Sualeh Keen on the exodus of Kashmir's Pandits

Besides providing a background to the controversy over Rahul Pandita's book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots, this is a response to the review of the book by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal in EPW, 27 April 2013. Sualeh Keen is a Kashmiri writer, poet, graphic artist and cultural critic. He created the group Moderate Voice of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (

What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo. But we have to be able to talk about the past.
– Orhan Pamuk

It is self-evident that the Pandit (Hindu) community fled from Kashmir in the early 1990s in terror. Their burnt homes and the widespread desecration of their temples are for all to see. It is certain that many Pandits were killed out of communal animus. It is well known that anti-Kafir and anti-Pandit slogans were raised. With these undeniable facts, one would expect academic debate to delve into an examination of fascistic militarisation of civil society and of the dangers of romanticising violent utopian mass movements. Unfortunately, thanks to the Muslim majority’s effort at falsifying the experience of Pandits, a false controversy has been created regarding the role of terror and communalism in the displacement of the Pandits.

Modes of Denial: 
The Pandit experience is subject to various forms of outright denial, falsification and conspiracy theories by Kashmiri Muslim “Deniers”. The first form of denial casts the Pandit victims as outright liars by claiming that there was no threat to the minority in 1990, a time when thousands of Kalashnikov-toting Mujahideen walked openly in Kashmir. If there was no atmosphere of threat and terror, why did the Pandits flee? The Deniers’ answer: The then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan, instructed Pandits to leave the Valley so that the security forces could crack down on Muslims. This unsubstantiated theory portrays Pandits as Little Eichmanns whose “absence” facilitated the massacres of Muslim separatists following the state’s use of counter force to crush militancy and indiscriminate shooting to disperse mobs. The Deniers go on to say that the Pandits used their refugee status to get educational reservations and relief in refugee camps. This not only brushes aside the Pandits’ encounter with terror, it transforms them from victims of terror to profiteers who connived with the governor against Muslims.

The tenure of Jagmohan did oversee brutal repression of Muslims. Coincidently, around the time of his appointment, the Pandits had started fleeing the Valley in droves. However, coincidence does not establish correlation. The night of 19 January 1990 sounded the death knell for Pandits, when the Muslims celebrated Azadi in mosques and, in many places, shouted anti-Kafir and anti-Pandit slogans on loudspeakers. But Jagmohan had yet to set his foot in the Valley. Some Pandits had been murdered in 1989 and many had left their homes before Jagmohan’s arrival. Threatening “Quit Kashmir” eviction notices had been served to Pandit families as early as 1 January 1990. Valley-based newspapers published ultimatums from militant organisations for Pandits. Even so, many Pandits left as late as the autumn of 1990 and in the years to come. Ergo, the “exodus” did not happen overnight in a well-planned flash-mob fashion “to clear the ground”. Pandits were abandoning their homes in duress to escape persecution.

The pre- and post-Jagmohan terror attacks on Pandits belie the notion that Pandits gleefully abandoned their homes for a sojourn in the hot and dusty southern plains in refugee camps with inhuman living conditions. Where is the survey in which Pandits say that they left on Jagmohan’s behest? Other than the unanimity of their claim, the Deniers have no proof.
The second form of denial accepts that Pandits were targeted by the Mujahideen, but creates a neat but untenable dichotomy between the armed militants and the non-combatant Muslims. The Mujahideen were Muslim civilians before they picked up guns. Who supported the Mujahideen? Ordinary people. In an atmosphere of social anarchy, it has been often observed that ordinary people take advantage and attack the most vulnerable, such as minorities, with an eye for property or promotion, or to settle personal scores. Even if we call them “criminal elements”, the perpetrators were nonetheless the neighbours, colleagues, students, customers, and acquaintances of the victims. Most Muslims were not involved, but many Muslim non-combatants were certainly involved.

The third form of denial grudgingly accepts that Pandits were targeted, but denies or downplays the role of communal animus. This form of denial cites a “socio-economic factor” and “class struggle” as the reasons for animus. This seemingly leftist variant justifies the terrorising of Pandits in 1990 by cherry-picking instances of oppression by Hindu Dogras and Pandits from the pre-1947 feudal era history, which had no bearing on the social status of Pandits in 1990.

Purposes Served by Denial: 
The question arises: why deny? To begin with, blaming Jagmohan, the non-existent high status of Pandits circa 1990, or red herrings like “more Muslims were killed” gives the Deniers absolution from collective guilt: the Pandits either did it to themselves, were asking for it, or were “collateral damage”. Further, after the successful “non-violent” stone-pelting campaign, Kashmiri Muslim separatists feel that for the first time they have a moral upper hand over the Indian state, making it imperative that past misdeeds be disavowed vehemently, lest they compromise international support for the movement. Also, there is a post-9/11 compulsion to distance the Kashmiri insurgency from religion-driven terrorism.

A generation of Kashmiri Muslims who came of age after the Pandit exodus have been brainwashed into firm conviction of the denial.

Reviews as a Tool for Denial: 
With this background, no wonder that all reviews that emanated from Kashmir tried to discredit Rahul Pandita, the author ofOur Moon Has Blood Clots, which gives an account of the Pandit experience. The local media has over the years found it profitable to feed and reinforce prejudices and conspiracy theories. For example, a Srinagar-based newspaper published four hostile reviews of Rahul’s memoir within a couple of weeks, keeping the alternative perspective out of Kashmir. Of late, despite demand, booksellers in Srinagar have stopped stocking the book, lest it tarnish the image of the majority.

