandit women gang raped, Several Pandit brothers were murdered, asked to convert or depart from the valley leaving behind their women folk. Isn’t this a big shame for all of us?

In 1987 the elections were announced in the erstwhile state of J&K and there was a close contest between National Conference and Muslim United Front. The elections were conducted just four months after the swearing-in of Farooq Abdullah as the chief minister of J&K. The elections of 1987 were reportedly rigged in order to prevent the central government from losing control of the state’s politics. Contesting in the elections were Abdullah’s Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC), the Indian National Congress, and the Muslim United Front (MUF), a coalition of Islamic parties that had come together in 1987, and which would, many predicted, perform well in the polls. It is widely agreed that the repression of the popular will in 1987 played a major part in setting off the waves of militancy that flooded the state in the years that followed. Many of those who joined the militancy were MUF supporters who felt that armed revolt is the only way forward. The MUF leader Muhammad Yusuf Shah now known as Syed Salahuddin rose to head Hizbul Mujahideen and in present times United Jehad Council. His election agent in 1987, Yasin Malik crossed over to the Pakistan occupied Kashmir to receive arms training at camps situated there. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) became actively involved and went on to sponsor terrorism activities in Kashmir Valley.

JKLF initiated armed insurgency with the absolute support of ISI. They used Kalashnikov (AK-47) and carried out a huge disinformation and indoctrination campaign among the Kashmiri Muslim population.

In June 1989 pamphlets were distributed in Srinagar city by Hizb-I-Islami giving ultimatum to Muslim women to comply with Islamic commands or face consequences and the Pandit women were asked to put tilak on their foreheads so that they can be identified.

On September 2, the famous Baba Reshi Shrine gutted in a mysterious fire and on the same day a wireless operator of CRPF was shot dead by unknown gunmen in broad day light.

On 14 September 1989 Pandit Sh. Tika Lal Taploo, a lawyer and BJP leader, was murdered outside his residence in Habba Kadal Area of Srinagar which instilled fears in the Pandit, the minority community.

0n November 4 1989 retired Judge Justice Neelkanth Ganjoo who sentenced Maqbool Bhat, one of the founding leaders of JKLF to death was killed in broad daylight. Journalist & lawyer Sh. Prem Nath Bhat was shot dead in Anantnag on December 27 same year. Hit lists of Pandits were circulated then. Waves of panic hit the Kashmiri Pandit community, especially after a local newspaper published a message from the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen,
asking Pandits to leave the valley. In January 1990, the Farooq Abdullah government was dismissed, and Governor’s Rule was declared in J&K. According to reports, there were threatening slogans over loudspeakers from mosques, and on the streets. Speeches were made extolling Pakistan and the supremacy of Islam, and against Hinduism. Slogans were being made against Kashmiri Pandits asking them to convert to Islam or vacate from the valley leaving behind their women folk.

Militancy in Kashmir was at its peak. On the long, dark, wintry night of 19thJanuary 1990, when the whole world was asleep, thousands of loudspeakers hoisted on as many mosques through the length and breadth of the valley suddenly boomed “Azadi” slogans and war cries, exhorting the masses to come out of their homes and march to Srinagar to capture power in the valley. They were urged to cleanse the land of kafirs, to subdue the Pandit women and drive their men out of Kashmir!

This went on until midnight. The Muslims came out on the roads while the Pandits shrank back in terror, watching from behind their drawn blinds, vacillating with fear from the dreadful slogans that pierced their windows and walls. They were witness to the culmination of religious frenzy, a brazen exhibition of mass hysteria. They saw and heard the threats of genocide coming. The terrifying slogans being raised included “Hum Kya Chahte? Aazadi”, “Kashmir Banega Pakistan Batow Rostuy Batnow saan (meaning Kashmir will become Pakistan along with the women folk of Pandit community but excluding male Pandits)”

In this way the whole Kashmiri Pandit community was terrorized and forced to leave their own mother land, their properties, jobs and all other things behind. These horrid happenings have proved to be the turning point in the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their mother land as it has unleashed horrible forces against them, making it impossible for them to stay back in Kashmir valley. Law and order crumbled as Pandits were left alone to defend themselves. For the first time after the independence of India from the British rule, Kashmiri Pandits found themselves abandoned to their fate, stranded in their own homes, encircled by rampaging mobs.

