It was the 19th of January 1990. Days were cold and nights bitter though there was no snow on the ground. Around 9 PM, loud and thunderous slogans of Allah-o- Akbar, Pakistan ka matlab kya/ La ila ha ilallah, Islam zindabad, Pakistan zindabad raised collectively by a multitude of humans and relayed through deafening loudspeakers pierced the air. These slogans were not new to the Pandits in Kashmir. However, the odd hour, the tumultuous banging and intriguing spontaneity, besides shrieking loudspeakers, all spoke threateningly that a storm was brewing in Kashmir.
Suddenly, telephone bells began ringing loud in the houses of most of the Pandits in Srinagar. Mobile phones had not yet been introduced yet. Each caller on the other end of the line asked his relative, friend or the acquaintance whether they were all right. This question carried more meaning underneath its stark simplicity. The caller told his respondent to come out of his house in that dark and dreary night and see for himself what a strange but alarming scene was unfolding on the streets and squares (chowk) of the capital city of Srinagar.
Scenes on the streets, squares and open spaces in the city were to be seen to be believed. Masses of the Muslim population, young, old, children, and women came out of their homes in the dark night, crowded the streets, gesticulating furiously and yelling slogans like ‘aazaadi’ (freedom), ‘Pakistanzindabad’, ‘Islam zindabad’, ‘la Ila ilallah, aazadi ka matlab kya/Laila ha ilallah’, ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ etc. These crowds of people carried from their homesrugs, carpets, mats and furnishing, and spread it out on the streets and squares all over the city. They brought wood and lit bonfires to keep their bodies warm. Women and children, strongly clad in winter dress, were noisier. People sat, squatted, danced, shook fists made violent gesticulation as loudspeakers were fixed and microphones blurred a mix of Quranic verses, revolutionary songs, anti-India vitriolic and the supremacy of Islamic faith… Islamism, profuse admiration for Pakistan, stories of the heroes of early Arab conquests, the paradise created by Allah for the pure (momin) and hellfire for the kafir (unbelievers) etc. were the major themes of their outpouring. The crux of these surcharged utterances was that all symptoms of kufr (heresy), but-parasti (idolatry) and dualism as with the Hindus had to be cleansed from darulsalam (the place of peace) meaning Kashmir. Spirited stories of the heroes of early Islamic conquests and adventures were recounted to convey Islam’s might of destroying non-believers. This rant continued till the wee hours. The message for Kashmiri Pandits was simple – They were in the line of fire.
Like frightened pigeons, they huddled up in their nests and kept vigil throughout the night. Not a single soul came out of his house. The night-long tirade against non-Muslims snatched whatever remnant of peace of mind was left with them. For the first time in the history of Kashmir, this open and unabashed tirade was let loose against them on such a massive scale.
The administration collapsed. Law and order were thrown to the winds. The police deserted their posts. The Hindus could not muster the courage to come out and see their close relatives. Their survival was hanging in balance.
Overnight, it seemed, their Muslim neighbourshad changed colour. It was as if the brotherhood and fraternity that had been existing for centuries, was simply a mask, which had now been cast away.In a few days, the entire atmosphere had changed and the Panditscame to be recognised as ‘the other.’
The government was knocked out by a single night of mobdefiance and revolt. Next morning, not a single policeman was visible anywhere. They had withdrawn to their barracks or were hiding in their homes. The administrative machinery collapsed, and law and order crumbled.
From next morning viz. January 20, 1990, it was the rule of the mosque, the mullah and the Islamists. Loudspeakers fixed to mosque-tops blurred uninterruptedly, cautioning the Pandits to leave Kashmir. The refrain of their slogans was: “AsihgatsihKasheerBhattavbagairbattehnew san”(We want Kashmir without Pandit males but with their women folks). This shameful and shocking slogan will shame every decent Muslim.
Hate campaign carried forward through barbaric and inhuman violence, struck fear among entire Hindu community in Kashmir to the extent that anybody prepared to show even the slightest goodwill to them was faced with the threat to life. Al Safa, a local Urdu daily minced no words in telling the Pandits to leave Kashmir within hours if they wanted to save their lives and honour. Loudspeakers fixed to mosque topsblared a profusion of warnings.
More anti-India demonstrations were staged. Demonstrators were mad with rage, hatred and revenge. Fear-stricken Hindus (Pandits) did not find any source to provide them with the safety of life. In its evening news bulletin, Radio Kashmir (a state-run organ) listed the names of the Kashmiri Pandits gunned down by the terrorists during the day. The gruesome storiesunnerved the community members. They did not reach out to the majority Muslim community for protection because their minds and hearts had gone through a metamorphic change. The dynamics of secretive militancy, so rigidly drilled into the heads of the actors was of the level that a son returning after receiving training in PoK never disclosed to his parents and family members where he had been and on what mission.
Indoctrination was of the level that even parents feared their sons. This is best explained in the television interview which Bitta Karate gave to the security officials after he was arrested and interrogated by security agencies. When asked how many Hindus he had gunned down, he said that he had “lost the count after twenty-two.”
