View from Kashmir | Anatomy of a Tragedy

How opportunist politics turned the misery of the Kashmiri Pandits into a spectacle

Ashq Hussain Bhat

On 14 September 1989, JKLF killed provincial vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tikka Lal Taploo at Habbakadal. This was the first Pandit killing incident. But it was not the first political assassination. On August 21, JKLF had killed a National Conference worker, Yusuf Halwai at Sarafkadal. Halwai was a Muslim. On November 1, JKLF killed Neel Kant Ganjoo at Hari Singh High Street. Ganjoo was a retired sessions court judge who had sentenced JKLF leader Maqbool Butt to death. On 9 January 1990, JKLF shot dead Krishna Gopal of CBI. On February 13, they killed Lassa Koul, director, Door Darshan, Srinagar. Thereafter, DD Srinagar started describing gunmen as ‘militants’ rather than as ‘terrorists’.

Yusuf Halwai’s assassination frightened NC cadres who now swore on the Holy Quran in mosques that they would have no truck with NC. On the same day militants threw a bomb in the house of Shafi Qureshi of Congress.

Militants neutralized Provincial Police when they killed, on 1 December 1989, Said Ullah, SHO, Police Station Maisuma. Since the November 1989 Indian national elections CRPF began arriving in Kashmir in large numbers. They took over schools, colleges, cinema houses, hotels, etc. To foil them taking over more school buildings, militants began setting schools afire. Although JKLF was the most prominent militant organization active in Kashmir, there were other outfits also: Al Umer Students Liberation Front, and Allah Tigers. The last mentioned struck against cinema houses, video libraries, beauty parlours and liquor shops calling them social evils. Hizbul-Mujahideen was not a significant organisation.

February 1990 was a significant month for JKLF. The government of Pakistan designated February 11, Maqbool Butt’s death anniversary, as a day of solidarity with Kashmir.


Mood of Kashmiri Muslims

Kashmiri Muslims, having no military capabilities, believed that they would never be able to fight an armed rebellion against India. They had not touched firearms, except very few sportsmen who kept outdated muzzle loading muskets or modern shotguns for shooting pigeon. Then something happened that changed Kashmir for ever. On the night of 17 September 1988, security guards posted at Kursoo Rajbagh residence of Ali Watali, DIG Police, killed Aijaz Dar, a JKLF militant. They captured an AK-47 rifle from him. Bomb blasts, firing incidents etc., reassured Kashmiris as to the beginning of Liberation War.

On 11 February 1989, they observed Maqbool Day with a strike, hartal, in protest against his execution. The same month they organised massive protest demonstrations against publication of Salman Rushdie novel The Satanic Verses. Then in July 1989 Ladakhi Buddhists launched an agitation against domination of Kashmiris in Ladakh. They beat Kashmiris working there, looted their shops, and burnt taxis owned by them (P.S. Verma Jammu Kashmir at Political Crossroads, page 234-35). Kashmiris resented Buddhist demand that Ladakh should be separated from Kashmir.

On August 14 Kashmiris celebrated Pakistan Day and hoisted Pak flags. On August 15, the Independence Day of India, they observed Black Day by hartal. On August 17, they observed hartal to mark the death anniversary of Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan. On being questioned by CRPF men about the whereabouts of militants (who used the terms ‘ugrwadi’ and ‘aatankwadi’) they swore they had no idea.

On September 8 they observed the death anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah as Youmi-Najat, Deliverance Day, by remaining on hartal. In the evening they observed ‘Black Out’ by putting out lights of their homes. Again, they observed a hartal on September 18, death anniversary of Aijaz Dar.

Kashmir Police arrested Shabir Shah on September 28. Kashmiris observed hartal for 4 days. Hartal was now given the name of ‘civil curfew’. They observed Black Day on October 27, the day the Indian Army landed in Kashmir in 1947. They boycotted Indian national elections in November. They observed hartal on December 5, the birth anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah. They let off firecrackers on December 8 when Farooq Abdullah released five militants in exchange for Rubiya Sayeed, the kidnapped daughter of Union home minister Mufti Sayeed. They inundated the streets so that the released militants could melt away undetected in the ocean of people; raised pro-azadi slogans, and distributed sweets. During curfew relaxation hours they formed processions and headed towards UNMOGIP’s office at Sonawar. Different sections of the population such as doctors, lawyers, bureaucrats, students, auto-rickshaw drivers, shopkeepers etc., took out separate rallies to the UNMOGIP office to present memoranda reminding the UN of their Kashmir obligations.


