Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990
Continued from “Indian Economic Reforms in 1991”
It has been nearly three decades now and the majority of Indians, with their short lived memories, have perhaps already forgotten or reconciled with the fate of Kashmiri Pandits who were terrorized and forced en masse in their own homeland of thousand years to abandon their homes and belongings to take refuge in Jammu and elsewhere in the country in order to save their lives from the fanatics and jihadi elements in the Kashmir Valley in early 1990s. Dozens of books, research papers, notes and articles have been made on the subject till now giving illustrated account of the tragic events and sufferings of Pandits by independent authors, researchers and analysts. Of course, the assessment and views of some self-proclaimed liberals and intellectuals of this country, who constantly try to downplay it, can also not be ignored.
Perhaps India is the only country in the world with the strange paradox where many left and left-centric politicians, and a large section of liberals, intellectuals and human rights activists are more worried and concerned in legitimizing the human rights and welfare of the thousands of illegal Rohingya immigrants and millions of such Bangladeshi nationals settled in Assam, Bengal and elsewhere since 1970s than own nationals Kashmiri Pandits and tribals from the north-east forced to live as refugees in own country. While their heart throbs for the millions of the illegal settlers, they so often avoid even a reference to the legitimate issues and problems of the thousands of uprooted Kashmiri Pandit families.
Though the script was written long back and the storm was gathering for months together, the frightful nightmare actually arrived on a cold, dark and dreary night of 19 January 1990 for the Kashmiri Hindus (mostly Pandits) and few Sikhs living in the Valley. The message from the screaming loudspeakers on top of the religious structures and frenzied crowd on the roads was very precise and clear:
Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive
(Convert to Islam, leave the land, or perish).
Reportedly even after almost twenty-eight years of the fateful event, many of those who left their homes and belongings for the safety of the lives of self and family members still shiver remembering the nemesis inflicted rendering them destitute in their own homeland forcing en mass exodus to lesser known and unknown destinations. Ever since, many authors, eye-witnesses including those who actually suffered, have recorded those unfortunate and frightful experiences in numerous books, articles and interviews. For illustration, an excerpt from Col TK Tikoo’s book “Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus” is reproduced here:
"As the night fell, the microscopic community became panic-stricken when the Valley began reverberating with the war-cries of Islamists, who had stage-managed the whole event with great care; choosing its timing and the slogans to be used. A host of highly provocative, communal and threatening slogans, interspersed with martial songs, incited the Muslims to come out on the streets and break the chains of 'slavery'. These exhortations urged the faithful to give a final push to the Kafir (non-believers; Hindus) in order to ring in the true Islamic order. These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits. They were presented with three choices - Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive ...”
On that fateful night, thousands of Kashmiri Muslims came in open into the streets, markets and open spaces in Srinagar and elsewhere in the Valley, ranting and trumpeting 'death to India' and ‘death to Kafirs’. The writing on the wall was very clear for the Pandits. If they are not ready to convert, they must instantly leave the Valley before they meet the same fate as meted out to Tikka Lal Taploo and many others in the last few weeks. Henceforth, the vicious jihadi chants and revolutionary songs with blood-curdling shrieks and shouts became routine to force them to flee from the valley. This was not for the first time, in fact, it was reportedly the the seventh exodus ever since the communal trouble started brewing in Kashmir.
Prelude to the Mass Exodus
Many analysts and independent thinkers hold that the Assembly Election of March 1987 was a watershed in the politics of the Jammu and Kashmir state. Allegedly, the election is widely believed to have been rigged in favour of Farooq Abdullah who formed a coalition government with Congress post-election, defeating the Muslim United Front (MUF), mostly comprising of pro-independence and pro-Pakistan leaders and activists. This sparked a lot of protest and sudden increase in insurgency in the state initially by the militants of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and subsequently by the more dreaded terrorist outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). The sensational murders of two prominent people of the Kashmiri Pandit community during the second half of 1989 only served as omen and catalyst for what was in store in the fate of the minority Hindu (Pandit) and Sikh community in the Valley.
