To forget an evil is to condone the crime; to pardon an atrocity is to see it recur with dangerous consequences and to overlook a wrong is to alter the paradigm of justice.

The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley is one of the greatest tragedies of our times; a gargantuan ethical infraction that defies imagination when one fathoms the magnitude of the atrocity and takes cognizance of its inherent diabolism. Unfortunately, however, this horrific event is gradually drifting away from public memory and is set to be interred beneath the tombstone of time.

Therefore, it is imperative that we wind the clock back to the dark day of 19 January 1990—the “Kristallnacht” of the Kashmiri Pandits; the day when law and order collapsed in Kashmir and humanity died a silent death under the watchful eyes of an entire nation.

Here I reproduce two excerpts that capture the barbaric, perverted savagery of the perpetrators as well as the helpless vulnerability of the Kashmiri Pandit.

Col Tej Kumar Tikoo, in his book Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus (Lancer Publishers. 2012) writes: “As the night fell, the microscopic community became panic-stricken when the Valley began reverberating with the war-cries of Islamists…These exhortations urged the faithful to give a final push to the Kafir in order to ring in the true Islamic order. These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits. They were presented with three choices—Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the place or perish)…

“The Pandits could see the writing on the wall. If they were lucky enough to see the night through…Broadcasting vicious Jehadi sermons and revolutionary songs, interspersed with blood curdling shouts and shrieks, threatening Kashmiri Pandits with dire consequences, became a routine ‘Mantra’ of the Muslims of the Valley, to force them to flee from Kashmir…”

Kanchan Gupta corroborates these happenings (19/01/90: When Kashmiri Pandits fled Islamic terror. Rediff. 19 January 2005): “As evening falls, the exhortations become louder and shriller. Three taped slogans are repeatedly played the whole night from mosques: ‘Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai’ (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-O-Akbar); ‘Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (What do we want here? Rule of Shariah); ‘Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batao roas te Batanev san’ (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men).”

This reiteration of medieval bestiality made a mockery of the principles enshrined in our Constitution, reduced secularism to mere words on a paper document and highlighted the plight of the minority Hindu in a Muslim majority region.

Kashmiri Pandits are the original inhabitants of Kashmir, with a culture and tradition that goes back 5,000 years. Close to 1 million Kashmiri Pandits inhabited the valley in the early 1900s and constituted 15% of the population. Today, no more than 3,000 remain, making up barely 0.15 % of the population. 

Since the separatist movement began, at least 1,000 Pandits have been killed, roughly 16,000 homes have been burnt and 350,000 have been displaced: these figures sum up the enormity of this human calamity.

Close to 1 million Kashmiri Pandits inhabited the valley in the early 1900s and constituted 15% of the population. Today, no more than 3,000 remain, making up barely 0.15 % of the population. 

While it is easy to blame militants, it cannot absolve us of our responsibility. There was a total failure, at every level of the defence mechanisms that define a civilised nation: society, government and the press—all abrogated their responsibility and failed the Kashmiri Hindu. 

But what happened in Kashmir could not have occurred without the tacit compliance of Kashmir’s majority Muslim community and so, despite their protestations, they must share the brunt of this charge.

In moral terms, the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits is so humungous that it reduces to irrelevance the validity of the separatist movement or the so-called atrocities of the Indian Army.

On 19 January 2017, 27 years after that fateful night, in an act of remorse, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed a unanimous resolution for the return of the Pandits. Only when this is translated into practical reality and the Pandits are rehabilitated with dignity and security, will we be able to wipe away this seemingly indelible stain on the fabric of our secular democracy.

Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.

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