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Mainstream, VOL LX No 15, New Delhi, April 2, 2022

The Kashmir Tragedy | Humra Quraishi

Friday 1 April 2022, by Humra Quraishi

MUSINGS

30 March 2022

No, I have not seen the film – The Kashmir Files. Nor do I plan to view it because the reviews that one has been reading point at two basic flaws: The projections in the film are not necessarily based on pure facts, rather on slants and tilts and distortions and much more along the strain. Also, apparent traces of the vested political interests cum motives behind these projections. And once politics creeps into creativity, it is a dangerous concoction, out to divide, cause deep rifts between you and I.

I do wish to comment on the human situation in and around the Kashmir Valley. I’m not a Kashmiri but right from the early 90s I had been reporting from the region and later wrote books and long and short essays on the grim situation hitting the Kashmir Valley and its inhabitants- Kashmiri Pandits and also the Musalmaans.

To begin with let me start off with this basic backgrounder: No communal polarisation was seen in the Kashmir Valley during the Partition phase; not even when hundreds of Muslim families were killed, if not hounded out of Jammu, by the Right-Wing brigades. Peace prevailed had even during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. There were no communal outbursts or reactionary rioting in the Valley when the Gujarat pogrom peaked, and Muslims were getting targeted in Gujarat…I was in Srinagar during that phase, and one afternoon, as I saw busloads of tourists from Gujarat getting down close to the Dal lake, I asked shikara-wallahs if they had heard about the riots in Gujarat. Yes, they had seen scenes of the rioting on the small screen yet they would let no harm come to their “guests from Gujarat”.

No stray incident of communal violence was reported in the Valley during that phase or even before or after that. But the surcharged communal atmosphere in the country was slowly leaving imprints all around. It wouldn’t be amiss to say that the Hindutva lobbies were all too determined to carry their set Agenda all the way to the Valley, make inroads in there, after the tragedy of the Pandits having to leave their home region. A very painful turn in the recent history of the State.

*****

Why did the Pandits leave the Valley? After all, the Pandits and the Muslims of the Valley lived in a compatible framework.

Several versions to the crucial ‘why’ have been in circulation but the two significant ones are: Pandits were ‘made to flee’ after anti-Pandit chants and threats continued for days...they went on, not stopped! Yes, fringe elements had taken charge of the volatile rebellious atmosphere. But don’t goons and goondas unleash hooliganism in any surcharged atmosphere in other parts of the country? No, not like the entire Valley population was up in arms against the Pandits. On the contrary, Muslim Kashmiris looked very upset and pained with the exit of the Pandits.

The other theory is that the then governor Jagmohan did little to contain the fear factor. All that was needed was to provide additional protection to the localities where a majority of Pandits resided. As a senior politician had confided, “if only governor Jagmohan had shifted the vulnerable groups to the cantonment area till the situation was contained, but much to our horror, the Pandits were encouraged to leave… nothing was done by the governor to provide a feeling of security.”

To focus on Jagmohan’s tenure as governor of J&K, the day he assumed office, close to a 100 Kashmiris were killed when the police opened fire on a crowd of protestors at Srinagar’s Gawkadal Bridge. And in March, soon after the director, Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar, Lassa Koul, was murdered by militants, Kashmiri Pandits took to leaving the Valley… and the following two months was nothing short of hell for the Kashmiris. Young Kashmiri Muslims were ruthlessly killed in police firings and hundreds of Pandits left the Valley. If you were to go back to the news reports of 1990 published in the national dailies and as well as in the international press, you’d realize the writing was on the wall yet the establishment messed up the entire situation. Human disasters as never seen before.

Governor Jagmohan’s worst critic was the trade union leader H.N.Wanchoo, who was later gunned down on 5 December 1992 by the so called ‘unknown’ persons. Often this frail old man would drop in to meet me at Srinagar’s Broadway Hotel but later we started to meet at one of the centrally situated chai joints at Polo View. Wanchoo was passionate about Kashmir and with that extremely vocal. He did not hide his disgust at the way Jagmohan was handling the crisis in the Valley. …Wanchoo was aware of the exact numbers killed or attacked and nobody could beat him on facts. He was one of those brave selfless activists who was a ‘danger’ for the state, even his death was not probed; and brushed aside in one of those dusty files as ‘killed by unidentified persons’.

Yes, sometimes it would get somewhat scary and I would tell him to be discreet and not get too vocal, as I didn’t want the two of us to be killed by known or unknown killers! But unbothered by the presence of huge contingents of cops all around, on the streets and the adjoining marketplaces, he would detail: “The BJP and RSS lobbies have openly said that Jagmohan has been sent by them here. There’s no clear government policy on Kashmir. The National Conference and Congress members have run away, the Opposition has closed down, warrants have been issued against the moderates, political activists have been banned, so with whom will the government talk? Today Mufti Mohammad Sayeed ( Union Home Minister at that time), George Fernandes (the then minister for Kashmir Affairs), V.P. Singh (then Prime Minister of India) and Jagmohan say different things. Mufti said in Jammu that Hindus will be sent back but the very next day Jagmohan had their ration cards extended till 30 September. Today press notes are prepared at the Raj Bhavan and from there they go directly to AIR and Doordarshan. Facts are being hushed up.”

And to quote from the J&K Coalition of Civil Society on the crucial ‘why’ the Kashmiri Pandits had to flee: “People are witness to how instead of addressing the fears of Kashmiri Pandits, the Government was facilitating their migration, which was immediately used by India to give communal colour to the struggle of Kashmiri people…When the situation was out of the control for the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India dismissed the Farooq Abdullah government on 19 January and on the same day Jagmohan, the infamous right wing Governor was brought to Jammu and Kashmir.”

