Anaahat Naad

The Unmade Sound

Posts Tagged ‘19 January

Yet another 19th January

leave a comment »

“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)

Kashmir’s Exiled Bhattyein

leave a comment »

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

The Kashmiri Pandit Question

leave a comment »

Lord Rama was in exile for 14 years on behest of his father King Dashrath but his followers hailing from Kashmir continue to remain in forced exile from more than two decades. On January 19, 2012 Kashmiri Pandits complete 22 years in exile.

After India’s partition, the largest internal displacement of around four to five lakh people (marked with ethnic cleansing and genocide) was of Kashmiri Pandits which began from January 19, 1990. On that day, Kashmir lost its soul.

The exiled Pandits still remember the gory night when they left for an unknown land without their belongings. They still remember the horror of the decade during which they were forced to leave their home. Terror and horror ruled the streets of the valley in 1990s.

Twenty-two years have passed, but the questions about exodus, killings, justice, human rights and return of Kashmiri Hindus remain unanswered. I hear muted responses to the ‘Pandit Question’ from both the state and Central governments. Even human rights organisations have not raised their voice on the issue. There hasn’t been a single investigation into the reasons for the exodus and killings of Kashmiri Pandits. There has not been any conviction for the murders and rapes of Pandits except that of human rights activist late Hriday Nath Wanchoo. The ‘Pandit Question’ doesn’t seem to dent the conscious of our politicians and their ilk.

In these years, both the state and Central governments have come up with several proposals for return and rehabilitation of the exiled Pandits though not concrete ones. Had they done that, the return would have happened. Many a time, linking return with economic packages. Minister of State for Home, Jitendra Singh informed Lok Sabha on 13th December, 2011 that even after the government had announced an Rs 1,618.40 crore package for the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants to the Valley in 2008 but so far no family has returned.

Did Pandits leave the valley due to economic/financial reasons? Certainly not; they left due to attack on their existence from terrorists. Economics cannot define the return of Pandits. Further, there are several reports of encroachments of Pandit properties and their religious shrines by some miscreants. Many temples were broken when the insurgency was at its peak. Barring a few, the temples are in a dilapidated condition. There is not any strong move from the J&K state government till date to deal with this menace. Even the Kashmiri Hindu Shrines Bill is pending in the J&K assembly for years.

Besides, lies and false notions have been created regarding the exodus of Pandits from the Kashmir valley. The ‘myth factory’ still works in propagating such myths in and outside the Valley. I still get to hear that Jagmohan, then the governor of J&K State, is responsible for the exodus of Pandits. No, it wasn’t Jagmohan but Islamist fanaticism and terrorism covertly supported by Pakistani militant groups, which resulted in displacement of Pandits.

Armed insurgency was a movement to secede the state of Jammu and Kashmir from India and Pandits were seen as living symbols representing India in Kashmir. It is worthy to mention that there were some good neighbours (belonging to the majority of Kashmir) of Pandits who advised them to leave as they also knew that the Valley wasn’t safe for Pandits anymore.

Kashmiri Pandits will return when the conditions are conducive. The prime concern is safety (both in physical as well psychological sense). When the fanatics roam freely on the streets of the Valley, the return of Kashmiri Pandits is not possible. Their “return” means returning to the same home where they lived before the exodus. It should be done with dignity and honour. The return is feasible when issues concerning the entire community are addressed.

It is likely to happen only when there is full guarantee of no foul play with the community. Remember, the Kashmiri Pandit is as much a stakeholder in the larger debate of Jammu and Kashmir as anyone else. As J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his government completed three years in office on January 5 this year, Kashmiri Pandits will enter in 23rd year in exile on January 19.

Maybe the reason behind not answering the ‘Pandit Question’ is implicit in Sudarshan Faakir’s famous couplet – “Mera Qaatil Hi Mera Munsif Hai, Kya Mere Haq Mei Faisla Dega?”

(Originally published in MiD Day)

Written by Varad Sharma

January 19, 2012 at 8:00 pm

The Exile Continues!

leave a comment »

21 years ago, on 19th January 1990 started the biggest exodus since partition.  About half a million Kashmiri Hindus, facing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism left their homeland. Every year since that day Kashmiri Pandits observe 19 January as Kashmiri Pandit Holocaust/Exodus Day, hoping to go back to their homes one day.

Why did it happen? Every stakeholder has their own version.  Muslims in Kashmir blame then governor Jagmohan but Pandits seem to have not forgotten the events that took place before the fateful night of January 19, 1990. 

Warnings were shouted from mosques against KAFIRs, threat letters posted on walls of Pandit houses, often processions would shout slogans like Hum Kya Chahte, Azaadi (We want freedom), Yahan Kya Chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa (What will have sway here – Prophet’s governance) etc. Killing of Pandits had become a regular affair. 

Well Pandits, who were a miniscule minority, thought that the situation in valley will improve in few months. They left for the land unknown, hoping that one day when the normalcy returns, they will come back HOME!

What remains an irony is that there was no judicial enquiry for genocide in the valley till date. There are enquiries, probes, commissions for 1993 Mumbai Blasts, Gujarat Riots, Babri Mosque Demolition, 26/11 Mumbai Attack but no fair enquiry as such on exodus of minorities from Kashmir.  The killer of Pandits – Bitta Karate, who claimed to have killed 22 Pandits in an interview, was let go because of lack of evidence!

Who is responsible for Kashmiri Pandit Exile? Well I would say everyone from the terror mastermind sitting across the border to the elected leaders of this country.

Our neighbours from the majority community did nothing to stop our selective murders.  In fact, most of them were driven towards the Azaadi sentiment and openly supported it.  Pandits were detested and many a time the local would turn an informer for the terrorist organization looking for a Kashmiri Pandit.  In 22 years, not a single protest was held to protest against injustice done to Kashmir Pandits. In fact, when killers like Karate were released they were given a HERO’s welcome.

Indian government remained and remains a mute spectator to the exodus. Spokespersons of the political party in power have often ridiculed Kashmiri Pandit cause to attract voters of a particular sect.  The small community of Kashmiri Pandits definitely doesn’t interest the vote-hungry politicians of this country. Today a NATIONALIST community is on verge of extinction and seems no-one cares! The people responsible for the exodus have now become power brokers in Kashmir. Our Government hold parleys with them.

This article is neither for the government nor for our neighbours, because enough has been said to them. But, it’s for the common man of India; please awake before it’s too late.  Kashmir is about to fall and you never know what will be next!

Kashmiri Pandits will keep fighting for their right over their motherland and they will sure return on their own terms!

“If I die in exile, think this of me. There is a corner out there in Kashmir where my soul will come to rest.”

Written by Varad Sharma

January 19, 2011 at 12:30 am