“Zalimo, O Kafiro, Kashmir hamara chhod do”
The streets of Srinagar shook with cries such as these on a cold night in January 1990. The edifice of Kashmiriyat had finally been proven hollow, incapable of resisting the onslaught of a rabid, virulent strain of Islam. On that cold night, history and politics overlapped and a deluge swept across Kashmir, flushing out the Kaffirs, labelling them outsiders and making them refugees in their own country. Centuries of co-existence were set aside as neighbours turned on their Kashmiri Pandits, taunting them to flee after leaving behind their womenfolk. Overnight, Kashmir became another front line state in the battle of political Islam.
A total of one hundred thousand (out of a population of one hundred and forty thousand) fled in a matter of days. Farooq Abdullah, who was crowned Chief Minister in the famously rigged 1987 elections resigned and left Kashmiri Pandits to their fate. Jagmohan, who had been appointed Governor could not even arrive in Srinagar citing bad weather. Paramilitary forces waited for orders from above. Local police was accused of turning a blind eye. Even the Gods deserted Pandits at this critical juncture (the spring of Kheer Bhawani apocryphally turned black). JKLF men, embittered Kashmiri youth and separatists of all hues and colours boldly marched down Srinagar’s streets, waving Kalashnikovs and screaming on top of their voice “Dil mein rakho Allah ka khauf; Hath mein rakho Kalashnikov” and “La Sharqia la gharbia, Islamia! Islamia!”. Loudspeakers affixed on Mosques asked the Kaffirs to convert, flee or perish. From the pulpits, youth screamed “Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Allah-ho-Akbar kahna hoga”
A few days before this, up to 300 Kashmiri Pandits had already been culled. Noted lawyer and BJP national Executive member, Tika Lal Taploo had been shot dead in 1989 as was the fate of Justice Ganju of J&K High Court. Swami Sarwanand Premi and his son had been abducted, tortured (his eyes were gouged out and a hole was burnt in the place where he used to put his Tika) and subsequently hanged. Women had been gangraped and subsequently hacked to pieces. This and many other similar instances highlighted the perilous state the Pandits found themselves in. Urdu newspapers openly issued calls for Jihad and asked the Pandits to flee. Pamphlets asked for Kashmiri Muslim women to adorn Islamic style dress and Kashmiri Pandit women to wear a Tika on their forehead for identification.
In a matter of days, Kashmir would be emptied of its Pandit population. A well-entrenched, economically well-off community would be reduced to destitution. Bereft of their homeland, their culture would whittle away. Rotting in the squalid camps of Jammu, they would dream of the cool breezes of Srinagar. Their children would hear of a stories of a magical land, but would forever be unwelcome there. A proud race, Kashmiri Pandits would become India’s worst treated refugees- A problem that is visible but never acknowledged. Political parties would woo them for their votes, Leaders would express their regrets at the fate that had befallen the Pandits but no one would ever do anything about it.
Even today, a quarter of a century after the genocide that triggered the exodus of Pandits, the issue of their resettlement continues to be divisive. Even a Kashmiri who swears by secularism and agrees with the need for Pandits to return home, refuses to guarantee their safety. A homeland, where the Pandits can live in peace and security continues to be denied to them. It is a shame that India is treating its own people with such apathy. The Pandits have no need of pity. They do not need sympathy. They do not need speeches and statements. All they need is their homeland returned to them, preferably with their former neighbours, but if necessary, protected by barbed wires that guarantees them security. India owes it to them to have Kashmiri Pandits returned to their lands and houses. Just as Pakistan was born in the aftermath of expulsion of its non-Muslim population, so was the new Kashmir born after the exile of its Pandits.India’s defeat lies not in the fact that a couple of hundred thousand civilians had to flee but in the fact that it allowed a Pakistan to be made right inside its frontiers.
When our Human Rights Champions scream of the injustices that the Kashmiris have suffered at the hands of the army, let them also hurl abuses at the Jihadis who made paupers out of Pandits. When the Barkha Dutts and Rajdeep Sardesais bemoan the loss of Kashmiriyat, let them attribute it to the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits from the valley. And finally, when Omar Abdullah and Muhammad Mufti express regret at the dwindling Kashmiri Pandit population, let them instead work towards creating a homeland which the Pandits can call their own.
“Tum aankhon ki barsaat bachaaye hue rakhna;
Kuch log abhi aag lagaana nahin bhoole!”