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Archive for January 2013

Yet another 19th January

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“Bol Ki Lab Azad Hain Tere, Bol Zubaan Ab Tak Teri Hai” ─ Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The Government of India has failed Kashmiri Pandits (who are the aborigines of Kashmir valley) as they are still living as refugees in their own country. On January 19, Kashmiri Pandits entered their 24th year in exile. Kashmiri Pandit refugees commemorate January 19 as holocaust/exodus day every year.

Twenty-three years ago, Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley leaving behind their homes and homeland so as to save themselves from persecution at the behest of Islamic extremists/terrorists. Around four to five lakh Kashmiri Pandits were displaced due to militancy in Kashmir valley. After the partition of India, it was the biggest ever displacement of people.

Terrorism in Kashmir valley started with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-1990. Ethnic cleansing refers to an attempt to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the expulsion or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups. United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area, persons of another ethnic or religious group.

The so-called freedom movement (Azaadi) in Kashmir was joined by many Kashmiri Muslims (and not all). They opted for guns for the so-called Azaadi which never was attained. The main purpose of terrorism in Kashmir was to create a valley homogenous in its religious (read Islamic) character. The minority Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the valley to create such homogeneity. If the majority community of the valley had not supported the insurgency, there probably wouldn’t have been any exodus of the minority community.

Ethnic cleansing sometimes involves the elimination of all physical vestiges of the targeted group through the obliteration of monuments, cemeteries, and houses of worship. Death or displacement may also be involved in ethnic cleansing where a population is identified for removal from an area or a region. With the rise of insurgency and Islamic extremism in Kashmir, houses of minority Hindus were burned and temples were destroyed. Also, notices were pasted on the walls of Kashmiri Pandit houses telling them to leave the Kashmir valley or to die.

Genocide may possibly be used as means to carry out ethnic cleansing. Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

On June 11, 1999, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in a ruling stated that “Against the stern definition of the Genocide Convention, the Commission is constrained to observe that while acts akin to genocide have occurred with respect to Kashmiri Pandits and that, indeed, in the minds and utterances of some of the militants a genocide-type design may exist, the crimes against the Kashmiri Pandits are near-Genocide and not Genocide.”

The United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at the 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on April 7, 2004 said, “Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide.”

What happened in 1990s in Kashmir was ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits marked with genocide. Kashmiri Hindus were killed by terrorists in 1989 and afterwards until they left the valley. Prominent Kashmiri Pandits who were killed are Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo, poet Sarwanand Koul ‘Premi’ and his son, advocate Prem Nath Bhat, Lassa Koul (Director, Doordarshan Kendra – Srinagar).

Though the official figure of Kashmiri Pandit killings is 219, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a valley-based organisation, suggests that 399 Pandits were killed and the list of Pandit killings is still incomplete. A survey was done in 2008 and 2009 to find the precise number of Pandits killed. The survey revealed that 302 members of the community were killed in 1990 alone. Such selective killing of minority Hindus of Kashmir amounts to genocide.

Kashmiri Pandits were seen as obstacle in the path of the so-called Azaadi from India. The valley was cleansed of Pandits because they had a tilak on their forehead. It is ironic that there has not been a single judicial enquiry about the exodus and killings of Kashmiri Pandits. The killers aren’t prosecuted, rather they roam freely in Kashmir and have many supporters in the valley.

The State/Central Government has not taken substantial measures till date for the return of Kashmiri Pandits back to the valley. If they had taken any, the return would have happened. How long will the Government of India take to wake from its deep slumber to address the issues concerning Kashmiri Pandit refugees? It has been 23 years and there are still no answers — answers about the exodus, the killings, the human rights violations, the justice and the return (back to Kashmir valley on their own terms). The exile continues. The scars remain.

(Originally published in Niti Central)

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Kashmir’s Exiled Bhattyein

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Kashmiri Pandit women are commonly known as ‘Bhattyein’. The word is a distortion of Sanskrit word “Bhattini” which means lady belonging to a noble family.

The over two-decade old Kashmir conflict has adversely affected the people of valley; be it men, women or children. Kashmiri women have faced the brunt of conflict since the beginning.