The review “A Moon of Many Shades” (EPW, Vol 48, No 17) written by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor of Kashmir Times, traverses similar ground. It contains the same syllogistic fallacies, “whataboutism” and perpetuates the same conspiracy theories.

In his book, Pandita had credited Bhasin for providing him access to the Kashmir Times archives. In her review, however, Bhasin withdraws her largesse and taunts him of having “only sketchy details in newspaper archives to grapple with”. She presumptuously assumes that Pandita did not cross-check police records, eyewitness accounts, etc, with the “sketchy details” of her newspaper. She subjects Pandita to a memory test, when she recounts her own visits to the Valley, matter-of-factly. This indicates the confirmation bias and double standards of Bhasin.

Using the modus operandi of the Deniers, Bhasin suggests that Pandita is lying and says “the memoir (is) open to challenge”. She informs the readers that Pandita has misread the subtext of the murder of Ravi, who, as per Bhasin, was murdered because he was Hindu, not because of his Pandit ethnicity. But she neglects to enlighten the readers on precisely how Muslim hatred for Hindus is different from Muslim hatred for Pandits. In any case, Bhasin herself is misreading or telling a lie here. Ravi and two other Pandits were murdered at Gool by the Mujahideen for being Pandits, not just for being Hindu, since all the non-Pandit Hindus on that bus were spared. Thus, Bhasin misrepresents the subtext to establish Pandita as an “unreliable narrator”. This in itself makes Bhasin’s review unreliable.

Bhasin uses the backdrop of the erstwhile harmony between Muslims and Pandits to discredit the Pandit version of the exodus. By that token, the Gujarati Muslims’ version of post-Godhra riots cannot be right either, for there were no riots before that. Bhasin accuses Pandita of drawing a seamless link between the Tribal Raid of 1947 and the terrorism of 1990, when Pandita has publicly taken a stand against holding historical grudges. That Pandita’s maternal family had to flee from Baramulla to Srinagar to escape the advancing tribals is a fact. Should he, in his personal memoir, not talk of the two migrations that occurred since 1947 within his family?

Bhasin says she wishes Pandita had embraced “complexity” in his account. Such calls for complexity attempt to marginalise the Pandit experience. One sees a pattern: a deliberate attempt to misrepresent Pandita. Such reviews conveniently disregard the declaration that the book’s sole purpose is to counter the denial, and is not intended as a comprehensive history of conflict of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir. Bhasin further tries to frame Pandita as being indifferent to the suffering of Muslims, conveniently ignoring that before this book was published, he had been writing about human rights violations of Kashmiri Muslims more than he had of Pandits. Bhasin’s review too attempts to recast Pandita’s personality ex nihilo to prejudice potential readers.

It is telling that Bhasin’s review devotes so much space to Jagmohan. Even if Jagmohan had uttered those anti-Muslim words, what does that have to do with the Pandit experience? What of the threats issued from mosques, the threat letters, the ultimatums in newspapers, and the murders of Pandits in 1989, before Jagmohan? And what were the myriad Mujahideen groups up to? Tellingly, Bhasin’s moon does not use shades from that palette.

Bhasin cites unreferenced Muslims who maintain that a particularly terrorising anti-Pandit slogan was not part of the popular discourse, though it may have been used by a “few” people. Nonetheless, a “few” of an overwhelming majority is more than enough to terrorise a minuscule minority. Bhasin says Islamic slogans were part of Kashmiri history, and, simultaneously, concedes that these slogans may have terrified Pandits. Bhasin questions selective killings on the basis of community because “there is no empirical evidence”, and then furnishes statistics that suggest a disproportionately high number of killings of Pandits. Bhasin’s contradictory statements remind one of kettle logic. In effect, she ends up confirming exactly what she initially denies.

Rahul Pandita’s book is not history; it is but a tiny dot that will connect histories. But, this tiny dot is an indelible blot on the immaculate moon of the Deniers. Thus, the vigorous attempts to erase it.

A wrong had been committed against a religious minority that needs to be admitted and acknowledged. The very denial or an obscure admission leaves a big question mark on the justness of the Azadi dream and the character of the Muslim majority. Circa 1990, when the Mujahideen roamed the streets of Kashmir, the Pandits were the inconvenient people, and therefore expendable. In 2013 when there are no Mujahideen around, Pandits are still the inconvenient people, for they are repositories of an inconvenient truth.

Jamal, Arif (2009): Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, Melville House Publishing.
Sinha, Aditya (2000): Death of Dreams – A Terrorist’s Tale (being an account of Babar Badr, real name Firdous Syed Baba), Harper Collins.

Also see: 
Superflous people - a review of Rahul Pandita's Our moon has blood clots
High Court of Jammu & Kashmir upholds Sanjay Tickoo's petition for protection of religious places and castigates communal versions of nationalism.
The Army’s clean chit to the accused in the Pathribal fake encounter case is an insult to the sacrifices made by its men in Kashmir..  “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” 
Samar Halarnkar demands justice for the victims of Pathribal

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