Why India won’t remember the day Kashmiri Pandits were left to die
January 19, 1990, a date etched in our collective memory, a date that is hard to forget no matter how hard one tries to erase the memories of that night, they come back to haunt you again and again.
But then January 19, 1990 did not happen in a day.
For years, Pakistan kept training and indoctrinating many young Kashmiri Muslims to wage a jihad against India in Kashmir. Training camps were being operated in PoK and many Kashmiri Muslim boys were being trained to fight the infidels. Armed with Kalashnikovs and the ideology of hate these terrorists came back to Kashmir to kill, maim and separate Kashmir from India. It wasn’t as if the state government or the central government did not know that all this was happening, but almost as if in a tacit understanding with the terrorists it did nothing to tackle the surge of terrorism. On the contrary, the NC government kept releasing dreaded terrorists – almost 70 of them between July to November 1989. During all this time, the writ of the terrorists went unchallenged. The National Conference government had run away and abdicated all its responsibilities. There was no administration at all.
The Kashmiri Pandits were sitting ducks waiting to be murdered.
Already the diktat of militants ran in vast swathes of Kashmir valley. Strange diktats started appearing on the walls. Everything Indian was the new untouchable. Terrorists would put out hit lists of people to be killed for being pro-India or “anti-movement”.
Prominent Kashmiri Pandits were already being targeted and killed. BJP leader and prominent social activist Tika Lal Taploo was killed in broad day light in down town Sringar…Justice Nilakanth Ganjoo was gunned down and it took hours for his body to be picked up from the road. Advocate Prem Nath Bhat was brutally killed in Anantnag area of South Kashmir. Many more not so well known were killed. The message was loud and clear. Kashmiri Pandits were targets and no one could save them. It seemed nobody cared about whether they lived, died or perished. It still wasn’t January, 1990. But Kashmiri Pandits hoped against hope that the powerful Indian nation would come to their rescue. They stayed put in the only place they knew as home.
On January 4, 1990, Aftab published a press release of Hizbul Mujahideen asking all Hindus to leave. Another newspaper Al-Safapublished the same press release. Soon notices to leave were pasted on the doors of Pandits.
Yet all that happened so far would now pale into insignificance compared to what was to happen on the fateful night of January 19, 1990. It wasn’t as if one gali or one mohalla or one road was to erupt in a forceful orgy to scare and drive away Pandits.
As the darkness of the night overtook the feeble sunlight of the day the forces of evil had taken over entire Kashmir. From the bylanes of downtown Habbakadal to the nooks and corners of Rainawari, from the apple towns of Sopore and Shopian, from the bustling upscale Srinagar to sleepy hamlets of Kupwara and Handwara, there was just one cry. The one to drive away Pandits.
Thousands, nay lacs of adrenalin pumped Kashmiris, marched into the streets of the Valley shouting slogans never heard before. Mosques all over Kashmir blared out loud that Kashmir was to become Pakistan. Songs eulogising the Mujahideen were played over and over again.
Jago Jago Subah Huyee; Rus ne Baazi Haari Hain, Hind par larzaan tare hain, Ab Kashmir ki baaree hain
(Wake up, Russia has fallen and India eyes defeat, It is the turn of Kashmir to be freed.)
This song was played for a long duration, many times over and as soon as it ended, it gave way to sloganeering of a different kind, the kind that did not just target the establishment of India, but one which targeted the Pandits directly.
The slogans that were now filling the air left us in no doubt that we were about to be defiled or killed.
Hum Kya Chahte Azadi… (We want freedom)
Azzadi Ka Matlab Kya, La Illah Il lallah (Freedom means La Illah Il Laalh)
Agar Kashmir Main Rehna Hoga, Allah-u-Akbar Kehna Hoga (If you want to live in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-u-Akbar)
Ae Zalimo Ae Kafiro, Kashmir Hamara (Chod Do Oh Cruel people, you the Kafirs, Leave our Kashmir)
Yahan kya Chalega Nizam-e-Mustafa…
The rule of the Prophet will reign here… was still resounding in our ears when we started hearing:
We want Kashmir to become Pakistan without Pandit men but with their women.