It was a sunny day of the 14th September 1989 when Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and a lawyer by profession, came out on his usual routine in Bhan Mohalla of Srinagar and headed towards the High Court where he practiced law. After a brief charitable rendezvous with his poor Muslim neighbour, he had hardly gone a few step forward when he was stopped by three men with faces wrapped in dark cloth at the blind turn of the lane. One of them quickly took out a handgun, aimed at him and pulled the trigger. The next moment, bullet-ridden body of Pandit Taploo was lying dead in a pool of blood. The Bar fraternity simply organized condolence in the premises of the High Court and his house with no clue of killers who could never be apprehended.
Barely after few weeks of this gruesome murder, the unknown gunmen shot dead Justice Nilakanth Ganjoo (retired), yet another Kashmiri Pandit , in the broad day light in Maharaj Bazaar, Srinagar. He had returned from Delhi and proceeded to his house from the airport. Quite obviously, Justice Ganjoo was under surveilance and the gunmen were well-informed. He was the same judge in Srinagar who had sentenced the death penalty to Maqbool Bhat of the JKLF, found guilty in the murder of Amar Chand, a CID Police Sub-Inspector of Jammu and Kashmir Police. Needless to say, the killings of two well-known and respected citizens sent a shock wave among the minority community across the Kashmir Valley. Consequently, the entire minority community started feeling insecure and deeply concerned about the security and safety of their life and property. The ensuing events soon vindicated that their apprehensions were not unfounded.
Only two months before the killing of BJP leader Taploo, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had released a number of Kashmiri youth from Srinagar jails, who were allegedly guilty of crossing the Line of Control (LoC) to receive training in the terrorist camps in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). These youth were mostly associated with the Muslim United Front (MUF) that contested 1987 elections of the J&K Legislative Assembly despite the charges of the sedition against the State, and later strongly protested against the National Conference-Congress combine for the alleged rigging in the elections. Ironically, the MUF projected the rigging episode as a ploy of suppression of Muslim predominance in the State making the Kashmiri Pandit community as scapegoat with hardly about three per cent population.
MUF, the frontline ultra-organization of Kashmir’s Jamaat-e-Islami and other smaller political outfits, favoured an armed Islamic resistance and had support from the POK and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). A number of Kashmiri youth after release from the jail had again crossed over to POK and joined the terrorist training camps. The top four among them, namely Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani, Javed Mir and Yasin Malik later became the pioneers of the armed insurgency in the Valley, with the initial plan of the decimation of the Pandit community. The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was yet another supposedly political organization, yet in reality the militant wing of the Plebiscite Front, founded by Amanullah Khan and Maqbool Bhat in Match 1977 originally in Birmingham, UK. Later this organization opened its centre in the POK and with the active support of the Pakistani establishment and ISI started armed insurgency in Kashmir Valley around mid-1980s.
The JKLF had actually opened its account by kidnapping and killing the Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in Birmingham in 1984, secretly raised its cadre and ammunition with the assistance of the ISI and started an armed insurgency in the Kashmir Valley by terrorizing and killing the Kashmiri Pandits, allegedly Tika Lal Taploo being the first victim in late 1989. The chief sources of their power and dominance in the Valley were the use of ISI supplied Kalashnikov against the ill-equipped state police and unarmed civilians, and the massive disinformation campaign in Kashmir and across the world glorifying terror activities as the indigenous freedom movement those days.
According to reports, the Pakistani intelligence machinery had realized by experience that the diaspora of the POK could play a crucial role in fomenting armed insurgency in the Valley. Hence they adopted a two pronged strategy taking full advantage of the JKLF and other militants in the Valley. First they endeavoured to indoctrinate people in general and militants in particular with the concept of Islamic Jihad in which the Hindus identified as kafir (infidel) became the natural target. A vigorous disinformation campaign was started telling Valley people that the Muslims were suppressed and oppressed by the Hindus in Kashmir. The other strategy was to hone the lust of the militants in the POK for domination over the entire State with forever prosperity and bliss, if the Valley was cleansed of its Hindu population.
Needless to mention, the joint plot and ploy of the militants and ISI succeeded to a considerable extent, As already mentioned earlier, Pandit Taploo, a lawyer and a BJP member, was murdered in broad day light near his house, Nilkanth Ganjoo, a judge, was eliminated creating a mass fear and uncertainty among the minority Pandit community in the Valley. In December 1989, the JKLF kidnapped Dr. Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the then Union Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed causing a major upset and embarrassment to the state and central governments, Rubaiya was later released in exchange of the five hardcore militants. A Srinagar based newspaper Aftab published a message on 4 January 1990, asking all Hindus to immediately leave Kashmir ascribing this dictat to the Hizb-ul -Mujahideen. Another Srinagar based newspaper Al-safa too published similar warning to Hindus.
