Saturday, January 23, 2010
To forget would be to forgive
Nandimarg massacre of Pandits: Even toddlers were not spared by Islamists.
Twenty years ago this past week, Hindus were forced to flee Kashmir Valley, their ancestral land, by Islamic fanatics baying for their blood. Not a finger was raised by the state in admonition nor did ‘civil society’ feel outraged. In these 20 years, India has forgotten that outrage, a grotesque assault on our idea of nationhood. So much so, nobody even talks of the Kashmiri Pandits, driven out of their home and hearth, virtually stripped of their identity and reduced to living as refugees in their own country, any more.
Our ‘secular’ media, obsessed as it is with pandering to the baser instincts of Muslim separatists, waxing eloquent about the many sorrows of India’s least of all minorities, arguing the case for rabid mullahs and demanding ‘greater autonomy’ for Jammu & Kashmir so that the Tricolour doesn’t fly there any more, has not thought it fit to take note of the 20th anniversary of the new age Exodus. Our politicians, who salivate for Muslim votes and are willing to go to any extent to appease ‘minority sentiments’ — including approving the automatic though absurd inclusion of Muslims in the list of BPL beneficiaries of the Indian state’s munificence in keeping with the Prime Minister’s ‘Muslims first’ policy — would rather pretend this particular event never happened. Our judiciary, which endlessly agonises over terrorists and their molls being killed in Gujarat, has not thought it fit to set up a Special Investigation Team to identify the guilty men of 1990 and bring them to justice. It would seem Hindu pride, Hindu dignity and Hindu lives are irrelevant in this wondrous land of ours.
Tragically, Hindus have no sense of history: Those who have come of age in these 20 years, we can be sure, are ignorant of how the Kashmir Valley was cleansed of its Hindu population through a modern day genocide. To forget, it is often said, is to forgive. But should we forgive those who committed this monstrous act of criminal misdeed? Should we forget that the Government of India has disowned the Hindus of Kashmir Valley? Should we rationalise the remorseless attitude of the Government of Jammu & Kashmir towards the plight of Kashmiri Pandits?
Srinagar, January 4, 1990. Aftab, a local Urdu newspaper, publishes a Press release issued by Hizb-ul Mujahideen, set up by the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1989 to wage jihad for Jammu & Kashmir’s secession from India and accession to Pakistan, asking all Hindus to pack up and leave. Another local paper, Al Safa, repeats this expulsion order.
In the following days, there is near chaos in the Kashmir Valley with Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and his National Conference Government abdicating all responsibilities. Masked men run amok, waving Kalashnikovs, shooting to kill and shouting anti-India slogans.
Reports of killing of Kashmiri Pandits begin to trickle in; there are explosions; inflammatory speeches are made from the pulpits of mosques, using public address systems meant for calling the faithful to prayers. A terrifying fear psychosis begins to take grip of Kashmiri Pandits.
Walls are plastered with posters and handbills, summarily ordering all Kashmiris to strictly follow the Islamic dress code, prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks and imposing a ban on video parlours and cinemas. The masked men with Kalashnikovs force people to re-set their watches and clocks to Pakistan Standard Time.
Shops, business establishments and homes of Kashmiri Pandits, the original inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley with a recorded cultural and civilisational history dating back 5,000 years, are marked out. Notices are pasted on doors of Pandit houses, peremptorily asking the occupants to leave Kashmir within 24 hours or face death and worse. Some are more lucid: “Be one with us, run, or die!”
* * *
Srinagar, January 19, 1990. Mr Jagmohan arrives to take charge as Governor. Mr Farooq Abdullah, whose Government has all but ceased to exist, resigns and goes into a sulk. Curfew is imposed as a first measure to restore some semblance of law and order. But it fails to have a deterrent effect.
Throughout the day, Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front and Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists use public address systems at mosques to exhort people to defy curfew and take to the streets. Masked men, firing from their Kalashnikovs, march up and down, terrorising cowering Pandits who, by then, have locked themselves in their homes.
As evening falls, the exhortations become louder and shriller. Three taped slogans are repeatedly played the whole night from mosques: ‘Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-o-Akbar kehna hai’ (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-o-Akbar); ‘Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (What do we want here? Rule of Sharia’h); ‘Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batao roas te Batanev san’ (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men).
The Pandits have reason to be fearful. In the preceding months, 300 Hindu men and women, nearly all of them Kashmiri Pandits, had been slaughtered ever since the brutal murder of noted lawyer Pandit Tika Lal Taploo by the JKLF in Srinagar on September 14, 1989. Soon after that, Justice NK Ganju of the Srinagar High Court was shot dead. Pandit Sarwanand Premi, 80-year-old poet, and his son were kidnapped, tortured, their eyes gouged out, and hanged to death. A Kashmiri Pandit nurse working at the Soura Medical College Hospital in Srinagar was gang-raped and then beaten to death. Another woman was abducted, raped and sliced into pieces at a saw mill.
In villages and towns across the valley, terrorist hit lists have been floating about. All the names are of Pandits. With no Government worth its name, the administration having collapsed, the police nowhere to be seen, despondency sets in. As the night of January 19, 1990, wears itself out, despondency gives way to desperation.
And tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits across the valley take a painful decision: To flee their homeland to save their lives. Thus takes place a 20th century Exodus.
* * *
After the Holocaust, Jews reflected on their persecution and resolved, ‘Never again.’ Yad Vashem is not only a moving memorial to the atrocities committed against Jews, it is also an archive that documents specific details, including names, addresses and photographs, so that future generations neither forget nor forgive their tormentors. Twenty years after the persecution of Hindus began in Kashmir Valley, we don’t even know how many men, women and children were stripped of their rights; how many were raped, slaughtered and maimed; their names; and, what happened to those who survived. Barring those living in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi, in the hope that some day they will be able to return to Kashmir Valley with their dignity and safety assured. Deep within they know, and the rest of us know, that is never going to happen.
And thereby hangs a tragic tale of callous Hindu indifference.
[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on 24/01/10]