Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits

The collective consciousness of the Muslim people in Kashmir had been agitated against the Pandits who were their neighbours, friends, teachers and doctors. The events preceding 1990 had contributed significantly to the Kashmiri Muslims’ mood. A timeline of some of the key events are as follows:

The year 1989 began with massive demonstrations against Salman Rushdie’s (a Kashmiri Muslim) Satanic Verses, a book that was seen to be anti-Islamic.

February 15, 1989: Police in Srinagar opened fire on crowds protesting the opening of the disputed Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh. Around the same time, there were Hindu–Muslim clashes in Jammu, sparked by Chief Minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah’s decision to allot two rooms for Muslim prayer in the Jammu Civil Secretariat, abutting a temple. Indefinite curfew was clamped on several towns in the State, earning Shah the dubious sobriquet ‘Gul-e-Curfew’ or “curfew blossom.”

March 14, 1989: A bomb blast claimed the first Pandit casualty, a woman called Prabhavati from Nawagari, Chadoora in Budgam district. According to police records, Prabhavati was killed at Hari Singh High Street. Her killers remained untraced.

May 12, 1989: Five tourists were injured in an attack on their bus. Two people were killed when a mob attacked a police station.

June 23, 1989: Pamphlets were distributed in Srinagar serving an ultimatum to Muslim women by Hazb-i-Islami to comply with ‘Islamic’ standards within two days or face action. Pandit women were to place a tilak on their forehead for identification.

September 14, 1989: Political activist and BJP member Tika Lal Taploo is killed by armed men who invaded his house and shot him.

November 4, 1989: Retired judge, Neelkanth Ganjoo, who had sentenced Maqbool Bhat to death in a murder case, is waylaid by three men on Hari Singh Street, in the heart of Srinagar, and shot at close range. His body remains there untouched for 15 minutes, until the police arrive and take his body away.

December 8, 1989: Rubaiya Sayeed is kidnapped.

December 13, 1989: Rubaiya Sayeed is set free two hours after five militants are released in exchange for her freedom.

January 4, 1990: Srinagar-based newspaper Aftab released a message, threatening all Hindus to leave Kashmir immediately, sourcing it to the militant organization Hizbul Mujahideen.

January 18 & 19, 1990: During the night, blackouts took place in the Kashmir Valley where electricity was cut except in mosques which broadcast divisive and inflammatory messages, asking for a purge of Kashmiri Hindus.

January 19, 1990: Jagmohan is sent by New Delhi to take charge as Governor. Farooq Abdullah resigns as CM as he had promised to if Jagmohan was made Governor. It is possible that the appointment of Jagmohan was engineered by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to topple the Abdullah Government.

January 21, 1990: The Indian paramilitary troops of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) open fire on a group of Kashmiri protesters. Twenty civilians were killed in what is termed as the Gawkadal massacre, named after the Gawkadal bridge in Srinagar, Kashmir. The protestors were voicing their displeasure against the raids being conducted on Kashmiri people, sanctioned by the Governor, Jagmohan, to root out militant elements. Unofficial toll is put at 52 with over 250 injured. This incident stoked the fire of Muslim sentiments in Kashmir and acted as a catalyst for the ethnic cleansing that followed.

January 25, 1990: Four unarmed personnel of the Indian Air Force are gunned down.

February 2, 1990: Satish Tikoo, a young Hindu social-worker is murdered near his own house in Habba Kadal, Srinagar.

February 13, 1990: Lassa Kaul, Station Director of Srinagar Doordarshan, is shot dead.

April 14, 1990: Another Srinagar based newspaper named Al-safa republished the same warning published previously. The newspaper did not claim ownership of the statement and subsequently issued a clarification. Walls were pasted with threatening messages to all Kashmiris to harshly follow the Islamic rules which included abidance by the Islamic dress code, a prohibition on alcohol, cinemas, and video parlours and strict restrictions on Kashmiri women. Unknown masked men with Kalashnikovs forced people to reset their time to Pakistan Standard Time. Office buildings, shops, and establishments were coloured green as a sign of Islamist rule. Shops, factories, temples and homes of Kashmiri Hindus were burned or destroyed. Threatening posters were posted on doors of Hindus asking them to leave Kashmir immediately.

April 28, 1990: Bhushan Lal Raina is murdered with a sharp pointed iron rod that pierced his skull. He begged to be given a quick merciful death with a bullet. Instead he was tortured to death.