Soon the walls and public buildings became full of similar posters with the threatening messages for all Kashmiris to rigidly follow the Islamic code which included adherence to the Islamic dress, a prohibition of liquor, cinemas and video parlors and strict discipline and public restrictions on Kashmiri women. Office buildings, establishments and shops were painted green symbolizing the Islamic rule and people were told to reset their time according to Pakistan Standard Time. Unidentified masked men with Kalashnikovs were seen roaming on streets and frequently forcing people to comply instructions. The armed conflict and deteriorating law and order situation in the state ultimately led to the resignation of Farukh Abdullah government and the Governor rule in Jammu & Kashmir in January 1990.
The Mass Exodus
It was the cold and chilly night of 19th January 1990 and time around 9.00 PM. All of sudden, the Valley began reverberating with the war-cries of the Islamists with the loud and thunderous Islamic and pro-Pakistan slogans raised collectively by the crowd on the streets and relayed through the loudspeakers. It’s not that the minority community had not heard these slogans in the past but it was the intriguing spontaneity and the clatter and commotion at the odd hours that really surprised and scared most of them in their houses. Mobiles were not in vogue therefore, quite naturally, the telephones lines instantly got alive and buzzing with every Kashmiri Pandit family busy in inquiring own relatives, friends or even acquaintances if they were safe and secure.
Some had courage while most others were too scared to come out in the cold and dreary night to see what was happening around. Indeed, a strange scenario was unfolding on the roads, streets, squares and open spaces of Srinagar. Crowd of the majority population comprising of the young, old, woman and even children were out of their homes, energetically gesturing and yelling slogans in the name of religion and Pakistan. The people carried rugs, carpets and mats spread out on the streets and squares with the bonfires lit to keep them warm. They hunched, cringed, danced and shook their fists in violent gestures and cries while the loud speakers blurred a mix of religious verses, revolutionary songs, anti-India trenchant, pro-Pakistan slogans and the supremacy of the Islamic faith. By turn, speakers spoke with the fire brand criticism of India, while raising provocative slogans, unqualified praise for Pakistan, stories of the heroes of early Islamic conquests, the paradise created for the Momin (pure) and hell fire for the kuffar (unbelievers).
The essence of the surcharged gesticulates and utterances was that the kufr (heresy), butparast (idolatry) and dualism had to be cleansed from daru’l salam (the place of peace). Spirited stories of the heroes of early Islam were remembered and related insisting that the faith had not lost the strength of destroying non-believers. All this pontification continued till wee hours of the following morning. The message was loud and clear to Kashmiri Pandits that they were the ones in the line of crusade and fire. As for the members of the minority communities, mainly Pandits, they remained flocked in their nests (houses) like frightened pigeons, keeping vigil night long and occasionally inquiring welfare of near and dear ones through telephones.
Even the following morning, most of the minority people did not have courage to even go out to the nearby temples for offering daily prayers or to scale Hari Parbat heights for the usual veneration to the deity. Quite obviously, the night-long tirade against the minority community, jihadi slogans and war cries against India and kafirs had completely drained out their physical strength taking away peace and tranquility of minds. Perhaps each one was plagued with the same dilemma if they can continue to live safely and peacefully in the Valley without the assurance and goodwill of the majority community. Although the unfortunate events and happenings occurred in the past too but they seldom felt so threatened in their own neighborhood as on this occasion. It was for the first time in the history of Kashmir Valley that an open and brazen indignation and threat was unleashed upon them. Soon they realized how their neighbours had changed colours overnight, as if they were putting on a mask for long and thrown it off now.
With Jagmohan taking reigns as Governor on the same day and Farooq Abdullah simultaneously resigned, the administration had collapsed, and law and order thrown to winds. As per contemporary reports, the state police deserted their posts thus passively allowing anarchy to rule the roost. The Kashmiri Pandit community was totally left in lurch to suffer in the hands of militants and anarchists with their very survival under a big question mark. Their traditional neighbours of the majority community started behaving like strangers in most cases and the atmosphere changed to that of mutual suspicion and bitterness. The effect of a viable and effective government was nowhere to be seen and not a single police man was visible in streets or public places with most of them withdrawn to barracks or hidden in homes. As the eye-witnesses hold, the morning of 20th January 1990 brought the rule of the mosque, the priests and the fanatics with Loud-speakers blurring uninterruptedly asking the Pandits to immediately leave the Valley. Only a small section of Kashmiri majority community indoctrinated with the hate mania had achieved the disruption of peace, tranquility and communal harmony in the entire Valley.
