Indian State has failed for three decades to reverse the exile of the Kashmiri Pandits.

 

I wear many hats—that of a politician, a legal eagle, anti terrorism crusader, a Track 2 diplomat, geostrategic analyst, alternate dispute resolution expert, a columnist, etc. This write-up I write as an aborigine proud Kashmiri Pandit. 14 September, Balidan Diwas, after 1989 has been observed by the exiled KP community across the world to remember and pay homage to the martyrs. The homage, besides reverence, is a reminder to our next and future generations as to how the Indian state has failed KPs then and is failing now. My heart bleeds while I recount the brutalities inflicted on our martyrs. I salute all the martyrs.

Today I would have been on the list of killed KPs as I was amongst the first five targets of the terrorists for being an anti-terrorism crusader, a prominent lawyer, social/community activist and a very articulate and active Congress Party office bearer. On account of the serious threat perception, and discreet advice from the then DG JK Police, I was forced to decide to leave Kashmir in November-December 1989, with my wife and two little children, leaving behind everything. I was given to understand that the law and order situation would be controlled in a month or so. I never realised that not only me but the entire KP community would be forced to flee the homeland to live as refugees in our own country. KPs believed that the might of the Indian state would prevail in the tiny Valley. They never countenanced their traumatic phase of life as internally displaced population in the enlightened times, in a free, democratic and mighty India for the last more than three decades.

Realities are at times harsh and strange. The harsh ground reality in today’s age of free, independent and constitutional democratic India is that Kashmir today is without Kashmiri Pandits. The aborigine community of Kashmir is out in exile, in this modern age of reason and enlightenment. The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-1990, designed to effect the motivated ethnic cleansing, will go down in the history of India and these native Kashmiris as a dark phase of contemporary times.

The aborigine Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Kashmir valley as a result of a concerted plan of ethnic cleansing with the strategy of killing one and scaring a thousand by JKLF terrorists and Islamist insurgents during late 1989 and 1990 onwards. Living in the Valley for more than 5,000 years, the entire population of 5-6 lakh Hindus was exiled by inflicting death, destruction, loot, grabbing of leftover immovable properties, agricultural land and orchards etc, by the settlers/JKLF and other native terrorists.

The brutal murders of Kashmiri Hindus started over 30 years ago on 14 September 1989 when the tallest KP and BJP leader, Pt Tika Lal Taploo, a prominent lawyer of the Srinagar Bar was murdered. He fell victim to the JKLF terrorists’ bullets just outside his home in downtown Srinagar. His killing set off a series of target killings of KP leaders by the trigger-happy terrorists who used to celebrate counting the heads killed. This dance of death continued to the extent that a killer terrorist confessed on local TV channels that he had killed KPs in double digits and had lost the exact count.

Retired District and Session Judge Pt Neelkanth Ganjoo was killed on 4 November 1989 in Hari Singh High Street Market. Ganjoo had presided over the trial of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat in the murder of police inspector Amar Chand in 1966. In August 1968, he sentenced Bhat to death. This sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1982. Bhat’s execution was carried out in Tihar jail.

On 30 April 1990 at village Shali, in the Kokernag area of district Anantnag, three armed militants kidnapped a renowned freedom fighter, teacher and scholar, Pt Sarvanand Koul. Sensing something amiss, his younger son Virendra Koul requested the gunmen that he be allowed to accompany his father. He joined his father, but two days later two dead bodies were found hanging with their limbs broken, hairs uprooted, and portions of their skin slit open and burnt. The dead poet and teacher was the 67-year-old Kashmiri Hindu Pandit Sarvanand Koul “Premi” and his youthful son Pandit Virendra Koul.

Late Pt Sarwanand Koul Premi was so popular that Jammu and Kashmir government last year decided to introduce the Urdu version of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita and the Kashmiri version of Ramayana authored by the late Premi in all educational institutions of Jammu and Kashmir state for the benefit of the students.

Another renowned son of the soil and a senior lawyer of Anantnag bar, Pt Prem Nath Bhat was killed. Director Doordarshan, Pt Lassa Koul, Special Director Food Supply department, A.K. Raina, Satish Tikoo, Ms Sarla (was sawed by a blade), Ms Ganjoo of Sopore, officials of Intelligence Bureau and hundreds of members of the KP community were brutally murdered to get rid of the entire KP community from the soil of Kashmir.

The terrorists mercilessly killed Chuni Lal Shalla, Inspector Jammu and Kashmir Police (CID) of Seer Jagir, Sopore while he was travelling in a bus from Kupwara to Sopore. “By March 1990 most of the Pandits had left valley to save their lives and honour.”

