[The exodus of Pandits from the Valley is an aspect of the Kashmir conflict that has received scant attention. In a book just released, Rahul Pandita, who was 14 at the time he and his family left their home in Srinagar forever, gives a searing account of the displacement, struggle and survival of the community]
Kashmir Valley, 1989-90
It was from a neighbour that we heard the first rumours. He had gone to the ration shop to get sugar when he overheard a man exclaiming — ‘Inshallah, next ration we will buy in Islamabad!’ It was around this time that bus conductors in Lal Chowk could be heard shouting — Sopore, Hand’wor, Upore. Sopore and Handwara were border towns while Upore means across. Across the Line of Control. It was meant as an enticement for the youth to cross over the border for arms training, to launch a jihad against India.
On a hill in the Badami Bagh cantonment, someone had painted ‘JKLF’. One could see it from a distance. It stood for Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. It was rumoured to be an organization of young men who had crossed over the border to receive arms training.
At school we heard the word ‘mujahid’ for the first time. We knew this word. We had heard it on TV, accompanied by images of men in Afghanistan firing rockets from their shoulders. But in the context of Kashmir, it seemed out of place. What were mujahids to do in Kashmir?
On June 23, 1989, pamphlets were distributed in Srinagar. It was an ultimatum to Muslim women, by an organization that called itself Hazb-i-Islami, to comply with ‘Islamic’ standards within two days or face ‘action’. Pandit women were asked to put a tilak on their foreheads for identification.
On September 2, the 300-year-old Baba Reshi shrine was gutted in a fire under mysterious circumstances. On the same morning, a wireless operator of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was shot in our neighbourhood.
On the afternoon of September 14, I was playing cricket in the school grounds. My side won the match, and I was about to treat myself to an orange lolly with my pocket money when I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder. I turned back and saw Father standing there. He smiled.
‘Go and get your bag, we have to go home,’ he said. I thought something terrible had happened at home. ‘Why, what happened?’ I asked.
‘Someone has been shot in Habba Kadal. The situation will turn worse. So we need to head home.’
That was when the first Pandit fell to bullets. Some armed men had entered the house of the political activist Tika Lal Taploo and shot him dead.
The next day, Father did not let me go to school. We were told that Taploo’s funeral procession was pelted with stones. But barring that, nothing more untoward happened immediately after his death.. I went back to school two days later. During the Hindi class, when the Muslim boys would be away for Urdu class, the Pandit teacher got an opportunity to discuss the killing with us. ‘Times are beginning to get tough,’ she said. ‘That is why it is important for all of you to study with renewed vigour.’ In its preliminary investigation, the state police believed that Taploo’s killing did not fit the pattern emerging from the activities of Kashmiri militants.
Twelve days after Taploo’s death, the then chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, performed a small piece of classical dance along with dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy during a cultural function at the Martand temple. A few days later, he assured people that militancy would end soon.
On Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, on October 14, a massive crowd gathered near the Budshah chowk in the heart of Srinagar, and from there, it marched towards Eidgah to the graveyard that had been renamed the ‘martyr’s graveyard’. The onlookers cheered and showered shireen on the marchers as if to welcome a marriage procession. That evening, father returned home with a neighbour and they told us they had witnessed the procession. The crowd was shouting slogans that had shocked them..
Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa
La sharqiya la garbiya, Islamia Islamia
What will work here? The rule of Mustafa
No eastern, no western, only Islamic, only Islamic
Zalzala aaya hai kufr ke maidaan mein,
Lo mujahid aa gaye maidaan mein
An earthquake has occurred in the realm of the infidels,
The mujahids have come out to fight
It was indeed an earthquake. It toppled everything in Kashmir in the next few weeks. Within a few days the whole scenario changed. There was another series of bomb blasts outside other symbols of ‘Indianness’ — India Coffee House, Punjab National Bank, the Press Trust of India. Then the tide turned against wine shops and cinema halls.
It was only much later that we were able to connect this turmoil to world events occurring around the same time. The Russians had withdrawn from Afghanistan nine years after they swept into the country. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini had urged Muslims to kill the author of The Satanic Verses. In Israel, a Palestinian bomber struck in a bus for the first time, killing sixteen civilians. A revolution was surging across Eastern Europe; and a bloodied frenzy was about to be unleashed against the Armenian Christian community in Azerbaijan.
In the midst of this chaos, my eldest uncle came from my father’s village to visit us. ‘The water in the spring at the goddess’s sanctum has turned black,’ he whispered. This was considered to be ominous. Legend had it that whenever any catastrophe befell our community, the spring waters turned black.
That it was indeed a catastrophe became clear on the night of January 19, 1990.