Kashmir Government of 1989

In February 1989 Kashmir Police killed 6 Muslims and injured 175 on three days (13th; 17th; 28th) when the latter protested against publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’.

On July 13 CRPF men killed four Kashmiris in retaliation of JKLF-gunmen shooting down two and injuring 10 personnel. Around this time CRPF introduced the cordon and search method (Kashmiris called it ‘crackdown’). Entire battalions of CRPF personnel would surprise a neighbourhood, cordon off the area, order menfolk to gather at a place, enter houses to conduct search operations. Kashmiris experienced the worst kind of humiliation during these operations. Arrests and torture became the order of the day. The aged parent of Shabir Shah died in custody.

On 19 January 1990, the home ministry appointed Jagmohan as Governor a second time. On the night of January 20, CRPF-men carried out large-scale overnight arrests in downtown Srinagar. Next morning Kashmiris thronged streets in large numbers protesting the arrests and demanding release of arrested persons. At one such protest rally CRPF opened fire at Gaw Kadal and killed and injured over 100 Muslims. On January 25, BSF killed about 20 Muslims and injured about 75 at Handwara.

Jagmohan ordered the imposition of round the clock curfew which put people in great trouble. Youth were the target of his regime. So, they decided to run away. Thousands of them crossed over to Pakistan administered Kashmir to receive arms training. Till then the number of militants must have been a few hundred concentrated in towns. In a matter of months, one could see thousands of boys wielding guns throughout Kashmir Valley.

In the last week of February 1990 Kashmiri Pandits started the process of leaving their homesteads. They ran away to Jammu where they felt safe. While their flight from Kashmir Valley was on, CRPF-men created further fear psychosis when they shot dead on March 1, about 50 Muslims at Hyderpora Bypass and at Zakura Crossing. On March 7, they raided houses at Chhanapora, looted them, and molested women folk.

When Jagmohan imposed severe curfew restrictions post-Gawkadal massacre, Kashmiris avoided main thoroughfares; gathered in mosques located away from main roads; raised slogans in favour of ‘azadi’ and against CRPF. Addressing the latter, they demanded: ‘Aey zalimo aey kafiro, Kashmir hamara Chhod do’ (You unjust infidels, get out of our Kashmir).


Pandit Migration

It is this slogan that Kashmiri Pandits cite as reason for leaving Kashmir. They say that when Muslims used the term ‘kafiro’ it was being addressed to them. Also, they say that Muslims cut crude jokes like “Kashmir baneh Pakistan, batau rostou batnev san (Kashmir will become part of Pakistan with Pandit women but without Pandit men)”. Also, they say that militants were bent upon wiping them out, otherwise why would they kill “thousands” of members of their community.

According to the list prepared by the Government, that contains 209 names of Pandits killed in Kashmir from 1989 to 2007, militants had killed  10  by mid-March 1990 of which I have mentioned the high-profile ones.  As against this, militants killed many more Muslims. Besides, the armed forces killed hundreds of Muslims. But then, Pandits would say, Muslims were at war with the Indian State; they supported the “enemy State Pakistan” and got killed. But why should Pandits lose their lives for nothing? They were not interested in azadi or Pakistan.

According to government figures, there were 351 bomb blasts and 1,600 violent incidents in Kashmir 1989, which killed 92 people. In 1990, 1,177 people were killed (pp.242 and 252 ibid). According to the above-mentioned list, five Pandits were killed in 1989; and 97 in 1990. This would mean that as many as 87 Muslims were killed in 1989; and 1,080 in 1990.

As far as the provocative ‘Batau rostou Batnev san’ is concerned, it was uncalled for and unfortunate. But it was an exception not a rule. So far as the slogan ‘Kafiro Kashmir hamara Chhoddo’ is concerned, it was never directed against Pandits.

The migration process was slow in the beginning. Only a few families had registered as migrants in Jammu by the end of February 1990. Migration took up speed in April-May 1990. However, the assassination on 21 May 1990, of Maulvi Farooq by ‘unidentified’ gunmen and the subsequent massacre of 57 funeral processionists (200 were injured) by CRPF brought an abrupt end to Jagmohan regime.

When most of the Kashmiri Pandits left Kashmir, a conspiracy theory started making rounds that they had done so at the behest of Jagmohan who wanted to crack down on Muslims once for all. According to this theory, after Jagmohan had finished with the Muslims, Pandits would return. So, the migration was to be a temporary affair for which the Provincial Police secretly paid 1,500 rupees to each Pandit family as travelling expenses if they agreed to leave immediately.

