SIDDHARTHA GIGOO - To Die While Dreaming of Return //Kundan Lal Chowdhury - Kashmiri Pandits remember January 19, 1990: ‘It is for your own good to leave’

One day in the autumn of 1989, at National High School, in Srinagar, I confided in my classmates that my father owned a copy of The Satanic Verses. It had been brought for us secretly by a Melbourne-based uncle, who knew my father’s admiration for Salman Rushdie and his novels. That afternoon, as I returned home, some boys stopped me and introduced me to a lanky youth who claimed to be the Area Commander of a militant organisation. 

The boys accused me of blasphemy and said that I had insulted the Prophet by talking about The Satanic Verses. They ordered me to apologise and recite some verses from the Quran. I resisted initially, but feared for my parents when the youth lifted the hem of his pheran and showed me the nozzle of a pistol. I did what they asked: Apologised, repeated the words they recited, and upon being threatened, swore never to lie again (they refused to believe that I had the banned book at home). After slapping me, they let me go.

Years later, in 2005, when I read Rushdie’s magical-realist novel, Shalimar the Clown – partly set in Pachigam, a fictional place in Kashmir – I was surprised to find a description of the fate of the Pandits, of families like my own.

Hindu community houses, temples, private homes and whole neighbourhoods were being destroyed… Kill one, scare ten, the Muslim mobs chanted, and ten were, indeed, scared…Three hundred and fifty thousand Pandits, almost the entire Pandit population of Kashmir fled from their own homes and headed south to the refugee camps where they would rot, like bitter fallen apple, like the unloved, undead dead they had become. In the so-called Bangladeshi Markets in Iqbal Park – Hazuri Bagh area of Srinagar the things looted from temples and homes were being openly bought and sold…

Three and a half lakhs of human beings arrived in Jammu as displaced persons and for many months the government did not provide shelters or relief or even register their names, why was that… The camps at Purkhoo, Muthi, Mishriwallah, Nagrota were built on the banks and beds of nullahas, dry seasonal waterways, and when the water came the camps were flooded, why was that…The pandits of Kashmir were left to rot in their slum camps, to rot while the army and the insurgency fought over the bloodied and broken valley, to dream of return, to die while dreaming of return, to die after the dream of return died so that they could not even die dreaming of it, why was that why was that why was that why was that why was that.
On September 14, 1989, as I was going for tuition to Fateh Kadal in downtown Srinagar, I heard about the assassination of Tika Lal Taploo, a prominent lawyer and chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir. He was shot dead outside his house in Habba Kadal, Srinagar. Six weeks later, on November 4, militants killed Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo in Hari Singh High Street. His granddaughter was my friend and classmate. As the Sessions Judge, Justice Ganjoo had sentenced Maqbool Bhat, co-founder of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, to death for murdering a police inspector in Baramulla, and also for murdering a bank officer. Thousands of people came out on the streets and celebrated the killing of Justice Ganjoo. ‘Maqbool Bhat’s death has been avenged,’ our neighbour said. People in our neighbourhood chanted pro-Pakistan slogans, waved Pakistani flags, and burnt effigies of Indian leaders.

At the onset of the New Year in 1990, I witnessed a strange turn of events in Khankah-i-Sokhta, my locality. Known for the abiding friendships between Muslims and Pandits who lived there, the locality resounded with cries of Muslim men and women whose teenaged boys started disappearing from their homes to join militant outfits and wage war against the security forces deployed in Srinagar. Many of these boys never returned. A sense of fear grew among the Pandits as they saw Muslim youths glorify the armed struggle against India. When security forces killed militants, it was marked by grief as well as jubilation.

Anti-Pandit sentiment prevailed everywhere. It brought back the horrific memory of the riots in Kashmir’s Anantnag district in February and March 1986, in which many Pandits were targeted and attacked, and temples were desecrated and ransacked. While hundreds of Muslims came out on the streets in downtown Srinagar, defying curfew and shoot-on-sight orders, to demand freedom from India, the Pandits huddled indoors in fear and bewilderment.

In February 1990, militants killed Lassa Kaul, Director of Doordarshan Kendra, outside his house in Bemina. He was my father’s friend. At his funeral, which was attended by hundreds of Pandits and a Central Minister of Information and Broadcasting who’d flown in from New Delhi, Muslim protesters chanted slogans against Jagmohan, the Governor of the state, who had just assumed office. 

At Lassa Kaul’s funeral, Pandits wept. Muslims blamed Jagmohan for Lassa Kaul’s death. They spread rumours that his killing was a conspiracy hatched by the Indian intelligence agencies to discredit the muhajids and the Tehreek. Before his death, Lassa Kaul had confided in my father about the threats he had received from militant groups. Some militants had visited him in his office and ordered him to stop broadcasting Indian TV programmes in Kashmir. Ignoring the demands and threats, he had continued to work although many of his colleagues had advised him to leave Kashmir. He had been taking care of his ailing father.

