Looking back at Pandit persecution: Hounding of frightened pigeons

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Sporadic tension between the local Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits is traced back to the rule of the local king, Sultan Sikandar Shah, who ruled from 1389 to 1413.

He was known as ‘Sikandar, the iconoclast’. His intolerance towards the local Hindus was maniacal. He would destroy temples and impose taxes on his Hindu subjects who shook when they heard of the Sultan’s tours to their areas.

He abstained from wine, festivities and music. Sikandar is claimed to have met a prolonged and painful death, seemingly from elephantiasis in April 1413.

After his death, Sikandar’s eldest son, Mir, was anointed as the Sultan, who adopted the title of Ali Shah. Two years later, Mir was succeeded by Shadi Khan, who adopted the name Zain-ul-Abidin.

He was the most benevolent Sultan Kashmir has ever seen. He restored all the temples destroyed by Sikandar and rehabilitated the local Hindus in whatever way he could. This magnanimity and tolerance earned him the name, ‘Badshah’.

In modern times, tensions sporadically kept on erupting between the local Muslims and Hindus over administrative patronage of the latter by the Dogra Maharajas of the state.

Never during those sporadic flare-ups between the two communities did the ethos of ‘Kashmiriyat’ vanish. The vast majority of the local Muslims were tolerant and respectful towards the local Hindus as they were seen as more educated and worldly wise than their Muslim brethren.

In 1984, when the late Sheikh Abdullah’s son-in-law, G.M. Shah, became the Chief Minister, there was migration of local Pandits from south Kashmir areas.

Shah was personally seen to be less amiable to the idea of Kashmiriyat than his predecessors or successors.

The government of India intervened to stop the 1984 exodus of the minority Pandits from the Valley. But, the die was cast.

Seeds of intolerance had been sown. The tremors of intolerance and assertion of straitjacket concept of Islam rose from south Kashmir and quickly spread to other parts of the Valley.

The first assertions of this intolerant pursuit of religion came to surface when south Kashmir Mirwaiz, Qazi Nisar of Anantnag, announced during Friday sermons that the Muslims should observe Friday and not Sunday as a weekly holiday.

He also spoke against the official ban on cow slaughter and selling of beef, asserting that eating the bovine animals was religiously permitted for the Muslims.

When the separatist violence peaked, as fate would have it, Qazi Nisar was killed by the militants in 1995 as a result of their internecine fight for supremacy.

The first group of local boys who obtained training in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and brought in weapons was the ‘Hajy’ group comprising Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majid Wani, Javaid Mir and Yasin Malik.

They claimed allegiance to independent, secular Kashmir and called themselves leaders of the JKLF.

It is an irony of fate that the butcher of Kashmiri Pandits, who by his own confession claimed to have killed more than two-dozen of them, Bita Karate, belonged to the JKLF.

The killing of Tika Lal Taploo, a local BJP leader, judge Neelkanth Ganjoo, who handed down the death sentence to JKLF founder, Maqbool Butt, is also believed to have been orchestrated by the JKLF.

The killing of Kashmiri Pandits was the hidden agenda for the gun wielding ‘freedom fighters’ of Kashmir.

When the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the armed wing of the local Jamaat-e-Islami, took the centre stage, killing of Kashmiri Pandits became an important part of the ‘Jehad’ (The holy war).

The HM issued a public statement, carried prominently by the local newspapers in 1990, stating that the local Pandits must leave the Valley or face the consequences.

Every Kashmiri Pandit was claimed by the militants to be an agent of the Indian intelligence agencies. If you were not an intelligence agent, then you would be killed as an activist of the RSS.

When claiming to have killed Tika Lal Taploo, Bita Karate confessed that he was killed because Taploo was a member of the RSS.

Local Pandits working in police, banks, public distribution department, health, telecommunication, education etc. were killed by militants irrespective of the outfit the militants belonged to.

The unarmed, innocent Pandit became part of a Turkey shoot for the militants whose terror came to be seen in direct proportion to the number of Pandits they had killed.

The processions of ‘Azadi’ carried out in January and February 1990 were basically assertions of the majority to see the back of the minority Hindus.

The chorus for ‘Azadi’ was as much against the Hindus as it favoured Pakistan as ‘Kashmir’s benefactor’.

The communal chorus became deafening. The Pandits had a clear choice, leave the Valley or perish.

There was of course another alternative: Convert and merge with the majority, give up your religion for Hindustan.

Trucks, buses, taxis, private cars and even two-wheelers were used by the local Hindus to escape the wrath of the ‘freedom fighters’ who were nothing but soldiers of the ‘Jehad’ against Kashmiriyat.

A clear indication that tolerance, co-existence, compassion for fellow human beings irrespective of their faith and a shared common culture rooted in Kashmir’s glorious past, were a thing of the past.

The anger against India had found its ultimate target, the local Kashmiri Pandits. Threats, murders, outraging their modesty, usurping their properties became the favourite pastime of the insurgents.

The government stood watching the carnage helplessly. In fact, the mass exodus that started in early 1990 when processions led by gunmen spoke of establishing an Islamic state in which the local Pandits had no place unless they converted, was watched sheepishly by the government.

As things went out of control, the government imposed curfew to facilitate the exodus of the Pandit community.

That was the ultimate confession by the state and the Centre that the rule of law was a thing of the part in Kashmir.

When nearly 5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits migrated, their homes were looted of even the bathroom fittings at most places. Lands left behind were occupied by the very neighbours who claimed to look after them till things settled down and the Pandits returned to their native places.

It became a huge vested interest, government jobs at the lower levels were given to the local Muslims. Businesses owned by the Pandits were taken over by local Muslims and whether they intended it or not, the interest of the local Muslims and the Pandits was seen at cross purpose to each other.

Given the ground situation and the total collapse of the state’s authority, the local Hindus left Kashmir as a hapless, persecuted community whose members were doomed to become refugees in their own country.

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