Kashmiri Muslims tended to believe the conspiracy theory because Jagmohan was a man of conspiracies. Also, he was a yes-man of Indira Gandhi. The latter had first time appointed him Governor in 1984 to cut Farooq Abdullah to size. It so happened that under the provisions of Simla Agreement concluded on 2 July 1972, Indira Gandhi obligated herself to meet President Bhutto of Pakistan ‘at a mutually convenient time in future… for… a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir.’ India and Pakistan, under this Agreement, had ‘resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations…’

Indira Gandhi had succeeded in circumventing the UN on Kashmir when  a vanquished and dismembered Pakistan  agreed to a bilateral settlement. Now she wished to circumvent even bilateralism. With this purpose in mind, she co-opted Sheikh Abdullah and Afzal Beg. Her Principal Secretary, P.N. Haksar, met Sheikh Abdullah (p.836-7 Aatash-e-Chinar Sheikh Abdullah) and G. Parthasarthy met Afzal Beg. The latter duo concluded the Kashmir Accord on 13 November 1974.

Subsequently, Indira Gandhi appointed Sheikh Abdullah as Chief Minister of J&K. Indira Gandhi now wished Sheikh to show some gratitude and join the Congress. Sheikh declared that Pakistan had no locus standi on Kashmir. He thought that by dumping the Plebiscite slogan and challenging the status of Pakistan on Kashmir he had done a favour to Indira Gandhi. Also, he nursed some grouse against her for denying him the luxury of becoming Prime Minister of J&K like he was in 1953. He also resented the formation in 1965 of the Provincial Congress Party in place of National Conference. So, he desired that Provincial Congress and Plebiscite Front should be disbanded and, in their place, National Conference set up (pp.853-54 Aatash-e-Chinar Sheikh Abdullah). Afzal Beg set up National Conference on July 5.

In 1981 Hindus of Jammu Division demanded that non-Muslim refugees from West Pakistan should be granted Permanent Residency rights. Indira Gandhi supported them. In reaction, Sheikh brought Resettlement Bill in the Provincial Assembly that provided for permanent return of former Muslim State Subjects who had emigrated in 1947. Interestingly, Sheikh had played a role in kicking them out in 1947 (pp.438, 450, & 455 Aatashi-Chinar Sheikh Abdullah). Post-Sheikh’s death, Farooq Abdullah, passed the Bill into Resettlement Act on 4 October 1982. Indira Gandhi challenged the Act in the Supreme Court.

Kashmir was now a battleground between Indira Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah. The latter’s party workers allegedly set fire on 19 May 1983, to Congress Head Office in Srinagar. He attended a meeting of non-Congress Chief Ministers at Vijayawada.

Then came June 1983 provincial elections. During her election campaign at Jammu, Indira Gandhi warned Hindus against Kashmiri Muslim domination, and against Resettlement Act telling them that it would open floodgates of large-scale immigration of Muslims from Pakistan (page 149-153 JK at Political Crossroads P.S. Verma).

Jagmohan hatched a conspiracy with the Mufti-led Congress and Gul Shah, brother-in-law of Farooq Abdullah. It culminated in the enthronement of Gul Shah on 2 July 1984.

Gul Shah proved to be a harder nut than Farooq Abdullah. Hence another conspiracy. Using communal tension that had gripped Jammu over the issue of Babri Masjid and Gul Shah’s allotting two rooms in the Jammu Civil Secretariat to Muslims for prayers, Mufti-led Congress fanned, on 20 February 1986, violence against Pandits and their temples in South Kashmir (page 217 ibid). On February 23, Pandits came out on streets of Anantnag protesting against Gul Shah when they should have demanded enquiry and exposed Congress dirty game.

On March 6, Congress brought down Gul Shah’s regime by withdrawing support. Kashmir remained under President’s rule up to November 1986 when Jagmohan reinstalled a downsized Farooq Abdullah as Chief Minister of NC-Congress Coalition. The Coalition rigged provincial elections held in March 1987. Jagmohan did not ensure free and fair elections. One cannot apologize on his behalf that he was a powerless Governor because this same ‘powerless’ Governor had brought down two governments.

NC-Congress Coalition persecuted youth for supporting opposition Muslim United Front which became the immediate reason for whatever bad happened in Kashmir including the displacement of Pandits. But the fundamental reason was the failure of India and Pakistan to arrive at a peaceful solution to the Kashmir Issue.

(The writer is a J&K government official and an author)



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