April 29, 1990: Sarwanand Kaul Premi, a veteran Kashmiri poet, is gruesomely murdered. Several intelligence operatives are assassinated over the course of a few months.

May 21, 1990: Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq is killed by militants inside his own house. The “Mirwaiz” is the most important religious authority in Srinagar and is a hereditary title. Farooq favoured an independent Kashmir and supported movements like the JKLF that stood for a free Kashmir. He fell out with the Hizbul Mujahideen, which desired the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. Upon hearing of the attack, the people of Srinagar poured out onto the streets, with their wrath directed at the Hizbul Mujahideen which was suspected of the attack. Upon news of his death, the crowd snatched his body from the hospital and headed towards the downtown area of Srinagar where curfew had been imposed. The Islamia College lay on their route, which housed the 69th CRPF battalion. The security forces there panicked at seeing a massive crowd approaching them and opened fire. There were varying accounts of the exact death toll. Faced with a deteriorating human rights situation and a political crisis, the government needed to conduct a reliable inquiry and hold the guilty accountable at the earliest. Under pressure from New Delhi, Jagmohan stepped down as Governor but this was not enough. “If those with direct responsibility for the killings had also been held accountable, confidence within the community may have been restored to some degree.[1]

December 1992: Hriday Nath Wanchoo, a trade union leader and human rights activist, is murdered with separatist, Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, being convicted of the murder.

Official figures say only 219 Pandits were killed in the Valley.

Figures vary, but it is estimated that anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits ran away from the Valley to escape being murdered by the very people who were their friends, neighbours and colleagues. They left their belongings, their property and spirits behind as they ran for their lives, never to return again. Later, property agents went out to seek these Pandits to legally purchase their properties at throw away prices. Most of the Pandits needed the money for survival, as they had lost their jobs and livelihood and reluctantly agreed to the deal. What is not on record here are the rapes, abject humiliation and violence perpetrated on the Pandits.

Rahul Pandita’s “Our Moon has Blood Clots” shares a shocking insight into what actually transpired with Girja Tiku. According to a senior commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Girja, upon being abducted, had been blindfolded and then gangraped by four men in a moving taxi. She, however, had happened to recognize the voice of one of her abductors. Scared they would be identified, her abductors then took her to a wood-processing unit where they sawed her alive.

The Government and people of India did very little to address the needs of these people and the Pandits became refugees in their own country and a number of them had their existence confined to refugee camps in Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country, as very little aid was forthcoming.

Thereafter

In the early 1990s, Islamic militants and Indian security forces controlled the Valley. While there were around 10,000 to 15,000 militia; the army, paramilitary and police put together stood at “several hundred thousand.” Militants regularly clashed with Indian forces and the numbers went up from 390 in 1988 to 2,154 in 1989 and to 4,971 by 1992. The figures remained at the upper end of 4,000s till 1996. Schools, university campuses were marked by the presence of security forces. In the period between 1993 and 1994, schools were open for only 93 days and a mere 140 days in 1994-95. Srinagar lay under a twin curfew; security forces dominated Srinagar’s city centre and government residential areas while militants (mainly members of the JKLF) lay claim over the interiors of Srinagar and villages lying to the south of Kashmir. The number of civilian deaths (due to crossfire and/or terrorist attacks) continued to increase; from 29 in 1988 to 862 in 1991. It crossed the 1,000-per year mark post 1991. [2]

The Army began systematic searches of entire villages, a practice that continues till today. Based on intel inputs received on militant movement and that of arms and ammunition, the military cordons off an entire village and all residents are herded together. Soldiers then search each and every house, turning them upside down and inside out. This is mostly done at night and sometimes the process is repeated several times. The process may take from a few hours to an entire day or night, during which the village dwellers are kept in sight of the soldiers. Most of the soldiers don’t speak Kashmiri, are usually rough in their behaviour, and there are no lady army personnel accompanying them. Reports of enforced disappearances and human rights violations soon started pouring in.

Kunan Poshpora

In what is termed as the ‘Kunan Poshpora Incident,’on the night of February 23, 1991, armed personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army is said to have allegedly gang raped at least 23 women in Kunan and Poshpora, twin villages in north Kashmir’s remote Kupwara district during a search-and-cordon operation. Some allege the actual number stood at 40 or even higher.

The New York Times had quoted the residents of the Kunan Poshpora neighborhood as saying that militants had fired on security forces nearby, which prompted the search operation by the forces.