Jammu, post-exile, early 90s
Some of our erstwhile neighbours had realized that we were in an acute financial crisis and that this was the right time to buy our properties at a fraction of what they were really worth. The houses of Pandits who had lived in posh colonies were much in demand.
Many in Kashmir wanted to shift their relatives, who stayed in villages or congested parts of the city, to better houses, to better lives. You would be sitting in your home when a man would suddenly arrive at your doorstep. ‘Asalam Walekum,’ he would greet you while removing his shoes at your doorstep. Once inside, he would embrace you tightly. He would not come empty-handed.
He always carried symbols of our past lives with him — a bunch of lotus stems, or a carton of apples, or a packet of saffron. He sat cross-legged beside you, running his eyes over the room — over the kitchen created by making a boundary of bricks and empty canisters, over the calendar depicting your saints, over your clothes hanging from a peg on the wall, and over to your son, sweating profusely in one corner and studying from a Resnick and Halliday’s physics textbook. He would nod sympathetically, accepting a cup of kahwa, and begin his litany of woes.
‘You people are lucky,’ he would say. ‘You live in such poor conditions, but at least you can breathe freely. We have been destroyed by this Azadi brigade, by these imbeciles who Pakistan — may it burn in the worst fires of hell! — gave guns to. We cannot even say anything against them there, because if we do, we will be shot outside our homes. Or somebody will throw a hand grenade at us.’ He would then sigh and a silence would descend upon the room, broken only by his slurps.
‘Accha, tell me, how is Janki Nath? What is his son doing?
Engineering! Oh, Allah bless him!’ He would patiently finish his kahwa while you sat wondering what had brought him to your doorstep. It was then that he came to the point.
‘Pandit ji,’ he would begin. ‘You must be wondering why I am here. I remember the good old days when we lived together. Whatever education we have, it is thanks to the scholarship of your community. Tuhund’ie paezaar mal chhu — it is nothing but the dirt of your slippers. Anyway . . .’ He would pause again.
‘I pray to Allah that before I close my eyes, I may see you back in Srinagar. But right now, it is so difficult. Tell me, what is your son doing? Oh, it’s his most crucial board exam this year!
Pandit ji, do you have enough money to send him to study engineering, like Janki Nath’s son? I can see that you don’t have it. This is why I am here.’
And then he would ask the crucial question: Tohi’e ma chhu kharchawun? Do you wish to spend?
This was a well-thought-of euphemism he had invented to relieve you of the feeling of parting with your home.. ‘Do you wish to spend?’ meant ‘Do you want to sell your home?’
‘You have had no source of income for months now,’ he would continue. ‘This is all I can offer you for your house. I know it is worth much more, but these are difficult times even for us.’
If you relented, he would pull out a wad of cash.
‘Here, take this advance. Oh no, what are you saying? Receipt?
You should have hit me with your shoe instead. No receipt is required. I will come later to get the papers signed.’
He would also forcibly leave a hundred-rupee note in your son’s hands and leave. A few days later, a neighbour would come around and ask ‘Oh, Jan Mohammed was here as well?’
‘His son has become the divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen,’ the neighbour would inform you.
Most of us did not have a choice. By 1992, the locks of most Pandit houses had been broken. Many houses were burnt down.
In Barbarshah in old Srinagar, they say, Nand Lal’s house smouldered for six weeks. It was made entirely of deodar wood.
The owner of Dr. Shivji’s X-ray clinic, Kashmir’s first, was told his house in Nawab Bazaar took fifteen days to burn down completely. At places where Pandit houses could not be burnt down due to their proximity to Muslim houses, a novel method was employed to damage the house. A few men would slip into a Pandit house and cut down the wooden beam supporting the tin roof. As a result, it would cave in during the next snowfall. Then the tin sheets would be sold and so would the costly wood. Within a few months, the house would be destroyed.
A few weeks after my parents’ trip to Ludhiana, my uncle came to our room, accompanied by a middleman.. ‘He is offering to buy our house,’ Uncle said.
He put a number in front of us. ‘This is ridiculously low,’
Father said. ‘This is much less than what I have spent on it in the last few years alone.’
‘I know,’ the man said. ‘But you have no idea what has become of your house. After you left, miscreants ransacked it completely. They took away even your sanitary fittings and water ran through your house for months. A few walls have already collapsed. It is in a very poor state now.’
Nobody said a word. From her bed, Ma finally spoke.
‘How does it look from outside?’
‘The plaster has broken off completely, but your evergreens are growing well. They are touching your first-floor balcony now.’
And so, home is lost to us permanently.
(Rahul Pandita is Associate Editor, Open magazine).