Apart from the Loud-speakers mounted on the mosque tops, the local popular dailies like Al-safa published warning to pandits without mincing words to leave the Valley within hours if they were keen to protect their life and honour. Anti-India demonstrations became a regular feature in display of anger, hate and revenge in the streets and public places. While the Radio Kashmir revealed the names of the identified victims of the minority community gunned down by the militants, the atmosphere was filled with rumours and true stories of several gruesome murders and arson deeply unnerving the minority community with no one around to offer solace and assurance of protection of their life and belongings. Reportedly, the level of indoctrination was such that even many peaceful parents of the majority community were scared of asking their sons inquisitive questions about their whereabouts and activities.
The above position is best explained in the interview of the JKLF leader Farooq Ahmad Dar alias 'Bitta Karate' who was arrested and interrogated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). In connection with a case related to the funding of terror and subversive activities in Jammu & Kashmir, reportedly Bitta Karate admitted on-camera that he had killed 22 people and, thereafter, he lost the count, and also that he would have killed his own brother, and even parents if he was ordered to do so by his Area Commander Ishfaq Majid Wani. His confession revealed that his first victim was Satish Kumar Tiku, his own friend and perhaps a class fellow too. Karate admitted that he had blindly obeyed orders while killing the individuals marked for extermination; and that he himself had no way of knowing whether the persons he was killing were ‘guilty or innocent’. In fact, more than chilling confession it was the conviction and spontaneity of his response that sent shock waves and clear impression that he was not speaking under duress, despite being in custody.
Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Bitta Karate served a prison term from 1990 to 2006 on terror related charges, today he is a free man and reportedly the current chairman of the JKLF. Another associate Yasin Malik, was arrested in connection with the gunning down of six uniformed Indian Air Force personnel at Barzulla bus stand, Srinagar. Malik was one who campaigned for the MUF candidate Mohammad Yusuf Shah in 1987 Assembly Election; while Shah later identified as "Syed Salahuddin" became a guerilla leader and the commander-in-chief of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Yasin Malik shifted to the POK and became the chief of JKLF after it’s split. In August 1990, Yasin Malik was captured in a wounded condition and remained imprisoned until May 1994. After release from prison on bail, he declared an indefinite ceasefire of the JKLF and officially renounced violence while continuing with his agenda of independence as a separatist leader.
The 19th January episode followed a series of individual and group murders, rape followed by heinous killing, arson and loot; the victims in all cases were from the minority community mostly Kashmiri Pandit and their families, including several renowned persons like writers and poets, social activists, lawyers, traders and government officials. A few victims of killing and rape are listed here: Ms. Girija Tickoo, a teacher in a government school in Kupwara district; Avtar Krishan Koul, Deputy Director Food Supplies; Lassa Kaul, Director Doordarshan (Television) Srinagar; lawyer Premnath Bhat in Anantnag; Professor Nilakanth Raina, an eminent historian and researcher in Srinagar; Sheela Tikoo in Srinagar; Mrs. M.N. Paul, the wife of an Inspector of BSF; B.K. Ganjoo, a Telecommunication engineer; nurse Sarla Bhat; Mrs. Prana Ganjoo and Prof. K.L. Ganjoo in Sopore; Mrs. J.L. Ganjoo, her husband and sister-in-law in Srinagar; Ms. Teja Dhar in Srinagar; Dr. Shani in Srinagar; Babli Raina in Srinagar; Sarwanand Koul Premi, a poet and scholar in Anantnag district. The usual modus oprandi in many cases was to torture and kill a man; most women were raped before killing. In case of Dr. Shani, she was reportedly locked and the house was set in fire.
