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What led to the exodus of Kashmiri pandits 26 years ago?

New Delhi: Kashmiri Pandits, forced out of their homes and living a miserable life of refugees in their own country, are observing January 19 as the 26th anniversary of their forcible eviction from Jammu and
Raj Singh January 19, 2016 23:22 IST
Raj Singh

New Delhi: Kashmiri Pandits, forced out of their homes and living a miserable life of refugees in their own country, are observing January 19 as the 26th anniversary of their forcible eviction from Jammu and Kashmir.

What actually triggered the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley?

You talk to any Kashmiri Pandit and they are all unanimous that it was the religion (Pan Islamic)-driven-separatism, fully backed and funded by Pakistan that forced them to leave their homes where they were born and raised.

The first sign that Kashmir was heading towards troubled times came in 1986 when the state witnessed the worst communal riot of its history. The riots took place in Anantnag district of South Kashmir which used to be the political bastion of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the late Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister. At that time, Sayeed was a member of the Congress party and seeds of religion-driven-separatism had started being sown in the valley.

Nizam-E-Mustafa or Rule of Muhammad

According to some estimates, Kashmiri Pandits lost nearly 300 homes in these riots  and a few of their temples were also burnt down.

“Terrorism, in the guise of Islamic Jihad, made its entry in the state in the second half of 1989. The Pan-Islamic philosophy with the objective of setting up Nizam-E-Mustafa (Rule of Mustafa or Muhammad) had succeeded in getting foothold in the state. The torture of Hindus had started big way  in the state,” said Sushil Pandit, a Jammu and Kashmir activist.

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Year 1989 was turbulent for Jammu and Kashmir from many accounts. After the massive defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in general elections, V P Singh took over as the Prime Minister of the country on Dec 2, 1989 and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was made the Home Minister.

On Dec 8, 1989, Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was kidnapped by terrorists belonging to Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The coalition govt led by VP Singh surrendered to the whims of these  terrorists and 5 militants were freed in exchange of safe release for Mufti's daughter. The surrender boosted the morale of the terrorists and the rest, as we say, is history now.

By January 1990, the terrorists acting on the instructions of their Pakistani masters, decided to go for ethnic cleansing of Pandits as the first step towards setting up  Nizam-E-Mustafa in the state.

The last seven days

Between January 12-19, these terrorists took out a number of anti-India processions in which Hindus were used as human shields so that they could be the first casualty in case Police opens fire on the procession. Provocative calls were being made from mosques to target Hindu men and women.

“ In these 7 days, Kashmiri Pandits were subjected to all kinds of persecution that included brutal killings of men and rape of women. The persecution became so intense that ‘Kashmiri Pandits' were left with no other choice than to move out of the state and the first mass exodus started on January 19, 1990,” Sushil Pandit added.

A section of Kashmiris who sympathise with the cause espoused by militants point out that the onus for mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits lies on the shoulders of Jagmohan who was appointed as J&K governor by V P Singh government. Their argument is that Jagmohan deliberately encouraged Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley so that the operation against militants could be launched aggressively and without bothering for the safety of Kashmiri Pandits who were turning out to be  soft targets for the terrorists.

However, Prafulla Ketkar, editor of Organiser, totally disagrees with this version of the explanation.

“This is to totally rubbish. The militancy gained ground in Kashmir much before the arrival of Jagmohan as governor of the state. Pakistan's proxy war against India under its policy of thousand-cuts was well documented way back in 1986. After taking over as Pakistan PM in Dec 1988, Benazir Bhutto made very provocative statements regarding Kashmir. Subsequently, open threats were issued against Kashmiri Pandits asking them to vacate their homes.  So, how can Jagmohan be blamed for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits?” Prafulla Ketkar asked.

“The whole argument about Kashmir, right from 1947, that it is a secular crown of India because it's Muslim-majority state has been flawed. The separatists supported by Pakistan found 1990 an opportune time to execute their nefarious designs. Why because politically we were a little instable in the aftermath of massive defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in general elections and formation of a coalition govt. Bofors scandal emerged as a major issue. Pakistan found it an opportune time to ethnically cleanse Hindus from Jammu and Kashmir and they used it to the hilt,” Ketkar added.

‘Ghar wapasi' in valley?

Much water has flown through Jhelum since those horrible days. BJP and PDP, two parties with diagonally opposite politically ideologies, have joined hands in the state now. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led the coalition government till hids death this month and after his demise, Mehbooba looks all set to take over as the new Chief Minister of the state.

With BJP in power, both at the centre and in the state, is it the right time for Kashmiri Pandits to make ‘ghar wapasi' in valley?

Interestingly, every political party of Jammu and Kashmir  including Congress, NC, PDP and  even the separatist Hurriyat Conference, has publically  opined that they are in favour of  Kashmiri Pandits  returning to their homes in valley.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah today said that he tried his best to bring Pandits back to the valley but success always eluded him on this front. Showing signs of exasperation, Abdullah says that Kashmiri Pandits have to take the initiative on their own and they should not expect anyone to approach them with a begging bowl.

The ground reality

The question is – how can you expect a community to return to their homes when there is no concrete guarantee of their safety and security? In last 26 years, they have been  haunted everyday by the memories of pain which forced them to leave their homes. Before asking them to return, the government will have to assure them of their full safety, security and dignity.

“Unless the political gap between the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir is bridged, the atmosphere will not be conducive for the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits. Certain issues need to be resolved first. For example, what about the properties of Kashmiri Pandits grabbled by the locals?” asks Ketkar.

Obviously, a lot of ground work needs to be done for creating a conducive atmosphere for the return of these hapless Kashmiri Pandits. One can only hope that all parties will join hands for this cause forgetting their narrow political and ideological differences.