It was this last slogan that terrified Kashmiri Pandits more than the fear of imminent death. Most families hid their womenfolk in attics or store rooms and gave them clear instructions to kill them just in case the crowd barged in. This was the night of doom and gloom one that refused to end. The darkness hid faces of people who were our friends and neighbours, our classmates and teammates, ones we had grown up with, yet those who were baying for our blood or wanting to rape our daughters and sisters.
The message was loud and clear. Raliv Galiv ya Chaliv – Join us, Die or Flee.
There wasn’t one village, one street, one locality, one society where these slogans weren’t shouted. The pre-planned and well orchestrated mobs that had descended on the streets of Kashmir left no one in doubt about the fate that awaited Kashmiri Pandits. As usual the administration or police was nowhere to be seen or heard of. It was an era when there was no social media and no mobile phones, and telephone density in Kashmir was next to nil. The unthinkable was to be done. Most Kashmiri Pandits started packing whatever little they could under the given circumstances and started fleeing to save their honour and lives. People fled in whatever they could. They hid under canvas covers of trucks, left in buses, hired taxis. The exodus had started. The government, intelligentsia, the seculars, the conscience keepers of this nation – all had gone to sleep. No one even talked about it.
The days that followed the night of January 19, 1990 saw Kashmiri Pandits being killed in scores every day. Atrocities against KPs had become the order of the day. From Budgam to Brijbehara, from Kupwara to Kanikadal there was hardly a day when Kashmiri Pandits weren’t been killed. Most brutal forms of torture from gouging out of eyes, to cutting genitals, to burning bodies with cigarette butts and even chopping off body parts were used to kill Pandits. Sarwanand Kaul Premi, a noted scholar had nails were hammered in place of his tilak. BK Ganjoo was killed in his home and his wife was asked to eat the rice soaked in his blood. Sarla Bhat a nurse was gangraped before being killed and her naked body was thrown on the street. The killers of Ravinder Pandita of Mattan danced over his body. The bodies of Brijlal and Choti were tied to a jeep in Shopian and dragged for 10 km.
Girja Tikoo, a school teacher in Bandipora, was gangraped before being killed. There are hundreds of such stories. One can almost write a book on the people who suffered at the hands of the terrorists while the meek and feeble Indian state looked the other way. A notorious terrorist named Bitta Karate alone killed more than 20 Pandits and had no shame accepting the same. JKLF was responsible for almost all the killings in 1990. More than a thousand Pandits were killed, tortured and raped.
The exodus meanwhile carried on.
By 1991, most Pandits had fled the valley. They were housed in huge inhospitable torn tented camps on the fringes of Jammu city. More than 50,000 families had fled and were living in camps which were bereft of even basic facilities like toilets. Each family was allotted a tent, sometimes more than 10 members shared a ramshackle tent where privacy was literally non-existent. In these camps, deaths were reported because of disease, more because of snakebites and, as the summer came, hundreds died of sun stroke and heat. No one seemed to bother. Neither the state administration nor the champions of human rights. No international aid agencies came to their rescue, neither did the government of India. The Kashmiri Pandits were left to die.
No more than 20,000 Pandits were living in Kashmir now. The process of ethnic cleansing continued in Kashmir with terrorists and a lot of Kashmiri Muslim population burning and desecrating shrines and temples of Hindu worship. Looting and arson took place in abandon. Thousands of Pandit homes, hundreds of temples were burnt and razed to ground. The land was later encroached upon. All this was happening in a multicultural, secular India but the secularists did not seem bothered.
But the Pakistan backed terrorists weren’t done yet. Their insatiable appetite for killings wasn’t satiated yet. More Pandits were to be killed. Seven massacres were inflicted on the hapless community. The terrorists did not even spare two-month old kids. Entire villages of Pandits were wiped off. Yet not a tear was shed, not an award returned, no protest marches taken out, no press statements came from film stars condemning the killing of an entire race.
As we stand today, not one person has been convicted, leave alone punished for the killing of more than a thousand Kashmiri Pandits. No commission of enquiry on the lines of 1984 anti Sikh riots or 2002 post Godhra riots has ever been commissioned to go into the cause of killings and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. No government has bothered to go after the murderers of Kashmiri Pandits. As our homes lie deserted, encroached and our temples in ruins, we stand at the verge of extinction, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue bothering either our political parties or the so called human rights activists.