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Posts Tagged ‘Ethnic Cleansing

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)

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

Memories of a home beyond that tunnel

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Last month, I visited my home-state Jammu and Kashmir to see my folks. Accompanied by my father, I was meeting an uncle of mine after some two years. In the plethora of things we talked about we also spoke about ‘home’. It is quite natural for the exiles to talk, discuss and share views about the ‘home’. Not a long time back we lived together in one big house in Kashmir. When the family grew larger, my uncle and his family moved out and built another house behind ours. It was in a village in Anantnag district in the Valley.

Meanwhile, my aunt served us pinkish salty tea — Scheer Chai. My uncle and my father were conversing about the good old times — the life, the neighbours, the alleys, the school, the college, the fields and the fishing in Lidder. Listening to them I realised that I have missed the life in Kashmir.

My uncle had been to Kashmir some months ago and had taken a few photographs of our houses — the ones we used to live in. We observed it very keenly for some minutes. Silence followed. Thanks to my uncle we saw our ‘home’ after 22 long years.

The silence was broken by a flurry of questions — What about the land we owned, the alleys, the fields, the stream from Lidder. We were told that some land seems to be encroached upon.

Even after leaving my uncle’s place my mind was buzzing with thoughts and questions about the life in Kashmir, the militancy, the exodus of Pandits, etc. It was the home where I celebrated my first Diwali with young Muslim brethren. That was the home where my forefathers lived.

A little over two decades have taken a toll on our house. All the wood that was part of the house has disappeared and today it looks like a dilapidated three-storey structure. After pondering over the picture, I thought — had our neighbours been so caring and loving, they would have maintained the sanctity of my home.

From my father’s expressions I could gather that the photograph brought back memories. After all, an exile possesses only memories; memories of home, homeland, and the life in homeland. We are left with memories of a home that lies beyond that tunnel. As much as we yearn for our home, the home would also be longing for its people. It was the same home where elders of my family once lived. That home stood witness to the good and not so good events in our family. That photograph was more than a photograph — a story is implicit in it.

Likewise, there are thousands of such houses — abandoned, looted, encroached, ruined — in the Valley and its people living in exile.

We were saddened to see that picture but there will be time when the house will again be full of its people to whom it belongs; there will be time when the place will again be bustling. It was once home and it will be home one day.

There is hardly a day without conversation about the ‘home’. Kashmiri poet Dina Nath ‘Nadim’ fills one with hope of return — Mei Chham Aash Pagahuch, Pagaah Sholi Duniyah (I have hope for tomorrow, tomorrow the world will glisten).

(Originally published in The New Indian Express)

Written by Varad Sharma

March 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm

The Kashmiri Pandit Question

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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

Demystifying ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits

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Different versions of Kashmir in political, social and religious context are nothing new. Mr. Aditya Sinha’s article “Kashmiri Pandits, Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian hypocrisy” that appeared in Daily News & Analysis (DNA) on 31st July 2011 prompted me to write back. I disagree with Mr. Sinha’s view regarding Kashmiri Pandits.

It was surprising to see equation between Kashmiri Pandits and Sri Lankan Tamils. Although we are sympathetic towards Sri Lankan Tamils, one cannot equate the two as unlike the Sri Lankan Tamils, Kashmiri Pandits are citizens of India. Our main concern should be first for the citizens of our own country and then others.

The onset of turmoil in Kashmir valley in 1989-1990 was marked with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits. Ethnic cleansing is an attempt to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the deportation 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. Many Kashmiri Muslims (and not all) joined the so called freedom movement and chose to be part of armed struggle. The objective of militancy in Kashmir was to create a valley homogenous in its religious (read Islamic) character. To create such homogeneity, Kashmiri Hindu minority was forced to leave the valley.

Ethnic cleansing sometimes involves the removal of all physical vestiges of the targeted group through the destruction of monuments, cemeteries, and houses of worship. Ethnic cleansing may involve death or displacement where a population is identified for removal from an area. In Kashmir, houses of minority Hindu Pandits were burned; temples were destroyed. Notices were pasted on the walls of Pandit houses mentioning them to leave the valley or to perish.

Genocide may 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 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.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in a ruling on 11 June 1999 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.”

In the speech on 7 April 2004 the UN Secretary General said, “Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide.”

1990s were painted with genocide of Kashmiri Hindus. Many Kashmiri Hindus were murdered. Kashmiri Hindus were targeted by the militants in 1989 and afterwards until they didn’t left the valley. The official figure of Kashmir Pandit killings is 219. Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a valley based NGO, disputes the government figure. In its first list of a survey, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) suggests that 399 Pandits were killed and the list of KP killings is still incomplete. KPSS did the survey in 2008 and 2009 to find the exact number of Pandits killed, which revealed that 302 members of the community were killed in 1990 alone. Selective killing of minority Hindus amounts to genocide.

In exile, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits have died due to change in environmental conditions. Kashmiri Pandits were forced to live in hostile conditions in make-shift camps in Jammu/Delhi. During summers, the average temperature of Kashmir would generally be in thirties while in Jammu/Delhi, it is in forties. Think of 45ºC and 6-8 people living in a tent. The habitat changed resulted in sun-strokes, anaemia etc. which caused many deaths. Moreover, deaths happened due to snake bites as slum-like conditions of camps became the breeding ground for snakes. Even after 21 years, some are still living in camps.

Those Kashmiris who chose/supported the gun are responsible for the grievances of all Kashmiris whether Kashmiri Muslims or Kashmiri Hindus. It is amusing when the separatists (some of them were terrorists in 1990s) state that they are in favour of return and rehabilitation of Kashmir Pandits. Because they are the same people who were responsible for the exodus of minority Hindus from the valley.

Kashmiri Pandits have been denied justice from past 21 years. The human rights violation of Kashmiri Pandits ought to be addressed now. Kashmiri Pandits haven’t suffered physically only but culturally and psychologically also. Kashmiri Pandits have been suffering in a political-religious war in which they don’t form any part.

(Originally published in Center Right India, The Viewspaper, Early Times)

Written by Varad Sharma

August 5, 2011 at 10:00 am