Militants would go about in streets and neighborhoods, waiving guns and promising final victory against Indian forces. Many Pandit Hindu women were kidnapped, raped and murdered throughout the time of the exodus. A young social-worker Sh. Satish Tikkoo was killed near his house in February 1990.

On 13 February 1990 the Station Director of Doordarshan Srinagar Sh. Lassa Kaul was shot dead. The wife of BSF personnel MN Paul was kidnapped, raped and murdered, allegedly because she was the wife of a government official. Sh. Sarwanand Koul Premi, a Kashmiri poet, who was a vocal voice for communal harmony in the Valley and who translated Shrimad Bhagwat Gita into Kashmiri language, was killed near his house along with his son.

Fear-stricken, the hapless Pandits had no option but to leave their homeland, properties, jobs, farms, and temples. Upsetting scenes have followed, of truckloads and busloads of Pandits some even barefoot with hardly any belongings – caravans of men, women and children running away from their homes and hearths. Goosebumps got raised even thinking about how they would have planned their escape on a short notice as news filtered that Pandit community would be subjected to further atrocities in valley. The attitudes of the Muslim neighbours have transformed overnight into one of the disbelief and antagonism as if the Pandits maneuvered the security forces into action against the mass hysteria. The properties of Kashmiri Pandits were looted after their exodus from the valley and some opportunists even forced these Pandits to sell their properties for peanuts and in some cases the property of Kashmiri Pandits has been encroached upon by Muslim neighbours.

Exodus of Pandits from the valley is a black spot on the face of Kashmiris & Kashmiriyat and amounts to ethnic cleansing of Pandits in valley. The sentiment was that Pandits had now been banished from their motherland not just for the future few decades, but for all times to come. Panun Kashmir, a political group representing the Pandits, published a list that stated 1,341 Pandits were killed since 1990. According to political scientist Alexander Evans, 95 percent of the Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley left in 1990. The government of India also failed to protect the Pandit community in valley and acted more like a mute spectator.

After the exodus from valley the life for the Kashmiri Pandits was even more complicated. The ones who used to live in houses which were more like palaces have to spend nights under open sky or in filthy tents. They were forced to face tremendous hardships. The people who used to enjoy princely life in valley became beggars within few hours as they were forced to leave the valley without taking even a single article with them. Later a township of two-room tenements called Jagti was built in Jammu in 2007 to house 4,000-5,000 Pandit families who remained there. In addition, there are hundreds of families living in government tenements in Purkhoo on the outskirts of Jammu, in Nagrota and in Muthi. Some built new homes and some moved into rented places.
While writing this article my hands started to tremble just thinking about the thought of leaving own house and motherland and shifting to some other place leaving behind everything in this manner. No one can understand the pain through which Kashmiri Pandit breathen has undergone. Few days before I was talking to a Pandit Friend who is residing in USA these days and he asked me to capture a pic of his house in Chanapora and send it to him. This tore my heart apart thinking how bad will this guy feel after seeing his house, where he spent his entire childhood. in shambles.

Immediate and concrete steps need to be taken so that the atmosphere can be built for the return of the Kashmiri Pandits. Furthermore, the commission headed by sitting Supreme Court Judge should be setup by government so as to probe into the exodus of Pandits and atrocities committed upon Kashmiri Pandits and those found responsible or part of the conspiracy should

be punished so that the justice can be delivered to these unfortunate natives of my land.
My parents often use to tell me on Dussehra, Shiv Ratri and on other allied occasions that how Kashmiri Pandits used to do shopping on these festivals and how mesmerizing view this valley used to present on those days especially in the side of Habba Kadal, Ganpatyar, Kaka Road etc but alas, I have not witnessed all this even for a minute as I am born in Mid 90’s but I hope soon the days will come whenPandit breathen will return to valley with full honour and dignity and we all will reside here with the same communal harmony.

The Article is Written by Waseem Gul a Socio-Political activist living in Srinagar J&K who is hopeful that some day kashmiri Pandit brothers will return to this torn land.

The author can be reached at waseemgll@gmail.com

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