Bhattyein (Photo Courtesy - Vijay Koul)Photo Courtesy: Vijay Koul

While the Kashmiri women living in the valley are considered a part of debate/discussions regarding the impact of Kashmir conflict, there are women living on the other side of the tunnel who are ignored. Having witnessed the killing of their community members and then subjected to forced displacement from the Kashmir valley, the psyche of exiled ‘Bhattyein’ have got affected. Such a generation of women have seen the turmoil/insurgency in the valley and have been at the receiving end of terrorism.

During the rise of insurgency in Kashmir valley, the Pandit women were raped, brutalized and killed. In 1990, a nurse named Sarla Bhat, resident of Anantnag, working in Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (Soura) was gang-raped and then murdered by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militants. In the same year, a woman named Girja Tickoo, resident of Bandipora, was gang-raped and then chopped into pieces on mechanical saw by the terrorists. Many such acts of savagery were committed by the terrorists in 1990s against Kashmiri Pandits including ‘Bhattyein’. Moreover, there was an infamous slogan in Kashmir chanted by many during the peak of insurgency which revealed their intention – “Asi Gachchi Pakistan, Bhattav Roas Te Bhattyenav Saan” (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men).

After the displacement of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, the Pandit women have suffered from several health diseases like diabetes, thyroid gland malfunctioning etc. which were unheard of when they used to live in the valley. There is rise in stress-related disorders like depression, hypertension etc. among the Pandit women. Dr. KL Chowdhury, renowned Kashmiri physician, did a survey on the exiled Pandit women in the past and found that there was drop in population of Kashmiri Pandits. “Many Pandit women developed premature menopause even at the age of 35 years which reduced the ability to conceive at an early stage of life. Living in inhumane refugee camps after the displacement, the sexual desire itself diminished as three generations of a family lived in a single make-shift tent. This caused a decline in birth rate which resulted in fall in population of the Pandits.”

The “Bhattyein” have encountered hardships on a day-to-day basis. They lost their lifestyle and environment while living in exile. The very idea of a woman’s dignity was hurt. Rahul Bagati was a young boy when he had to leave his native place Kupwara due to turmoil. He remembers the difficult days in exile. “When our family was forced to migrate to Jammu, we started staying at a rented place. During this time, my younger sister was born. However, we developed some serious differences with the landlord due to his conduct and decided to move to our under-construction house which did not have any flooring. As funds were scarce, a make-shift bed made of bricks meant for construction and wood for doors was created for my mother. For rest of us, one of the two sarees my grandmother had brought with her was used as flooring to sleep.”

In exile, Kashmiri Pandit refugees have died due to change in environmental conditions. They were forced to live in hostile conditions in make-shift camps. Think of the “Bhattyein”, especially the older ones who had to live in 45°C in Jammu, who don’t know what a scorching summer is like (as average temperature of Kashmir in summer is around 30°C). The habitat change resulted in heat-strokes, anaemia, malaria etc. which caused many deaths.

Pandit women (Photo Courtesy - Aditya Raj Kaul)Photo Courtesy: Aditya Raj Kaul

“My maternal grandmother was like a mother to all in the village Irkumoo (which is in Kokernag area of Anantnag district) irrespective of them being Hindus or Muslims. However, as soon as Islamic fanaticism rose in valley in 1990, the Muslim neighbours who were like her children drove her out of Kashmir. The mother in her could not bear the pain of her children and grand-children living in refugee camps in Jammu. She could not bear the heat of the summer in Jammu and passed away. We called it heat-stroke. But it wasn’t only heat that killed her; it was the death of a mother who was driven away from her own home by people (Muslim neighbours) whom she treated and nurtured like her own children all her life,” says Deepak Kaul who lost his maternal grandmother in exile.

The media as well as human rights organizations have time and again highlighted the plight of Kashmiri women living in the valley, in particular half-widows (women who don’t know whether they are married or widows). But they have forgotten those exiled “Bhattyein” who have also suffered the loss of home and homeland due to the conflict. One can hardly find a report, editorial, story etc. dedicated to them. No women’s organizations have given a thought to such women.

On 19th January, 2013, these “Bhattyein” will enter their 24th year of exile.

(Originally published in Newslaundry and The Jammu Height ― April Issue, Page 30)

Written by Varad Sharma

January 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm