KASHMIRI PANDITS EXODUS: AN UNFORGETTABLE TRAGEDY
Image Source: thewire.in
19 January 1990 is an unfortunate day in the history of Kashmir. It was the day that had stirred into life terrible nightmares of Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley. A slogan was screaming from the crowded streets for the Sikhs and Hindus living in Kashmir –
“Zalimo, O Kafiro, Kashmir harmara chod do”
(O! Merciless, O! Kafirs leave our Kashmir)
The assault had been coming in for a long term, but the night of January 19 is said to have seen an extreme terror to the next level. Even 31 years later, Kashmiri Pandits tremble to recall the night that forced them into exodus. Waves of terror hit the community. Remembering the thousands were killed, dehumanized, and forced to flee their ancestral homes with their families, it is imperative that we recall the history and learn from it.
WHO ARE KASHMIRI PANDITS?
Kashmiri Pandits or Kashmiri Brahmins are a group of Kashmiri Hindus, native to the mountainous region of Jammu and Kashmir. They originally resided in the valley before the Muslim impact entered the region. They are the sole remaining native Hindu community of the valley after which a small number of Kashmiri pundits converted to Islam. . Many flee their homes during this period. Mughal Emperor Akbar had given them the title of Pandits as he regarded them insightful and intelligent.
There are three groups of Kashmiris –Banmasi, Malmasi, and Buhirs. Pandits who left their homes during the rule of Muslim rulers and came back later are called Banmasi. Those who continued living there are called Malmasi and those who started doing business are called Buhirs.
WHAT HAPPENED ON JANUARY 19, 1990
The night witnessed frightening happenings, the similar of which had not been experienced by Kashmiri Pandits after the Afghan rule. Those that witnessed the terror of that night are improbable to forget it lifelong. For future generations, it will be a persistent reminder of the cruelty of Islamic radicals, who had chosen the timing very watchfully. Farooq Abdullah’s government had all but seized to exist, resigned. Jagmohan took over the charge of the Governor just the night before at Jammu. Though curfew was imposed to restore some illusion of order, it had a small effect. Militant groups JKLF and Hizb-ul Mujahideen continued to be used to provoke people to defy curfew and associate with Jihad against the Pandits, while cadres of JKLF marched through the streets of the Valley, scaring them no end.
As the night fell, Kashmiri Pandits became fearful when that anxious. Valley began echoing with the war-cries of Islamists, who had controlled the unfortunate event with great care; picking its timing and the slogans to be used. This persuasion urged the faithful to give a last straw to the Kafir for ringing in the true Islamic order. These slogans were combined with pin-point and unmistakable threats to Pandits. They were given three options — Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the place or prish). Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims screamed ‘death to India’ and death to Kafirs.
These slogans were broadcasted from the loudspeakers of each mosque, amounting to roughly 1100, urged the uncontrollable mobs to start Jehad. Thousands of Muslims wanted to be seen engaging in this Jehad. Those who had organized such an massive event of force in the mid of a freezing winter night, had one aim, to put the terror of death into the hearts of the already afraid Pandits. In this moment of collective brutality, gone was the aspect of secular, harmonious, peaceful, and educated viewpoint of Kashmiri Muslims.
Kashmiri Pandits found themselves deserted to their destiny, for the first time after the independence of India from the colonial rule, surrounded by wild mobs. Through the frantic shouts and terrifying slogans of the frenzied mobs, Pandits saw the real face of their intolerant neighbors. Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits ringed everyone in authority at Jammu, Srinagar, and Delhi, to rescue them from the disaster that awaited them. The prayers for help were constant. But not a soldier came to save them. More than 300 Kashmiri Pandits were killed. Many eminent personalities were among them. Many women were kidnapped and raped. The Kashmiri Pandits had to flee from the valley to refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi.
The number of Kashmiri Pandits who had run off is estimated to be between 1 lakh to 3 lakh. The Jammu and Kashmir governments in 2010 said around 808 Pandit families still reside in the valley. Till October 2015, only 1 Kashmiri Pandit returned. 1,800 Kashmiri Pandits have returned after the UPA government’s financial aid to them.
THE GROUND REALITY
While it is easy to condemn and blame the Pakistani militants, it cannot release us of our responsibility. There was a complete fail, at every phase of the defense mechanisms that describe a civilized nation: society, government, and the press—all abrogated their duties. The Kashmiri Pandits exodus indicates that terror is not penetrating from outside. It is because of inner differences between communities in India and mostly, between their values. A ship never sinks because of the water around it. It sinks because of the water inside it.
More troubling is the silent acceptance of this cruel outrage by civil society and the media. When we can crowd the streets for an unusual crime, why we were not on street protests, no media overexcited reaction, and no sit ins like Shaheen Bagh for this cruel act of ethnic cleansing? That is the burning question. Was it because the sufferers were Hindus? Indian civil society must analyze and have the courage to challenge this devil that hovers over us.
No nation can stake a claim to democracy and secularism if it has different standards of victimhood conditional on the community. Some unlawful acts cannot be more equal than others. And the purpose of remembering history is not to counterattack, but to evoke regret among the committers and to ensure that such brutal act does not happen again.