Panun Kashmir, an organization representing the interest of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, had published a list of some 1341 people who were killed by jihadis during the course of armed insurgency in the Valley of Kashmir in 1990 and thereafter. This included the disappeared and fished out Pandits too, whose accurate identity could not be established. As against this, the Jammu and Kashmir government officially maintain that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed and 24,202 families migrated out of the valley. The majority killings took place in the first 2-3 months of the militants’ call to leave Valley. Then there are varying perceptions and assessment made by independent analysts and a section of liberals and intellectuals in India. Some analysts opined that the human toll has been deliberately under-pitched by the government to escape criticism and censure by the United Nations as according to the Tokyo Convention, the killings beyond 200 are recognized as genocide. Similarly, some others say that the government figures are more reliable.
Similarly, there are different assessments and conflicting versions about the number of Kashmiri Pandits too that left Valley in 1990s. Author Mridu Rai considers the claims of casualty and displacement exaggerated. Then the political scientist, Alexander Evans assessed that about 95 per cent of the Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley left in 1990, i.e. anything between 150,000 and 160,000. However, a 2010 report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council suggests that about 250,000 Pandits had been displaced since 1990 while a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report put the figure of the displaced persons around 300,000 from the whole state. Those obsessed with the figures and statistics perhaps tend to lose sight of the agony, torture and suffering inflicted on innocent people. Do they realize the indignity and suffering of a woman repeatedly raped inhumanly before murder and then dumped waif for no fault; an inexcusable crime and shame on humanity.
It was not merely individual killings but in a number of cases Pandits were inflicted with horrific massacres by the jihadis and militants. Lists of such incidents have been compiled and readily available in public domain. In the atmosphere of terror and lawlessness, the fear-stricken community had no option but to follow impulsive push of running away from the prevailing conundrum and cauldron in the Valley. The then Central government and parliamentarians could hardly take any substantive measure assuring protection to their life and property.
Thus threatened and defenseless Pandit community had no option but to abandon their age old homeland, houses and hearths, properties and belongings, farms and orchards, business and trade, jobs, temples and shrines, and everything behind to explore and try luck in lesser or unknown destinations. Most of them engaged whatever possible means of transportation, took a handful of clothes and other essentials and left the Valley for Jammu and other destinations. Others tried to quickly dispose of their landed property and other assets to fetch whatever money possible with an intent to leave as early as possible. This conundrum continued for next few months in 1990 during which a large number of casualties took place. The most ironical part appears that despite the fact that thousands of soldiers were garrisoned in the Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar but no help came perhaps in the absence of clear instructions from the government. In fact, the history was reversed in their traditional home land six centuries ago, ever since they had braved many attempts of conversion and extirpation but this time their banishment from the birth place was full and final despite a so-called democratic and secular dispensation in the State and Centre.
Aftermath and Current Position
Many houses, shops and other properties were grabbed by the neighbours and other locals of the majority community under the distress sale which many Pandit families resorted to before leaving the Valley. The abandoned houses of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley gave a deserted look for long. They were looted by the miscreants at will for the household goods, furniture, kitchenware, electronic gadgets and other accessories. The doors, windows, electrical and sanitary fittings and fixtures etc. were taken away, used or sold in market. In many cases, the bare structures were put on fire unless if not in the densely populated area. In villages, the ruins of torched Pandit’s houses were grabbed and converted as Endowment (Waqf) property. Shrines, temples and crematoriums stood largely vandalized and usurped. This is how the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir Valley, a long cherished dream of the fanatics and jihadis, was accomplished.
The majority displaced families had migrated to Jammu, Punjab, Delhi NCR and some other places. Some of them were lucky to have recovered with the support of their close friends and relatives. But the thousands of Pandit families still languish in shabby refugee settlements. According to the Indian government sources, over 60,000 families are registered as Kashmiri refugees including few Sikh families. Governments in the State and Centre have come and gone during the almost three decades but a large number of Kashmiri families, what to talk of restoration to their homeland, are still striving for a respectable living seeking proper employment and means of livelihood.
The erstwhile UPA government had announced a rehabilitation package for the Kashmiri refugees in 2008. As per some reports, about 1800 Kashmiri Pandit youth returned to the Valley since announcement of the said package. After coming in power in 2014, the present NDA government too expressed their resolve to do needful with all seriousness for their resettlement and return to the Valley. An issue of separate townships for the Kashmiri Pandits was mooted but the move faced a stiff resistance from the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders as well as mainstream politicians. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen even threatened to attack such township. Reportedly, in an interview with a private television channel in January last, Farooq Abdullah remarked that the onus was on Kashmiri Pandits to come back themselves and nobody would beg them to do so.
