During winters of 1989, a cold wind of uncertainty swayed among Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. Sermons of Azadi echoed from the loudspeakers of the mosques. Posters asking Kashmiri Pandits to leave were pasted on the walls. A feeling of disgust, fear, and angst formed wrinkles on their faces. News that Tika Lal Taploo, an advocate and a prominent leader of BJP had been shot dead in broad daylight outside his residence spread like a raging fire. Every single day the news of a Kashmiri pandit’s murder were heard. Voices trembled at the very thought of leaving the valley. Sun hid behind the clouds and the darkness found its way throughout the daylight. The mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits began. Exodus came with a night-long hysteria. Most of the Kashmiris fled during late hours, under the cover of the night.
January 19 is observed as the ‘Holocaust day’ by the Kashmiri Pandit community. This day is the commemoration of the dark events that transpired twenty-seven years ago, remembered as “genocide” of Kashmiri Pandits. This year a National Convention has been organised by Panun Kashmir (an organisation formed by an amalgamation of Kashmiri Pandits), participated by delegates from various Hindu Organisations spread across India. Unlike every year, this time Kashmiris who were always saddened by the failure of the political establishment to acknowledge their grim realities, are keeping high hopes from the Modi government.
Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir:
In a conversation with Rahul Jalali, Former President of Press Club of Delhi, Senior Journalist, and JNU alumni.
He denied the story making rounds since ages, of Kashmiri Pandits being a land-owning class in Kashmir, who oppressed Kashmiri Muslims.
“I have lived in Kashmir and I am aware of its history. Kashmiri Pandits been a land-owning class is a myth used by fundamentalists to dictate their side of the story. Most of the Kashmiri Pandits didn’t even belong to the land-owning class. Urban Kashmiris who used to do menial jobs like patwari, under the Kingship of Maharaja. Rural Kashmiri Pandits were as poor as Kashmiri Muslims. Instead, Mirza Beg, the right-hand man of Sheikh Abdullah, belonged to the land-owning class”
On the exodus, he said: “Exodus happened over a period of time, mostly in between Jan 1990- July 1990’s. In 1989, JKLF started giving arms training to youth in large numbers. After the kidnapping of Rubaiya (Daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) and her release, things happened overnight. The mass targeting of Kashmiri Pandits began after this.”
On the reasons for the Exodus, he said: “The divide did not have any religious overtone. The fundamentalists also targeted National Conference. The divide was because we belonged to India. Also, the Kashmiri Pandits exited the valley when their Muslim Neighbours said that they cannot offer them protection. For a Rural Kashmiri, to cross Banihal was like crossing the ice and heading towards a different country”
When asked about Government’s support and about the high hopes from the Modi government, he said: “Kashmiri Pandits have always been exploited by political parties. They have always offered lip-sympathy to them. And nothing else.”
When asked about the jobs: “About jobs, no adequate protection is provided to Kashmiri Pandits.”
In May 2015, Government’s proposed Israeli style of settlement for Kashmiri Pandits. After a meeting between Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Union Minister Rajnath Singh, it was decided to build ‘composite township’ to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. The proposal of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits drew flak from the separatist groups and JKLF and a complete shutdown was observed. On witnessing the subsequent events, Kashmiri Pandits too became critical of Israeli-style settlements. The fear was that they will once again become the easy targets to the fundamentalists. Since then, the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits is not much talked about.
EK Bharat Abhiyan – Kashmir Ki Aur
In 2015, Youth for Panun Kashmir organized an International Convention in New Delhi, in which delegates from various leading Hindu organisations participated. They expressed their solidarity and realized the need to support the cause of Kashmiri Pandits. On the same day, after few rounds of discussions, a resolution named “Ek Bharat Abhiyan – Kashmir Ki Aur” was formulated. The aim of the campaign was to create awareness for the cause of Panun Kashmir, across India.
Many Nationalistic organisations including the right-wing students union ABVP stood in solidarity with “EK Bharat Abhiyan – Kashmir Ki Aur”
Earlier this week, a seminar “Ek Bharat Abhiyan – Kashmir Ki Aur” was organised in JNU jointly by ABVP and Youth for Panun Kashmir.
Students from the left-wing raised objections on the calling of controversial speakers like Tapan Ghosh of Hindu Samhita and Abhay Vartak, spokesperson of Sanathan Sanstha, who were allegedly behind the murder of Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabohlkar.
“We did not disrupt the program. We raised objection on providing the podium of JNU to controversial speakers who are involved in hate-mongering”, said Mohit Pandey, President of JNUSU
Future of Kashmiri Pandits
In 2015, Under Prime Minister’s Special package for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Migrants, monetary assistance and additional 3,000 government jobs were provided to Kashmiri Pandits, which assured Pandits and now they look up to Modi with great hope and optimism.
An indelible blot on the Kashmir’s history marks the exodus of Kashmiri pandits.
Amidst of writing this article, my 84-year old grandfather calls me and asks,”When are you coming back to Kashmir?” I replied,”Daddy, we don’t live in Kashmir anymore.”