The kidnapping of Soom Nath Saproo, our neighbour, terrified us. He worked in the Defence Estates Office of the Government of India and was posted at Shivpora. His daughter was my classmate and used to take tuition from my father at our place. Saproo had gone to buy milk when he was kidnapped. My father and I went to his house. Many Pandits and Muslims had gathered there. Our neighbour, Hafiz, told us that Saproo was on the hit list of a militant outfit because he worked for the Central Government. He had even warned Saproo. Saproo’s family revealed that they had received threats from a militant group that he would be targeted. Two days later, at the behest of influential people in the locality, the militants released Saproo. He reached home with a gash on his head. He wouldn’t talk. He fled to Jammu the next day. He died a few years ago. His last wish – to return home – remained unfulfilled.

In April 1990, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, through the columns of an Urdu daily, Al Safa, issued an ultimatum to Pandits to leave Kashmir in 36 hours. On the same day, the newspaper also carried an ominous column referring to Pandits as untrustworthy and informants of the Indian intelligence agencies. This was the second time a pro-Pakistan militant outfit had issued an ultimatum to Pandits. The first had appeared in Aftab, in January. At that time, Pandits had persisted and lingered.

In our locality, I saw hundreds of posters pasted on doors, walls, shops and electric poles ordering Pandit families to leave. Suspicion, betrayal and mistrust divided the Muslims and the Pandits. Friends parted from friends, neighbours from neighbours. The Pandit families started to pack and leave. A few families, including mine, didn’t leave. We spent nervy days inside our house with a foreboding that these were our last days.

Some days later, I saw Ismael and his two sons dumping arms in a dugout in the courtyard of their house, which was next to ours. Ismael was my grandfather’s friend. He reared pigeons for a living…

K L Chowdhury - Pandits remember January 19, 1990: ‘It is for your own good to leave’
December 1989
The past two months have seen the terrorists in full charge since the governing machinery has made its customary move to the winter capital in Jammu along with the bureaucrats, politicians, legislators and ministers. The valley has fallen in the iron grip of mushrooming militant organisations.

Their diktats are flying from all directions and bringing about drastic changes in the social-cultural-administrative milieu of the valley. Cinema owners have been forced to close down, kiosks selling alcoholic drinks have been banned, clubs have shut down, beauty parlours and boutiques have disappeared. There is a breakdown of law and order. Every house, neighbourhood, village and town is agog with an eerie enthusiasm and expectation. Chants of tehreek rend the air: “Azadi has become the mantra, Islam the idea, Pakistan the utopia.”

There has been an increased number of bomb blasts as the abductions and killings of Pandits go on. By now more than thirty Kashmiri Pandits have been gunned down. There is an all-pervasive sense of fear and insecurity in the community. They are like frightened chicken in a cage in the butcher’s shop. The murderers kill with impunity. What remains of the administration in the valley is too defunct to take any action.

The Pandits endure the pogrom. The outside world remains silent. The Pandits have no options, and nowhere to turn to except the very people who have ordered their decimation. That is why, the other day the president of a prominent socio-cultural organisation of Pandits sent a candid public appeal to JKLF through an open letter invoking Kashmiriyat, the much-touted Kashmiri spirit of amity and tolerance: “We desire to live in peace and harmony with our Muslim brethren. We have nothing against your tehreek. Please spare my community and stop the killings.”

The reply came forthwith through a stinging note strung to the dead body of his deputy that had been thrown by the riverside during the night. It read, “We presume you got the answer, Mr President.” that has forced him to declare his community unsafe. He has asked Pandits to exercise their own judgment and discretion since the whole community is persona non grata in Kashmir and there is no one to protect the Pandits.

By and large, the State Government Muslim employees from the valley are not unsympathetic to the motivation behind terrorism or the means adopted by its perpetrators. In flagrant violation of service rules, some of them are aiding and abetting terrorism – working as moles, passing vital security, logistical and related information to the militants and their mentors. Others, including several policemen, have even enlisted as jihadi volunteers and crossed over to POK while still being on the payrolls of the government.

The regional print media, under the directive and dictates of the numerous militant outfits, have become a part of the propaganda machinery for feeding Jihad to the masses. Mosques and madrassas are in overdrive. The whole valley breathes of lawlessness and terror. People are being sucked into the black hole of Jihad, brainwashed into believing that “Azadi” is round the corner and those who oppose it will do so at their own peril.

Most right-thinking Muslims, euphemistically called moderates, find themselves helpless even as they do not like what is happening, for they foresee how it will engulf and imperil the fabric of Kashmiri society. By remaining quiet they acquiesce to the inevitability of terrorism and the means that are adopted to achieve its ends.... Read more:

See also
Communist Party of India Report (1950) - Imperialist aggression in Kashmir

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