This was the last night which the five-thousand-year-old indigenous population of Shaivite civilisation of Kashmiri Pandits spent together in their homeland. They had somehow braved the cataclysm of eightcenturies of Muslim autocratic rule but, alas,the decimation of this ancient and indigenous community happened under the benevolence of “secular democratic” India. Now, ours is a homeless community dispersed over all the four corners of the world.
Muslim United Front (MUF) floated by Kashmir Jamat-i-Islami alleged that National Conference had undertaken a massive rigging in the assembly elections of1986. Its candidates were manhandled and incarcerated by National Conference (NC) goons. As a reaction, the MUF pledged to avenge NC’s denial of rights and sustained oppression. It conceived the plan of fomenting Kashmir armed insurgency, something for which Pakistan and its ISI were looking for.
Between July and December 1989, while the NC-Congress coalition government was in place in J&K, there were no fewer than 1600 big or small incidents of terrorism, firing, bomb blasts etc. in Kashmir Valley. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth sympathizers of MUF and activists of Jamaat-i-Islami took Srinagar-Sopore-Kupwaraand Muzaffarabad route landing in the terrorist training camps established by Pakistan’s top intelligence agency ISI and run by the retired generals of the Pakistani army. Many of them sneaked back into Kashmir with arms, ammunition and rabid Islamic ideology. Farooq and his party NC, was fully informed about their activities. The State police had arrested many of them but in July 1989, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah issued orders of their release from the jail despite the fact that a case of keeping illegal arms and sedition against the state was pending in a Srinagar court of law. The PoK strong diaspora of nearly a million people in UK played a crucial role in propping up the JKLF. It is the same group whose early activists were charged with the crime of murdering Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in UK in 1982.
On 13 September 1989, JKLF murderers gunned down Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, the BJP Chief of Kashmir province, in broad daylight outside his residence in Srinagar. This sent a shock to the entire Hindu community. On 4 November 1989 JKLF terrorists gunned down Justice NilaKanthGanjoo, the judge who had given death sentence to the founder of JKLF, Muhammad Maqbul Bhat for the murder of a bank officer and a CID inspector. In December, Pandit Avtar Krishen Raina, Deputy Director, Food Supplies was gunned down in his office in Srinagar because he had questioned his subordinates how a truckload of good grains was diverted to the militants.
Indications were clear that the Hindus were in the throes of destruction. Up to 19 January1990, the exodus day, as many as 20 innocent Hindus were murdered in cold blood. Sensing that situation was getting worse in Kashmir, the Central government then headed by V.P. Singh with Mufti Saeed as Home Minister, sent Shri Jagmohan as the new Governor of J&K. As this announcement was made, Dr Farooq Abdullah resigned in protest saying that Jagmohan was not acceptable to him. The crisis was deepening in Srinagar and Farooq took a flight to London to join his wife and whiled away his time in playing golf and going to clubs. The ministers of the dissolved council of ministers rushed to Jammu and occupied government quarters to which they were no more entitled to after resigning.The former ministers became key to establishing contacts with the militant leadership whose representatives kept meeting them clandestinely but regularly.
The government had been toppled, law and order derailed. In April, Mirwaiz Molavi Muhammad Farooq was gunned down in his home by two or three JKLF gunmen accusing him of having a soft corner for the Government of India. The mobs of Kashmiri Muslims brought out a huge crowd of protestors over the killing of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq. Near GawKadal, some miscreants among the militants fired some shots at the security forces moving in armoured vehicles. As a result of return fire by the security forces, dozens of protesting civilians were injured and some died.
The killing of innocent Hindus of Kashmir was accelerated by the JKLF barbarians after 19 January and in the next three or four months, about 500 of them were selectively killed. Details of these killings have been preserved.
This forced the devastated Hindu community to leave their homeland and seek shelter at a safer place.
Interestingly, while the government resigned and the administration collapsed and the Pandits were forced to flee their homes and hearths, not a single soldier of Indian army was seen on the streets of Srinagar or elsewhere. Had the government ordered the city to be taken over by the army on the night of 19 January 1990, the unfortunate Hindus of Kashmir valley would have been saved the exodus and destruction of their properties. In April 1990, Rubiya Saeed, the daughter of Mufti Muhammad, the Home Minister of India at that time, was kidnapped allegedly by the militants and released after three days. It is said that SaifuddinSoz, the Congress leader, negotiated a deal with Pakistani authorities and managed the safe release of Mufti’s daughter. What were the terms of the deal with the militant organizations has remained a mystery so far.
By the end of summer 1990, the entire Pandit community of nearly four lakh had left their homes and hearths, lands, orchards, shops, business, services, livestock and everything. In penury, they eked out a living in the burning cauldron of Jammu, some to be consumed by sunstrokes, some by the reptiles and some by drowning in the canal. The Kashmir radicalized political leadership spread the canard that the Pundits had not fled but were enticed by Governor Jagmohan to leave Kashmir so that “he would wreak vengeance on the Muslim population.” Such are the vagaries of human nature and the construct of its Satanic mind.
(Prof. K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of the Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org)