Much of what happened in Kunan Poshpora still remains a mystery. Inquiry into the incident has only resulted in conflicting reports with the case presently being heard at the Supreme Court.

While the Army has consistently denied the allegations, Kunan Poshpora nevertheless remains a blot in India’s history since the incident is the only time the Indian Army has been accused of “mass sexual violence.”

A survivor tells the authors, “Three army men caught hold of me and 8-10 army men raped me in turns. They had huge battery torches with them and they used them to see my naked body, while making lewd remarks.”[3]

Several inquiries and investigations were held. One such inquiry on March 17, by Chief Justice of High Court J&K, Mufti Baha-ud-Din Farooqi, interviewed 53 women and concluded that there had been lapses in police procedures and no investigation had been conducted by the police at all, as the officer-in-charge had been on leave. The Press Council of India conducted interviews of all the aggrieved women three months after the incident at the behest of the Government of India and found contradicting statements given by the alleged victims, rendering their accusations as baseless.

In 2013, a writ petition was filed in the J&K High Court claiming that 30 women had been raped. The charges have not been proved and the case lingers on to this date.

In the aftermath of the incident, the women and their families who had come forth with the accusations were ostracized by the villagers in the locality and some of the young girls reported being taunted at school. Families of the victims have claimed it became difficult finding a groom for the girls after the incident.

Continued Rise of Insurgency

Presented below is a fact and event sheet, enumerating key incidents and trends as militancy continued to rise through the 1990s.

Inter-militia Clashes

Beginning 1991, incidences of inter-militia clashes mounted from 80 in 1991 to 139 in 1992. The guerrilla fighters were not only fighting the police and Indian soldiers but were also fighting each other, which came at a huge cost for their sponsors, leading to the formation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, led by the 19 year old Mirwaiz Umar. The coalition brought together the Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Action Committee, People’s League, Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Muslim Conference, JKLF, and the People’s Conference, the so-called heavy weights.

Attacks on Security Forces

The table below depicts attacks on security forces and the resultant casualties.

ATTACKS1989                 19921993
Attacks on ForcesBelow 503,000 + 
Security Forces Killed13 216
Guerillas Killed08731,328

In January 1993, when JKLF men killed a trooper following an attack on a BSF patrol in the Sopore market area, the BSF, in retaliation, opened fire killing more than 50 civilians. It was claimed that shops were destroyed in a fire allegedly set off by the BSF. The BSF asserts that the fire was caused by explosives (belonging to militants) catching fire which then spread to the market. Following this, a compensation of Rs 100,000 was awarded to each of the families of civilians who perished in Sopore, and an enquiry was ordered into the incident. The final report was never made public, but it led to the suspension of several BSF troops.[4]

The Hazratbal Siege

The Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar was taken over by JKLF militants in October 1993. A standoff occurred with the Indian Army, which surrounded the shrine. The Narasimha Rao administration at the Centre did not initiate a storming of the Hazratbal Shrine as it was afraid of provoking the public. The siege continued for 15 days after which the 40-odd militants occupying the shrine were allowed to leave. The media massacred the Rao administration for its handling of the siege, during which the militants were provided food and a phone line through which they communicated with the media, securing international attention. Within days of the siege, the Hurriyat Conference called for an end to the siege and there were civilian protests held against it. On the eighth day of the siege (October 22), protesters numbering between 10,000 and 15,000 assembled in the courtyard of the Jamia Masjid of Bijbehara. From there they marched through the town demanding an end to the Hazratbal siege. When they reached the Srinagar–Jammu National Highway, the crowd of thousands was confronted by a “large contingent of the BSF” which allegedly then blocked the street and started firing indiscriminately. At least 48 people were killed and more than 200 injured.

Human Rights Watch reported an eyewitness to the incident: “The people had gathered on the National Highway which passes through Bijbehara town. It was like this even then, narrow, with shops on both sides of the road. There were thousands of people shouting slogans. But it was peaceful…. The BSF just opened fire without any warning. It was terrible. There were so many people lying on the ground. Others were running in panic…. This road, this very road, was full of blood.”[5]

The incident came to be known as the Bijbehara Massacre.

A little over a thousand civilians were killed in 1994. By 1996, the figure was over 1,300. The number of security forces killed similarly rose from 236 in 1994 to 387 in 1996. The year 1995 saw the highest number of trained guerrillas coming into the Valley from across the border; even conservative estimates put the figure at 1,000 a month.

