How Governor Jagmohan’s inaccurate judgment led to the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir
Numerous sources offered credible evidence to assert that the mass exodus had occurred because Governor Jagmohan, who had been appointed on 19 January 1990 for the second time, thought it prudent to organize the exodus for two reasons: one, that way alone Pandits would feel safe and secure and further sectarian killings would be stopped; second, he would be able to deal with the situation better where stringent laws to curb militancy were already in force and these laws could not be used freely on a mixed population. Many believed this approach was not ethically sound and he had faltered. Some people suspected that he had been sent to Kashmir to teach the Muslims a lesson. In fact, Jagmohan’s dispensation was greatly flawed because of his perception on things, particularly, for the fact that he treated the crisis in Kashmir, broadly as a law and order situation created by members of the majority community. It was the design of the dispensation from the time he was appointed in January 1990 till he was removed in May the same year. He had thought that his strong methods would work and he would be able to restore peace within a short time. Even after his removal, a situation of chaos remained on the ground which got deepened by the day and more lethal laws like the AFSPA (enacted on 6 July 1990) had to be imposed.
These acts, particularly the AFSPA gave a lot of power to the armed forces to open fire, set fire to houses, make arrests and take any action against those who might render assistance to militants.
Sanaullah Bhat, editor of the daily Aftab, narrated the details about this chaos in his book Ahad Nama-e-Kashmir and asserted that laws like AFSPA had deepened the crises in Kashmir. Bhat also accused Jagmohan of having let loose a reign of terror by organizing a siege of Srinagar.
The governor imposed curfew which did not work on the ground and almost the entire population of Srinagar gathered in mosques and raised slogans for independence. Next day, the curfew was violated in the entire valley and forces opened fire at a number of places. A massacre took place at Gawkadal on 21 January 1990, where fifty-two people were killed (the official figure was thirty-five). Bhat held Jagmohan responsible and blamed Mufti Muhammad Sayeed for his appointment. He thought Mufti Muhammad Sayeed did it to take revenge against Dr Abdullah and criticized Mufti Muhammad Sayeed for his shortsightedness. Bhat also thought it was one of the biggest mistakes Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had committed in his life.
Shabnam Qayoom wrote extensively on why and how the Pandit exodus occurred at the behest of Jagmohan. Qayoom had received a number of letters from leaders of the Pandit community, who described the exodus as a very unfortunate experience and held Jagmohan responsible for it. Many such letters appeared in newspapers like Alsafa, Roshni and Srinagar Times. One such letter was written by K.L Kaul from Nagrota camp in Jammu. Many Pandits wrote a joint letter to the editor of Roshni signed by eleven Pandit leaders who described the exodus as an organized event holding Jagmohan responsible. I had also received such letters from the Pandits.
Many prominent Pandit leaders wrote to me directly and described the exodus of Pandits as a tragic situation and they supported my opposition to Panun Kashmir, who demanded a separate homeland for Kashmiri Pandits.
Intellectuals who wrote to me on Kashmir’s critical situation included K.L Dhar (a direct descendant of Birbal Dhar, a great name in Kashmir history) and B Kaul (son of J.L.Kaul, an eminent scholar and one-time principal of Sri Pratap College, Srinagar).
S.L. Pandit, a renowned scholar and former head of English Department, Kashmir University in an emotional letter applauded the common heritage of Kashmiris. He hoped the two communities would always remain together. These and many other letters throw light not only on the untold miseries the Pandits suffered but also on the need to promote understanding for a unique togetherness which is the essence of Kashmiriyat.
The categorical assertions on the then governor’s role in the Pandit exodus did not dissuade me from seeking certain other opinions on the subject.
I met Omkar Nath Pajnoo at Safa Kadal, Srinagar, where he looks after the birthplace of Rupa Bhavani (1620), a saintly figure and poetess, belonging to a Pandit family, who had built many temples. Pajnoo has lived all these years in this locality considered by many as the vulnerable part of downtown Srinagar. He said the times were difficult, but he continued to go to the nearby temple and thence to the Rupa Bhavani shrine. He added he never felt threatened even though the locality (Khankahi Sokhta-Safa-Kadal) happens to be a predominantly Muslim mohalla, Pajnoo believed like many other the Pandit exodus was an organized episode, but he would not say at whose behest the exodus had occurred.