There are hundreds of similar stories of gruesome killings, torture, intimidation, loot and plunder of properties of Kashmiri Hindus by the terrorists and their local sympathisers.

After individual killings, the mass massacre of Hindus started, which frightened the leftover families living in different parts of Kashmir. The massacres in Sangrampora, Wandhama, Chatisingpora, and Nadimarg alone consumed more than 60 innocent lives of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs, who included infants, children, young, elderly and also women.

The Sangrampora massacre claimed seven Kashmiri Pandit Hindu villagers in Sangrampora village of Budgam district on 21 March 1997 by Islamic terrorists. This was the first series of massacres which selectively targeted minorities in Jammu and Kashmir. The victims were lined up and the Islamic terrorists shot and killed seven people.

The Wandhama killings of 1998 claimed 23 Kashmiri Pandit Hindus in the town of Wandhama on 25 January 1998. The victims included four children, nine women and 10 men. The attackers also demolished a Hindu temple and a house. The then Prime Minister of India, Inder Kumar Gujral joined the mourners in Kashmir’s Wandhama village on 28 January. The Prime Minister was anguished and expressed heartfelt condolences. He was accompanied by then Governor General, K.V. Krishna Rao.

The Nadimarg massacre claimed 24 Hindu Kashmiri Pandits in the village of Nadimarg in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists on 23 March 2003.

The communalism had manifested viciously from 1947 onwards but was confined to discrimination against the members of religious minority at the administrative levels and in educational and professional institutions. The murder and massacre became an order, starting with the murder of police inspector Amar Chand of Nadhal, Bandipora, in 1966 by JKLF terrorists and its so called founder Maqbool Bhat, who was tried for the inspector’s murder.

In August 1968, Maqbool Bhat was sentenced to death. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1982. Bhat’s execution was carried out in Tihar jail, thereafter after having availed all the mercy remedies under the Constitutional process.

1986 became a turning point in the vicious communal campaign against the KP community. In February 1986, the communal settlers incited the Kashmiri Muslims by a virulent propaganda that “Islam khatrey mein hey (Islam is in danger)”. As a result, Kashmiri Pandits were targeted by the Muslims. Many incidents were reported in various areas where Kashmiri Hindus’ properties and temples were damaged and destroyed. The worst hit areas were mainly in South Kashmir and Sopore. In Vanpoh, Lukbhavan, Anantnag, Salar and Fatehpur, Muslim mobs plundered or destroyed the properties and temples of Hindus.

During the Anantnag riot in February 1986, although no Hindu was killed, many houses and other properties belonging to Hindus were looted, burnt or damaged. The incumbent state government was dismissed.

On 12 March 1986, Governor’s Rule was imposed. The political narrative unfolded on deadly communal lines and was portrayed as a conflict between “Hindu” New Delhi (Central Government)—and its efforts to impose its will in the state—and “Muslim” Kashmir, represented by political Islamists and clerics.

The Islamists had organised under a banner named Muslim United Front, with a manifesto to work for Islamic unity and against political interference from the Centre, and contested the 1987 state elections, in which they lost again. However, the 1987 elections were widely believed to be unfairly conducted, so as to bring the secular parties (NC and INC) in Kashmir at the forefront, and this caused the trigger point to insurgency in Kashmir. The Kashmiri militants killed anyone who openly expressed pro-India policies. Kashmiri Pandits were targeted specifically because they were seen as presenting Indian presence in Kashmir because of their faith and pronounced patriotism.

Though the insurgency had been launched by JKLF, groups rose over the next few months advocating for the establishment of Nizam-e-Mustafa (Rule of Muhammad). The Islamist groups proclaimed the Islamicisation of socio-political and economic set-up, merger with Pakistan, unification of ummah and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Liquidation of Central government officials, Pandits, liberal and nationalist intellectuals, social and cultural activists was described as necessary to rid the valley of un-Islamic elements.

The NHRC has ruled in its historical full commission judgement, headed by Justice Venkatachaliah, an eminent Jurist and former Chief Justice of India that the systematic/planned ethnic cleansing inflicted on Kashmiri Pandits by terrorists that forced them to exit their homeland were acts akin to genocide. Thereafter, on the recommendation of the state administration the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), while banning the separatists’ outfits, described ethnic cleansing and purging of KPs as the principal ground to seal and ban the separatists/terror outfits operating in Kashmir.

The admission by the state administration and the MHA through the Union Home Secretary in the public domain, media, social media and otherwise makes it obligatory for the Union Government and LG to appoint a high level commission of inquiry. KPs have a very strong ground for their persistent demand.