Actually, the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits is not that simple task. The point is that the most of these families now do not have a ready and safe homeland and home to go back. Their erstwhile houses, shops and other permanent assets have been either completely destroyed or grabbed legalizing it in revenue record for other purposes. Besides, many of them had sold it at throw away prices to the neighbours and other locals before leaving the Valley. Above all, the biggest question is who will guarantee the safety and security of their life and assets with the bitter past experience. The idea of a separate township has already been rejected by the separatists, Kashmiri politicians with unambiguous threats coming from jihadi elements. As of now, no government has a clear roadmap or vision for the settlement of the Pandits.
Who Belongs to Kashmir, Anyway?
Rajatarangini, a historical chronicle of the ancient India till twelfth century, written in Sanskrit by Kalhana around 1148 CE, is the most reliable and authentic work so far as the history of the Kashmir region is concerned. The book covers the entire span of history in the Kashmir region from the earliest times till the date of its composition. In compiling this magnum opus, Kalhana’s search and methodology for the material was truly fastidious and commendable. He delved deep into the Harsacharita and the Brihat-samhita epics and utilized the local rajakathas (royal chronicles) with memorable efforts including the previous works on Kashmir as Nripavali by Kshemendra, Parthivavali by Helaraja, and Nilamatapurana.
In its eight volumes with 7,826 verses, Rajtarangini chronicles the life and events of the kings in succession, starting from the Gonanda dynasty in 1182 BCE (Book I) to Harshadeva in 1111 CE (Book VII). Book VIII contains the description of Lohara dynasty; Jayasimha (reigned 1128–49) listed as the last king of the contemporary times. The remarkable commonality of almost 3000 years’ history is that entire lineage of the civilization belonged to Hindu origin and faith. During the 3rd century BCE, Emperor Ashoka introduced Buddhism in the Valley. Kashmir was a major hub of Hindu cultural and religious glory by the 9th century AD, well known for the Hindu sect Kashmiri 'Shaivism', and some of the greatest Sanskrit scholars; position continued to remain so till early fourteenth century CE.
Northern India started experiencing attacks from Turkic and Arab invaders from eighth century onwards but mountainous region of Kashmir valley remained largely insulated and unaffected from their onslaught. It was in fourteenth century that Muslim invaders established rule in the valley for the first time during a weak and unpopular Lohara dynasty king. Shah Mir became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir in 1339 CE establishing Salatin-i-Kashmir (Swati dynasty). Thereafter, Muslim monarchs ruled Kashmir for the next five centuries, including the Mughals and Afghans until 1820. Sikandar Butshikan (1389-1413), a Muslim ruler, is recorded as one who had taken a drive for the systematic destruction of the Hindu temples and Shrines; he forced people to convert to Islam or migrate from the Valley to other parts. The outcome of the constant persecution through conversion and migration led to gradual shift in population becoming predominantly of Muslim origin in the Valley.
Emperor Akbar conquered Kashmir in 1587 AD and Mughal rule lasted till 1752 AD. He was a moderate Muslim and during his rule the, Hindus too enjoyed security of life and property. It is generally believed that he was one who, impressed with the learning and intellect of brahmans in the Valley, gave them surname Pandit. Mughul rule was followed by the Afghans (1752 – 1819) and during sustained reign of Muslim rulers more and more Kashmiris were forcibly converted to Islam, leaving Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) in minority. Despite being in minority, they remained a cohesive community of highly literate and socially elite in the valley through the British dominance of India.
The Muslim period, which lasted for about 500 years, ended in 1819 with the annexation of Kashmir to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab. Later, the Hindu Dogra kingdom was established in 1846 at the end of First Sikh War and their rule lasted till independence. Till 1947 under the Dogra (Rajput) rule, Kashmiri Pandits constituted about 15 percent of the population. A significant portion of this population left valley during Muslim riots in 1948 and slow exodus continued in the following years too because of the insecurity to their life and property prevailing in a volatile situation in the Valley. During the late seventies and eighties, with the upsurge of insurgency across the border and militants systematically targeting of Kashmiri Pandits, a large scale exodus from valley continued for years. Thus Kashmir is a sordid tale of how a culturally rich and peaceful majority community could be systematically decimated to minority, eventually destroyed and uprooted through an aggressive agenda by a handful of fanatic and jihadi elements.
