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Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots

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Rahul Pandita’s book Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits narrates the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir valley. It is the account of an ethnic community that was forced to leave home and hearth behind and take refuge in an unknown land. The book describes the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir at the behest of Islamic extremists/terrorists.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a memoir of Rahul Pandita who was fourteen years old when he had to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family. The book brings forth the untold story of Kashmiri Pandits who became refugees in their own country. The book begins with author’s initial days in Srinagar and life in Kashmir. Then it describes the changes in aura of the valley ─ India-West Indies international cricket match in 1983 where the crowd cheered for Pakistan and Indian players faced severe harassment; the chants of ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ on streets when Pakistan defeated India at Sharjah in the final of Austral-Asia Cup in 1986; the threats to Kashmiri Pandits via notices, pamphlets, mosque loudspeakers, street processions.
The changed scenario subsequently led to selective killing of Kashmiri Pandits, rapes of innocent Pandit women and resulted in the displacement of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. Rahul Pandita’s book also touches upon the 1947 tribal raid in Kashmir in the voice of his maternal uncle. The author’s maternal grandfather along with his family had to leave Baramulla due to the tribal raid.

The book debunks the lies regarding the exodus of Pandits. The most widespread untruth is that the exodus of Pandits was a ploy by Government of India through Jagmohan, then the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, to defame the so-called freedom struggle (which is nothing but a struggle for an Islamic state). The author gives the horrendous account of murders of some Kashmiri Pandits by the militants in 1990s. The book also nails the lie that those Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the valley (and didn’t leave) were not harmed. In this regard, he met Vinod Dhar who is the lone survivor of 1998 Wandhama massacre in which 23 Kashmiri Pandits were brutally killed.

Rahul Pandita’s memoir makes the reader feel the pain and suffering which Kashmiri Pandits have been through. It evokes anger at the failure of the Indian state in protecting its own people. Pandita’s book tells of the betrayal by the majority community of Kashmir (i.e. Kashmiri Muslims) who were so enamoured with ‘azadi’ that they chose to support gun culture over the people (i.e. Kashmiri Pandits).

Though Rahul Pandita visited Kashmir regularly as a journalist, it was only in September 2007 that he managed a visit to his ‘home’ along with his two journalist friends and found that it was not the same anymore. It was a house built with the provident fund savings of his father and the bridal jewellery of his mother. The author feels helpless when he finds someone else living in his house and he has to seek permission to enter it.

The book tries to break the silence in the socio-political discourse over the ethnic cleansing and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. In the discourse regarding Kashmir conflict, the high-handedness of Indian state and the alleged human rights abuses by Indian security forces are debated but not what happened to Kashmiri Pandits. As the author rightly says, it has become unfashionable to speak about the issue of Kashmiri Pandit refugees. Rahul Pandita’s book sets right the narrative in this context.

I had a lump in my throat while reading the book. There are heartbreaking passages in the book where I could not control my tears. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is not the story of Rahul Pandita alone but the story of every single Kashmiri Pandit who encountered terror in Kashmir. It is the story of the innocent people who were raped, killed and assaulted by terrorists leading to their tragic exodus. It is noteworthy that despite all odds, the Kashmiri Pandit community never espoused violent methods for their struggle for reclamation of their ancestral homeland.

Rahul Pandita describes the pain and agony of Kashmiri Pandits in a very lucid manner without mincing words. Pandita’s book is an extremely poignant account of Hindus of Kashmir who are still living in exile in their own country. The book is a must read for those who don’t know what happened to minority community of Kashmir valley and also for those who continue to be in denial about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

(Originally published in Niti Central and The Pioneer)

Written by Varad Sharma

February 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm

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

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

Don’t delay justice anymore

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The people of Kashmir valley are wounded physically, socially, culturally and psychologically due to the long turmoil. The afflictions are deeply engraved in the hearts and minds of the people. Kashmiris (living on both the sides of tunnel) are left with only questions. The questions which haven’t been answered till date; the questions which are directly related to the lives of people; the questions about human rights, justice and truth! Already many years have passed; it is high time we should seek answers. The answers need to be sought.

So many lives lost; so many disappeared; so many hounded out of their homes and what not!  As per Jammu & Kashmir government, 43460 people are killed in Kashmir insurgency in last 21 years (January 1990 — April 2011). Of these 21323 are militants, 13226 are civilians killed by militants, 3642 civilians are killed by security forces and 5369 policemen are killed by militants. According to the figures available with the government, there are 27000 widows and 22000 children orphaned during militancy. But figures of independent sources are higher than those government figures. According to Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, head of the department of sociology, University of Kashmir, there are 32400 widows and 97000 to 100000 orphans in the valley. As per Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, more than 70000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989; around 8000 people have disappeared; at least 25000 children have been orphaned.

The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission’s recent report on unmarked graves in Kashmir have invited more questions. More than 2000 unmarked graves are found in Baramulla, Kupwara, and Bandipore districts of north Kashmir. Around 3800 unmarked graves have been reported in Poonch and Rajouri districts of the state. Many people in valley believe that there is possibility of disappeared people buried in the graves. It should be noted that the unidentified foreign militants who were killed in the valley by security forces are also buried in unmarked graves. Another possibility is that some disappeared ones may be living across the border. At the same time, the recent report cannot be negated. Whether the buried ones are terrorists or civilians, the truth should come out. J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to constitute an “independent, duly representative, credible, structured and fully empowered” body to “investigate and identify the people buried in unmarked graves and to prosecute the perpetrators”.

The long-standing issue of the return and rehabilitation of the exiled Kashmiri Pandits (without any compromises on their religious identity, safety and their political interests) ought to be addressed.  Around 4 lakh Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of their homes due to this turmoil and thousands were killed. Some put the present figure of the exiles at 7.5 lakhs. There hasn’t been any commission/enquiry on the ethnic cleansing and genocide of minority Pandits which led to their exodus from the valley. Moreover, the persecutors are roaming free in Kashmir.

The veil over bitter truth needs to be unveiled. The facts need to be produced and presented to the people. And on the basis of facts, justice must be delivered.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission can be a step towards finding the facts and in building confidence of people in democratic institutions of the state. It’s been almost eight months since Chief Minister Omar Abdullah favoured the idea of constitution of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into the killings, disappearances, and internal displacement etc. of people. Nothing has been done on ground in the setting up of the commission. Onus lies on state government to start such a commission and the Centre should provide all necessary help in setting up of the same. The approach should be in the direction of the justice. The step towards truth and reconciliation will be a step towards justice, ultimately, towards peace.

Kashmir needs justice irrespective of religion, caste or creed. The wounds need to be healed. The wounded lives need a closure. More than two decades have passed. As justice delayed is justice denied, don’t delay the justice anymore.

(Originally published in MiD Day & Rediff)

Written by Varad Sharma

December 10, 2011 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