Never before in the recent history of Kashmir has one man’s assassination triggered the mass exodus of a community as did the murder of Kashmiri Pandit leader, Tikalal Taploo by terrorists on September 14, 1989. It was a sleepy autumn morning when Srinagar city awoke to business as usual.
Government offices, banks, post offices and educational institutions had started functioning normally when the news spread like wildfire.
Terrorists had shot and killed Tikalal Taploo in old city Srinagar to send out a loud message. “Those who stood for India in Kashmir must look elsewhere”.
Taploo was the senior most Kashmiri Hindu leader of his time. He was state Vice President of the BJP. His association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was well known.
He was an advocate at the J&K high court. He was called ‘Lala’ (Elder brother) by locals irrespective of their religious or political belief. He would champion the cause of the under privileged across communities and social strata. He lived in Chinkral Mohalla locality of old Srinagar city and continued to live there despite threats from the terrorists.
He led the agitation and had courted arrest in 1975 against the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. His assassination shocked both Muslims and the local Kashmiri Pandits. But, for Kashmiri Pandits it was a message. What followed his assassination was the targeting of local Pandits by the terrorists irrespective of their political loyalties or official positions.
A retired district judge who had pronounced the hang sentence on JKLF founder, Maqbool Bhat, a CID inspector in Rainawari, a petty shopkeeper in Bohri Kadal, an assistant director of food and supplies department, a teacher poet in Anantnag, an ordinary farmer in Pulwama, a medical shop owner in Ganderbal and many others whose killings baffled the administration.
This was no political or personal revenge alone. It was part of the so-called holy war (Jihad) of the terrorists in which differences of religious faith or political belief had no place. It was ‘my way or the highway’. Obviously, highway was to what the local Pandit took.
September 14 has since come to be observed as the ‘martyrs day’ by Kashmiri Pandits wherever they lived after their migration from Kashmir. And, thus Taploo became the martyr of a national cause for which scores of local political activists, policemen and members of the other security forces have been paying with their blood. The latest being Arshid Ahmad Mir, a probationary sub-inspector of police killed by the terrorists in Khanyar area of Srinagar city on September 12.
Interestingly, historical records suggest that the migration of 1990s is not the first exodus of the local Hindus from Kashmir. Whenever, in the past, their persecution at the hands of local tyrant rulers or Afghan invaders took place, Kashmiri Pandits have historically migrated to safety using the road that passes through Batote on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
From ‘Batewaat’ (The road used by local Pandits during migration) the name has over the years been corrupted to Batote, many local historians believe. Despite persecution triggered by religious intolerance and communal hatred of some rulers in the past, Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits have lived like brothers over centuries.
The mass exodus of 1990s has shaken that edifice which might take ages to rebuild. Nobody can predict with any amount of certainty how long will the dream of an eclectic, tolerant, and intellectually superior Kashmir take to become a reality again.