Geographic and Demographic Reality
In the rhetoric of Kashmir raised by Pakistan and some separatist elements in the Valley, people often tend to forget that Jammu & Kashmir, despite a handful inborn jihadi elements and decades of Pakistan sponsored coercion, subversive activities and propaganda, is not a uniformly homogeneous land. As per 2011 Census on the demography and geography of the state, the total land area is broadly divided into three divisions; Jammu Division, Kashmir Valley Division and Ladakh Division. The Kashmir Valley, a volatile and troubled region, constitutes only about 15.73% landmass while the peaceful Jammu and Ladakh (84.27%) regions together constitute about 25.94% and 58.33%, respectively. In Valley too, out of ten districts, Srinagar, Anantnag, Kupwara, Shopian and Baramula are more prone to terrorism and sabotage activities while the other districts are relatively peaceful.
About ethnic population, Kashmir valley has over 97% Muslims (a result of years of persecution of Hindus and other communities) and the remaining are Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. In the Jammu Division, about 62.55% population is Hindu, 33.45% Muslim and remaining 4% Sikhs and Buddhists. Sparsely populated Ladakh has a large district of Leh and a small Kargil of which the former has about 77% Buddhists and the latter 80% Muslim population. On overall basis, Ladakh region has about 46% Muslim population and remaining 54% Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. By unleashing sustained propaganda, sabotage and terror, the jihadis and militants have succeeded in cleansing Valley but the remaining almost 85 percent landscape of Jammu & Kashmir still has a majority Hindu and Buddhist population.
The Kashmir exodus is a significant event in the history of the modern India because it caused a serious and immutable dent on the mutual trust, goodwill and harmony between the two communities for all time to come after the earlier tragic and horrific events of partition in 1947. A culturally rich, peaceful and prosperous community was systematically and by design tortured, killed and uprooted from their millennia old traditional homeland and yet India claims to be a secular and democratic country. The majority of these families are still languishing in shabby and inadequate shelters in search of proper means of livelihood and their lost honour and pride but the prominent political parties and so-called liberals, intellectuals and human right activists appear more vocal, worried and focused on the rights of illegal Rohingya immigrants, many of them with alleged links with jihadis and terrorists, and Bangladeshis which have almost changed the erstwhile demography of some north-east states and Bengal. Such inherent contradictions and paradox are perhaps possible in Indian democracy only.
The Kashmir Valley has almost turned into a theocratic Islamic region within the secular India. From a brief account of the history of Kashmir, one could see how the age old traditional culture of Kashmir has been destroyed by the fanatic and jihadi elements during the last few centuries of the long Kashmir history. Above all, in the absence of modern education and continuous disruptions and disturbances, the Kashmir Valley does not have a viable economy mostly depending on huge financial doles from the Centre under one or the other pretext. Irony is that the politicians and fashionable liberals and human activists would criticize and blame sundry and all but those who are actually responsible for this nemesis. With his own experience in the government, the author can say where it suits Kashmiri politicians and officials talk about the Indian Constitution and Acts, otherwise their own acts and rules protected under Article 370 supplemented by 35A come handy to conveniently deny it. Ironically, the state political leadership including separatists, are quite ambivalent with their pro-Indian or pro-Pakistani inclination subject to funds or favour received.
Notwithstanding the fact that both UPA and NDA governments showed their keenness and resolve for the return and resettlement of the uprooted minority community from time to time but ultimately it depends on the goodwill and sincere resolve of the majority community in the Valley. Insensitive remarks of politicians like “…onus was on Kashmiri Pandits to come back themselves and nobody would beg them to do…” only adds insult to injury rather than helping the cause in any way. Currently, except for some occasional and conditional lip service, neither the goodwill of the majority community in the Valley nor such wisdom and commitment of the political leadership exist which could give some hope of the restoration of the normalcy and harmony that the displaced Kashmiri Pandits deserve.
(Ack: While a large number of articles and reports available in public domain have been consulted but the author is particulatly grateful to Col TK Tikoo for his book "Kashmir: Its Aborigins and Their Exodus" and European Foundation for South Asian Studies, Amsterdam for their well analysed research paper "The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits"; portions of which were used by the author in the present piece of writing.)
To be continued...