(His book 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' is published by Vintage, Random House India.)
RELATED PLEASE :
Jan 20, 2013
Some massacres are more equal than the other. On the 15th anniversary of a discounted genocide, and the brutal displacement of more than 300,000 Indians, the voices of copyright conscience stay schtum. One pogrom doesn’t justify the other, but selective mourning only discredits the liberal cause.
On each anniversary of the 2001 Gujarat riots, Ahmedabad becomes the destination of a secular pilgrimage. But none of the mourners have ever taken the bus to Wandhama. In this forgotten town, there are no forlorn photographs on ruined, fire-scarred walls; no macabre ghost stories to tell on television; and no candles burn in the memory of those who perished there on January 25, 1983, during Shab-e-Qadr, the holiest night of the month of Ramzan. This week, 30 years ago, 23 Kashmiri pundits—four children, nine women and 10 men—were gunned down with Kalashnikovs by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), funded and trained by Pakistan.
This was an omen of darker times to come.
Seven years later, on January 4, 1990, the HuM—created by Jamaat-e-Islami to wage jihad against India and make Kashmir a part of Pakistan—issued a warning through the Urdu press, demanding that all Hindus leave Kashmir. As the government of the flamboyant, pleasure-loving chief minister Farooq Abdullah cowered in Srinagar, Kalashnikov-wielding jihadis went on the rampage against pundits.
Loudspeakers in mosques throughout Kashmir played the slogans:
‘Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa (What do we want here? The rule of Shariah)’, and
‘Asi gachchi Pakistan, batao roas te batanev san (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men)’.
At that time Chandra Shekhar was the prime minister, who was propped up by a Kashmiri pundit, Rajiv Gandhi. During this time, all Kashmiris were forced by Pak-sponsored terrorists to re-set their watches to Pakistan Standard Time.
For the 300,000-odd Kashmiri pundits—or 90 per cent of their population, largely living in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi—it is still Pakistan Standard Time; the hour of horror has never ended.
None from Amnesty International or Asia Watch has bothered to visit the squalid camps.
One hundred and five Hindu-owned educational institutions were destroyed, 103 Hindu religious institutions—temples and ashrams—were burnt down, 14, 430 shops and businesses owned by pundits were looted and occupied, more than 1,100 of them were raped and murdered, and 20,000 pundit homes were set on fire.
According to historian Kaia Leather’s 'Kashmiri Separatists: Origins, Competing Ideologies and Prospects for Resolution of the Conflict', around 400,000 Kashmiri Pundits fled their homeland—where they had lived for more than five centuries—and ethnic violence killed more than 30,000.
Another historian Rebecca Knuth noted that secessionist groups raped, tortured and killed thousands of Kashmiri pundits. From 1983 until January 19, 1990, the ethnic cleansing of Indian citizens continued in Kashmir.
In Jaipur, where the Congress party speaks of preserving its secular agenda and votebanks, there is no mention of this bloodied little dot on the map of India’s most-troubled state. Because Kashmiri pundits are not a votebank, neither for the Congress party nor for Omar Abdullah, who has been asking them to return home, promising their safety or security. How a chief minister, who cannot guard a sarpanch from fundamentalist bullets, will protect Kashmiri pundits is a conundrum that taunts history as a grim joke.
India, traditionally, is a communally tolerant society. Today there is anger, both among the public and the Indian Army at Pakistani brutality. Our politicians may have papered over the rage with sanctimonious speeches on peace. The ghosts of war, however, dictate the relationship between the neighbours. But the ghosts of peace remain to be exorcised. As long as a holocaust perpetrated on Indian soil by Pakistan remains unaddressed, the ability of the Indian state to protect its citizens will continue to be mocked.
And no Chintan Shivir is going to change that.
Copyright © 2012 The New Indian Express. All rights reserved.
Do you know the real history of Kashmir ?
January 13, 2013
[Even after the mutilation of the two Indian soldiers by Pakistan, there is a lot of misconception in people’s mind, both Indian and western, that Kashmir did not always belong to India, or that it is a “disputed area”. This is why FACT (Forum Against Continuing Terrorism) chose to do an exhibition, which was shown with a great success all over the world, including to the US Congress in 2006 (http://refugees-in-their-own-country.blogspot.in/). Here are some of the facts we highlighted.]
For two thousand years, the Himalayan valley of Kashmir in Northern India has been the home of Learning and Wisdom. From this small valley have issued masterpieces of history, poetry, romance, fable, and philosophy and many of the greatest Sanskrit scholars and poets were born and wrote in the valley.