Communal Attacks

Violence continued to rise in the Pir Panjal region of Jammu and the Valley, continuing the communal trend noticed earlier with a series of terrorist attacks on Hindus through 1998.

Incidentally, three of the four attacks took place in Jammu while one occurred in Ganderbal district in the Valley, home turf of the Abdullahs.

  • On January 26, 1998, 23 Pandits were killed in Ganderbal’s Wandhama village.
  • On April 18, 26 Hindus were fatally shot in Parankote village of Udhampur district.
  • On June 19, a Hindu wedding party was attacked, leaving 26 dead in Chapnari village of the Doda district.

Due to the conflict, Hindu deaths went up from 64 in 1997 to 159 in 1998. Muslim deaths fell marginally from 717 in 1997 to 678 in 1998.  Around the same time, the Hízbul Mujahideen killed 35 Hindus in the neighbouring Chamba district (bordering Himachal Pradesh) in August 1998.  (Radha Kumar, Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir)

A Change in Tack

In a change in tack, Kashmiri political parties and their members began to be targeted by militants. Armed encounters between foreign fighters and Indian troops increased while those between local guerrillas and Indian troops decreased. As compared to 72 state and ancillary police killed by armed groups in 1997, 82 personnel were killed in 1998, including 50 police officers, 22 special Police Officers (counter-insurgency) and 10 members or Village Defence Committees. The number of foreign fighters killed also shot up between 1997 and 1998, from 197 to 319, while the number of local guerrillas killed fell from 878 to 680. The communal trend noted in 1997-98, with armed groups seeking to divide Muslims from Hindus and Sikhs in the Pir Panjal region, also continued.

There were six mass murders of Hindus in 1999, in Poonch, Doda, Rajouri, Udhampur and Anantnag, with 52 killed. In Anantnag, the BJP candidate’s seven-year-old son was kidnapped and released after the family paid a ransom of Rs 250,000. Militant groups have always vehemently condemned political parties that contest elections in Jammu and Kashmir, labelling them as “Indian agents.” Before every election the modus operandi is the same; they call for a boycott of elections, bomb polling booths, attack election personnel and kill party workers. The State Assembly elections in 2002 witnessed the killings of approximately 48 political leaders and workers. About 50 polling stations were attacked. Saiful Islam, a leader of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, issued a threat: “Those participating in the elections are traitors and action against them will be taken after the elections are over.”[6]

There is a familiar pattern here that has continued to this day. Every time a popular militant is captured or killed in an encounter or several militants are killed in crossfire or a civilian is killed in crossfire, there are processions and demonstrations and clashes with the police or the Army. Many of these demonstrations turn violent and civilian and police/Army lives are lost. This further antagonizes the public and a curfew/lockdown is imposed that is not received well.

Human Rights Abuses by Militants

What is not mentioned above are the human rights abuses by militants. There have been many reports of rape of women and the forceful recruitment of men by insurgents. Families of employees of the Kashmir police are always at danger. Men and women involved with politics are perennial targets. A large chunk of the militants in Kashmir have been of foreign origin, namely from Pakistan, Afghanistan and nationals from other countries who have come to wage jihad.

“These people can kill anyone at any time. Earlier, the militants were our own people, so if there was some problem, we could go and sort it out with the family or send a message. Now, who knows who they are or what they want…. I dare not complain or my other sons will die too.”[7]–– Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a man killed by militants.

Epilogue

By the end of 1990, many members of the JKLF had begun to come under attack from the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. But even if they joined organizations such as Hizb-ul Mujahideen, most Kashmiri militants were essentially secular nationalists seeking the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian rule. Kashmiri-speaking, they were also culturally and linguistically distinct from the peoples of Azad Kashmir. Most had little or no idea what Azad Kashmir was beyond a vague awareness that it was “Azad” (free) under Pakistani control and would be the logical base from which to take on the Indian state. At the time, Kashmiris held Pakistan in higher regard than India.[8]


[1] “Everyone Lives in Fear” September 2006, Human Rights Watchhttps://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/india0906/

[2] Radha Kumar, Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir

[3] Kunan Poshpora: A forgotten mass-rape case of 2 Kashmir villages by Abhishek Saha for the Hindustan Times

[4] Radha Kumar, Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir

[5] Human Rights Watch,  September 2006Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir | HRW

[6] Human Rights Watchhttps://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/india0906/7.htm#_Toc144362298

[7] Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/india0906/7.htm#_Toc144362296

[8] Human Rights Watchhttps://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/india0906/7.htm#_Toc144362298

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