Next, I met Sanjay Tikoo, a non-migrant Pandit leader. He had first-hand knowledge on what transpired between a delegation of Pandit leaders who met Jagmohan around the last week of January 1990. He said Jagmohan had emphasized he would not be able to provide security to Pandits at different places and, therefore, they would have to move to some designated place where they could be provided security and that the government would select a secure place.
All discussion veered around this proposal. As per Tikoo, when the delegation left the Raj Bhawan its members, Hira Lal Chatta and Hariday Nath Jattu felt Jagmohan had refused them security and asked Pandits to leave Kashmir immediately.
Tikoo believed Jattu and Chatta exaggerated Jagmohan’s attitude. They had contacted every Pandit family and urged them to leave. But Tikoo confirmed, undoubtedly Jagmohan looked nervous and extremely scared and he couldn’t inspire confidence among members of the Pandit delegation who met him. The alarm that Jattu and Chatta created further scared the Pandits and exodus occurred. He also said certain families confirmed transport was provided on a particular night but Tikoo had no information as to who provided it. He said the exodus occurred around 20-214 January 1990 and another exodus occurred in the second week of March 1990.
Khem Lata Wakhloo, a former minister and a senior Congress leader, who suffered along with husband great odds during their 45-day captivity at the hands of militants, narrated the ordeal later in a book. She told me recently that in 1990, a policeman had knocked on their door in Gagribal (Srinagar) one evening saying if they wanted to leave Kashmir.
He added that they would be provided transport, but if they wanted to stay back that would be their own choice. She and her family decided not to leave. They had no knowledge on who had sent the policeman to their residence.
Dina Nath Raina described the exodus in his book Kashmir: Distortions and Reality. As gruesome chronology of selective assassinations within the Pandit community at the hands of militants, which had decidedly created scare among this minuscule minority. But the fact remains that the exodus was an orchestrated event and somebody in authority had put in a sizable effort in executing it.
There is evidence that the transport was provided in a planned manner to Pandit families in particular localities and the police department was fully involved in organizing the exodus.
There is overwhelming evidence that Jagmohan was squarely responsible for organizing the exodus of Pandits, which some people allegedly described as his effort to organize the safe passage of Pandits to Jammu and elsewhere.
A Couple of Jagmohan’s associates shared with me the fact that Jagmohan had a great unease in his mind regarding the mistreatment of Pandits in Kashmir and he would often describe, in confidence, the condition in his mind as an inspiration from Guru Teg Bahadur, whom he held in highest esteem.
Jagmohan’s article ‘Kashmir in Sikh History’ published in the Hindustan Times on 24 December 1995 creates a clear impression that he was following the spirit of Guru Teg Bahadur’s concern for Kashmir.
There is no doubt that Jagmohan had a sectarian angle on Kashmir and, unfortunately, this condition remained on his mind all the time.
In his article ‘Breaking Kashmir Impasse’, Times of India dated 6 August 1992, Praful Bidwai said, ‘The bulk of Kashmiris have been seriously alienated from India after the brutal turning point of January 1990. The policy of encouraging the pandits to leave the Valley widely attributed to Mr Jagmohan and fundamentalist attacks upon them embittered inter-community relations and led to painful migration.’
Among a host of letters from Kashmiri Pandit leaders who had become refugees in Jammu, a comprehensive letter written by K.L Kaul from Nagrota camp appeared in newspapers in Srinagar in Which he had held the communal elements, particularly Jagmohan, responsible for the Pandit exodus, which he had also described as a very unfortunate event in the history of Kashmir.
A senior Kashmir police officer Israr Khan, who retired very recently, has given clinching evidence of J&K Police Department having been pressed into service by the Raj Bhawan to organize the Pandit exodus in the early month of 1990, Kashmir Life, published from Srinagar, in its issue of 22 to 28 October 2017 carried a comprehensive interview with Israr Khan who said on record that in April 1990 when he was sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) at Kothibagh Police Station, Srinagar ( the hub of police activity those days), he was summoned to the Raj Bhavan where Jagmohan’s principal secretary and SSP Srinagar Allah Baksh asked Khan to ensure the smooth transit of buses carrying the Pandits to Jammu and render all assistance to them. Jagmohan himself directed him ‘Loading shoding mein madad karna aur koi attack shatak nhi hone deyna’ ( Help the people move their belongings and see that they are not attacked).
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