Kashmir flourished under some of India’s greatest rulers, such as Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who reigned between 273 and 233 BC and is recorded to have founded the old city of Srinagar. Under his sovereignty, many Buddhist scholars, missionaries, and intellectuals permanently settled in the valley. Or the great Hindu King Harsha (1089 to 1101 A. D) who was versed in many languages, a good poet, lover of music and art, making his court a centre of luxury, learning and splendour.
Unfortunately In the beginning of 14th century, a ferocious Mongol warlord, Dulucha, invaded the valley through its northern side Zojila Pass, with an army of 60,000 men. His savage attack ended for all purposes the Hindu rule in Kashmi and he is said to have destroyed many temples and killed thousands of Hindus.
Muslim rule was further tightened in 1389, during the rule of Sultan-Sikandar. He banned all celebrations and would not even listen to music. He imposed Jizia (tax on Infidels) upon Hindus and stopped them to use tilak. Almost all the Muslim chroniclers of that time speak of the wholesale destruction of Hindu shrines including the famed ‘Martand’ Temple, and forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam. Thousands of Hindus fled to India to save their religion and holy books, and also to escape the wrath of the Sultan
Then, after a period of relative tolerance and peace, came the rule of Afghans warlords till 1819, roughly a period of 67 years. The very first Afghan governor Abdullah Khan Aquasi, immediately after assuming powers, started a reign of terror. People were looted and killed indiscriminately, and even soldiers began to amass wealth beyond any imagination.
Fortunately, in 1819, 30,000 soldiers of Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh attacked Kashmir, defeated the Pathans, and the state became a part of Ranjit Singh’s empire for nearly forty years, providing some relief to Hindus in Kashmir.
But the British defeated the Sikhs and became undisputed masters of India. Not interested by Kashmir, they sold it in perpetuity for 75 lakhs of rupees (appr 150.000 $) to Maharaja Gulab Singh of the Doghra dynasty (what wonderful merchants the British, who sell something which does not even belong to them!).
By treaty, conquest, or inter-marriages, the Doghras created a state comprised of five major units, which are fundamentally very different from each other in terms of geography and ethnicity and have further complicated the problems of Kashmir: the territory around Gilgit (today in Pakistan), which belongs basically to Central Asia;Ladhak, which is an extension of Tibet and is peopled at 55% by Buddhists and 45% by Muslims; the area around Muzarrafad which is today under Pakistan control, comprised mostly of Punjabi Muslims; Jammu, which in essence belongs to Himachal Pradesh and is Hindu in majority; and the valley of Kashmir, of course, which was Indian Muslim at 95 % in 1947.
Finally, India gained its independence from in 1947 and was disastrously divided by the British, against the advice of saints and seers, such as Sri Aurobindo, along religious lines into India and Pakistan. Although many Muslims chose to stay in India, knowing that they would be granted the freedom of practicing their own religion, most Hindus had to flee Pakistan as they were being slaughtered mercilessly. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir decided to attach his state to free and secular India. Furious, the Pakistan Government invaded Kashmir, and encouraged the Muslim tribal people to carry loot, plunder, death and destruction into the hearths and homes of innocent Kashmiris in general and among Hindus in particular.
Since 1947, Pakistan, aided by China, which also claims parts of Indian territory, has initiated three wars to regain Indian Kashmir, four, if you include the Kargil war fought in the icy reaches of upper Kashmir. Worse, the proxy war which they are waging on India today, by arming, training and financing not only Kashmiri separatists, but also Islamic militants coming from Afghanistan, or even faraway Sudan, has cost the lives of nearly 60.000 innocent people, both Hindus and Muslims.
It should be added that Pakistan decided in the late eighties that it would be easier to regain Kashmir if all the Hindus were pushed out by a campaign of terror, both in the valley, where they are a tiny minority and in Jammu where they still have a thin majority. Thus 450,000 Kashmiri Pandits, constituting 99% of the total population of Hindus living in the Kashmir Valley, have been forcibly pushed out of the Valley by terrorists. Since 1989, they have been forced to live the life of exiles in their own country.
People should also be reminded that terrorism in Kashmir is not about separatism only, it is also an ideological struggle with specific fundamentalist and communal Agenda. Terrorist violence aims at the disengagement of the state of Jammu and Kashmir from India and its annexation to Pakistan. It is a continuation of the Islamic fundamentalist struggle.
'FACT' is building in Pune, amongst the 5 acres, of the Shivaji Maharaj Museum of Indian History (fact-india.com), a special building to permanently house our Kashmiri Pandits exhibition.
If you wish to help contribute to this very important endeavor, you may contact me at email@example.com.
FACT is a registered Trust, which has FCRA, Indian, US and U
Posted by: Mohan Natarajan
Dharmo rakshati rakshitah