My twitter timeline is full of tweets under “#KashmiriHinduGenocide”. A lot of people have written their own stories, or stories of distant relatives who suffered. Each one has a different example of how brutal human beings can be to each other.
31 years ago, the slogan “Raliv, Galiv or Chaliv”- “Convert, Perish or Leave” appeared everywhere- on walls, posters, pamphlets stuck outside Kashmiri Hindu homes. Mobs started announcing these slogans and loudly publicized their plans to create a Pakistan within Kashmir: without Hindu men, but with Hindu women. Neighbours were turning against the Hindus, people whose families had been friends for generations shut their doors to each other, nobody could be trusted.
A few families had left before things took a turn for worse. But most remained, placing immense faith in those who had been with them for decades; after all, how could it be that people with whom you regularly shared meals and conversations would one day decide that friendships did not matter: only faith did.
The history of Kashmir valley is marked with a lot of pain. Centuries ago, when the invasions began, it was always the Hindus living in the valley- worshippers of Shiva- who were the victimized by the invaders. Their sole aim was to convert people, and in doing so, they spared no cruelty. For a brief period, when Kashmir was under a Sikh ruler who was not kind to the Muslims, the latter would carry forward the hate inflicted upon them by the ruler and would make unsuspecting Kashmiri Hindus their targets. When the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh took over, the Kashmiri Hindus were equally unhappy and took part in various uprisings against him, yet they were always viewed as “The Enemy Clan” by Kashmiri Muslims.
In 1947, when the Maharaja chose to keep Kashmir independent, Pakistan sent tribal invaders to take over the valley. The Pashtun tribals, entered India on October 22nd, 1947, and unleashed their fury on the Hindus. The Maharaja did not have a large army, and his Muslim soldiers became complicit with the invaders. Operation Gulmarg, as it was called, was almost successful. Kashmiri Hindus residing in the areas close to the border had no choice but to leave all their belongings and flee to their relatives’ homes in Jammu. The tribal invaders raped, killed and plundered one village after another, till the Maharaja signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’. Kashmir became a part of India, the Indian Government sent its troops, who were able to effectively counter the attack and regain most of the captured territory.
This was the first exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus, who later returned to their homes or built new ones in parts of Kashmir that were not as close to Pakistan. Little did they know that in about forty years, their offsprings would be victims of hate again, this time coming from their own friends and neighbours. Surprisingly, many of these friends and neighbours were themselves descendants of Hindus who had been forced to convert by the invaders. (The easiest way to convert a group of Hindus was to collect them like cattle, point guns at them, cut their traditional thread and forcefully feed them cow meat.)
Starting from 1989, they were brutalized like no other community in India. People were hacked to death, nails were driven through their forehead where traditionally the tilak is put, women were raped, naked bodies were hung on trees as a warning, limbs of children were chopped and their bodies were left in front of their homes, tongues were cut off; every possible brutality was inflicted upon them- the killers always came up with more creative ways of killing Hindus; those who secretly tried to flee were not able to, as many friends-turned-foes would leak the details of their departure to the bloodthirsty mobs.
It has been 31 years, yet the Kashmiri Hindus never got to return to their homes. Their big homes with their belongings and memories were either burnt down, or their pillars were chopped off so their ceiling would collapse. Kashmiri Hindus were forced to sell their land at throwaway prices. Those were still the lucky ones. Many lost everything and didn’t even get a fraction of the money they deserved. The land and houses were taken over by friends who had agreed to “look after” their places till they returned.
Sadly, most Kashmiri Hindus never got a chance to return. Most continued to live a life bereft of even the most basic facilities in Jammu. A few years later, residents of Jammu also started displaying hostility towards the refugees who had overburdened their land and were making use of their resources. Large families survived on Government doles. People struggled to make ends meet. Many children dropped out after their Class 10th or 12th exams because they could not pay for higher education. Over a period of time, most of them moved to Delhi and Punjab, and later spread out further, when they had no choice but to accept that they would never be able to return to their own land. Many aged and died dreaming of their homes.
I can go on and on about this trauma that is not my own. I feel horrible that I learnt about this hate crime after school, because our textbooks didn’t mention even a word of this, and teachers never brought it up. I feel worse when friends ask me “what is this Kashmiri Hindu exodus they talk about?”
Lutyens’ media will discuss atrocities all over the world but will refuse to even acknowledge what was done to Kashmiri Hindus. We will raise voices for all communities, but the one which continued to suffer and languish in poverty for years. Activists like Sharjeel Usmani have the license to brand them as “the most pampered minority group”. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Home Minister at the time of the exodus, was never held accountable for doing (rather not doing) anything. He was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir when he passed away. BJP will seek votes in their name but has not done much to rehabilitate them. Congress and its role in the exodus shouldn’t even be mentioned here. And Barkha Dutt of NDTV- she justified the exodus in 2004, because the Kashmiri Hindus made up the “elite class” in Kashmir.
I can’t help but wonder if this apathy exists towards them only because they are Hindus; nobody raises their voice when a Hindu is killed because of their faith.
Or does this apathy exist, because Kashmiri Hindus did not take up arms, rebel against the Indian state or go on a killing spree against the perpetrators.
Their only mistake was placing their faith in a Government which didn’t care, activists whose entire narrative was one sided, and journalists who never thought their issues were worth prime-time debates. Perhaps the biggest slap on their faces came from the Supreme Court of India; our apex “doesn’t have time” to adjudicate on this matter; the same Court has all the time in the world for illegal Rohingya immigrants.
Kashmiri Hindus have been in exile for 31 years. That is a very long time; enough to fill them with venom against the Indian State which failed to protect them and the citizenry which never took up their cause. Yet they are loyal to the soil, some still hopeful that one day they will go back to the land where their family flourished for decades. It falls upon the privileged ones like me to continue to amplify their cause.
Mere revocation of Article 370 by a nationalist government is not enough. Every individual should demand justice for the countless Kashmiri Hindus who lost their lives, and a right to return for those who are alive. We can never undo their painful past, but we can gift them a better future- it is our duty to do so.