There are very strong grounds legally and otherwise to set up a commission of inquiry headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge to be assisted by the DGP, Director IB, Director CBI and DG NIA to probe into the heinous crimes of murder, loot, rape, forcible grabbing of land and property belonging to KPs, grabbing of Hindu religious endowment properties across the Valley, and the conspiracy to inflict genocide on the 600,000-strong community of Kashmiri Pandits.

The KPs are demanding a high level commission of inquiry by SIT to be headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge assisted by Director CBI, DG NIA and DG JK Police to investigate into the conspiracy behind this entire gamut of ethnic cleansing. And it has to be done inside a time-frame .

Successive governments have failed so far to do this.

The aborigines are victims of continued persecution and genocide for hundreds of years. The atrocities in past peaked during the despotic rule of Muslim tyrant kings. In this modern age and enlightened times in a free and democratic India, the brutalities and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits have surpassed all the past records.

FAILURE OF INDIAN STATE

Modi 2.0 on 5 August 2019 made Articles 370 and 35-A, inoperable by a Constitutional amendment. The action of the Central government is challenged in the Supreme Court of the country, pending its final hearing before a five-judge Constitution Bench.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while highlighting the objective of this decision among other things said:

* “Come, let us all together build a new Jammu and Kashmir and new Ladakh with the new India.” PM Modi said, “I have complete faith under this new system we all will be able to free Jammu and Kashmir of terrorism and separatism.”

* President’s Rule benefited Jammu and Kashmir: The decision to keep Jammu and Kashmir directly under Central administration for a brief period was a well thought out decision. Since Governor’s Rule was implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, the state administration has been directly in touch with the Centre, due to which the effects of good governance can be seen on ground,

* PM took a dig at dynastic politics: Decades of family-based politics has provided no guidance to the youth of Jammu and Kashmir. Now the youth will help raise Jammu and Kashmir to heights like never before. “I would like to appeal to all young boys and girls to come out and take the reins of the place in their hands,” PM Modi said.

* “Those from Jammu & Kashmir who live outside and elsewhere and want to return to their homes will be helped by us”, PM Modi said.

The PM’s pronouncements set the stage for the so called Naya Kashmir Vision, based on development, prosperity, democracy, terrorism free life, plural society and newer leadership etc. For all these promises the people of Jammu and Kashmir have paid a valuable price of derivation of the statehood by bifurcation into two Union Territories—Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and UT of Ladakh.

These promises by Modi 2.0 skyrocketed the expectations of the people, especially the hapless exiled Kashmiri Pandits.

But 13 months have gone by, and except for repealing a few redundant laws and bringing in the new domicile regime, none of the promises has been fulfilled. Terrorism is increasing, the usual success rate of neutralising of terrorists by the security forces is visible, the total disconnect of the UT administration with the people is a writ large and the trust deficit between New Delhi and Kashmiris has widened. There is no dialogue/engagement with the stakeholders including the exiled Pandits nor is any effort made to politically and ideologically strengthen the Idea of India.

There is hardly any talk in the corridors of power in Delhi or J&K Raj Bhavan about the return, restitution and retention of Pandits as a concentrated religious minority community physically in the Valley, nor is there any dialogue/engagement with their representatives in respect of any return plan and political empowerment module. Peace in Kashmir will always elude so will Modi’s Naya Kashmir agenda be a farce until the exile of Pandits is reversed and they are made participants as a stakeholder in any future policy and political process in Jammu and Kashmir.

30 years is long enough exile.

Vistapith Kab Tak

KPs are an indigenous religious minority. At least to start with the LG shall accord a due statutory recognition. The following measures would necessary as CBMs to start with;

*Constitution of a state minority commission shall be one of the several confidence building measures in this direction.

* Constitute a high level commission of inquiry (SIT) headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge with the assistance of DG NIA, Director IB, and DG JK police etc. to inquire into the conspiracy of inflicting genocide on KPs to eventually evict them from their 5,000 years of roots engraved in the Valley.

* MHA being the nodal ministry shall start a structured dialogue with KPs for designing a comprehensive time bound package for return, restitution, rehabilitation and political empowerment, not to take more than two years and before the commencement of the next Assembly elections in the JK UT, for its implementation.

* Constitute a statutory task force headed by the Chief Secretary to protect, preserve and manage all the Valley’s Hindu religious shrines, endowments and properties and issue the ordinance accordingly.

It’s a now or never situation for the reversal of the exile of the KPs. They desire for the end of their exiled life, 30 years is too long to live in trauma. If the exiled community is not repatriated back to their homeland with dignity, pride, security and political empowerment, it would be the failure of the incumbent Union Government and abject incompetence of LG administration.

Ashok Bhan is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and an internally displaced Kashmiri Pandit.