It Would Be Wrong To Say The Pandis Were Hounded Out By The Majority Muslim Population!

Talk to any Kashmiri Muslim and she or he is all for the return of the Pandits. In the past, whenever I had interviewed Lone sahib, Professor Bhat, Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq or any other Hurriyat leader, and had asked them about the return of the Pandits, each one of them said they want them to return to the Valley. It was more than obvious that they were upset by the upheaval the Pandits had to face.

Way back in the summer of 2001, after Pandits residing in the Srinagar city told me that they were apprehensive of the Hurriyat leaders, I had asked Abdul Gani Lone three basic prime questions regarding the Pandits: Why that level of apprehension amongst them? Why were the Pandits hounded out of the Valley in 1990? What happens in the near future?

And this is what Lone sahib had told me, “Hurriyat is absolutely against any bifurcation talks. We are all one. We want no division of the state against any lines. This state has to remain intact. No, we didn’t want the Pandits out ...un becharon ko jana pada because the then governor Jagmohan instilled a sense of fear in them. As I’ve just told you, we are firm that this state belongs to all of us Kashmiris, whether he is a Buddhist or a Pandit or a Muslim.There can never be any division along religious lines. Kashmiris in POK will be a part of us too... the whole of Kashmir will be united. We want a united independent Kashmiri state. All Kashmiris must be together .What more can I say at this stage.”

During my interviews with JKLF’s Yasin Malik, I did make it a point to ask him the same: What about the Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee from Srinagar? Why were they driven out in the first place?

Looking somewhat pained and puzzled by my queries, he’d said, “Pandits are a part of us…a part of Kashmir. We are feeling incomplete without them, they must come back home. No, they were not driven out by us… they were encouraged to leave home by vested political interests… even during Partition when the communal factor was at the peak in the rest of the country, there was peace in Kashmir because of our secular character… for us there is no difference between a Muslim and a Pandit.”

And Hurriyat leader Professor Abdul Gani Bhat begun by stating: “It is important to understand who is a Kashmiri. A Kashmiri is from the Naag tribe and he will not bite or trouble you if he’s left alone. Another aspect to the Kashmiri is he’s also bestowed with an adjusting nature. For us, the Hurriyat, a Kashmiri is one who is born in the state of J&K, irrespective of his caste or creed. If he or she is born in Kashmir, he or she is a Kashmiri…we all have to move together in the larger interest of the entire region.”

*****

Today, the Pandit families who were determined not to leave Srinagar continue to live in and around the city. On several earlier occasions, I had met and interviewed them, including H.N. Wanchoo’s son and grandson. They told me they were at ease living in the midst of their Muslim neighbours.

I could go the extent to say that perhaps the Kashmiri Pandits live more securely in the Valley than Muslims live in BJP-ruled states of the country. At least the state machinery in J&K is not going to hound and pound them, rather- too- directly or indirectly. None of those fears as other minority groups or communities face under the Right Wing.
Also, not to be overlooked is the fact that way back in 1947, it was Kashmir’s tallest political figure, Prem Nath Bazaz, who had first raised the issue of freedom for Kashmir .Bazaz should also be credited for exerting pressure on Sheikh Abdullah to change the name of his political party, from the Muslim Conference to National Conference.
In these recent years, I have come across several Kashmiri Pandits who can see through the political interests that destroyed the social fabric. They point out this hounding of Pandits was much too laced with ulterior political motives. It was more to unsettle a region for times to come. For chaos and uncertainty to prevail. In fact, Kashmiri Pandits have told me that they have been averse to the communal politicians, apprehensive that they are those people who could further dent the social fabric of the Valley, pave way for communal strains between the Pandits and Muslims of the Valley.

Today with the prevailing situation in the Valley, many displaced Kashmiri Pandits are concerned about their Muslim friends and erstwhile neighbours back home. Over two summers back, I was visiting a Kashmiri artist’s home in the outskirts of New Delhi, and I asked his 85-year-old mother whether she would like to go back to the Valley, where she had lived with her children and husband all her life until of course the exodus. She told me that a few years back her son had taken her to Srinagar for a holiday but seeing the grim conditions prevailing there, she wanted to get back and, now, of course, the present day scenario relays nothing but hopelessness in the Valley.

*****

Whilst the Pandits faced the severe tragedy of getting uprooted and in that process displaced, the Kashmiri Muslims, who had no option but to sit tight in the Valley, are till date surviving amidst severe uncertainty. Living under siege! Sitting sandwiched between the military and the militant!

In the 90s when I was reporting from the Valley, I’d been visiting graveyards and hospitals in Srinagar…and with that witnessed un-nerving scenes of death and destruction and blood-shed. Saw one dead human form after another brought to the ever- expanding graveyards, to be tucked in those countless graves. Killed by the known and unknown killers!

And as the situation deteriorated in the Valley, many well-to-do Muslim families had also shifted base along with the Pandit families. The Kashmiri Muslims who stayed back were those who couldn’t even think of shifting out because of fear and apprehensions– how the police and goon brigades would treat them! “No…We are shifting from here …How can we! Don’t we realize the treatment meted out to us will be worse than what refugees face. On earlier occasions when we send our children to study in colleges and universities in New Delhi or Bangalore or even further South, they were hounded by Hindutva goons and not left in peace! So many communal comments and taunts thrown at them…We don’t get a room on rent, we are constantly hounded because we are Kashmiri Muslims!”

In these recent years, there’d been added apprehension amongst the local Muslim Kashmiris, when reports had first trickled in of the setting up of Sainik settlements in the Kashmir region…the locals saw this as a ploy to get RSS workers to reside in the region.

One just hope human forms are not further ruined and displaced and uprooted by the political hawks and their manipulative moves and dangerous ploys.

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