What if someone asks you to reckon even for a moment about a situation wherein you would be coerced to leave your home, your homeland, and your near and dear ones to live a miserable life of a refugee in your own country? And if not this, the only other option served to you would be death? This must have sent shivers down your spine, right? For you, this was a mere situation to imagine yourself in but what if one tells you about a community which faced the same ordeal and continues to live its life in misery every single day? Many of you must have guessed it right, one is talking about the ‘Kashmiri Pandits’ who, at this very moment, are refugees in their own nation and this is the thirty first year of their exile. While they’ve been living in shabby refugee camps for the last thirty-one years, have we talked about them even thirty one times all through the years we’ve lived?
In the first half of the first millennium, the Kashmir valley became a hub of Hinduism and Buddhism and later in the ninth century, saw the rise of Shaivism- a sect belonging to Hinduism which rose to prominence during the Bhakti movement. The Brahmins of the valley had by then developed their own beautiful way of life. This was a prosperous population with houses as large as mansions, lush green gardens and a feeling of love and attachment towards their ‘dharma’. Unfortunately for them, Islamization of their homeland took place roughly between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries and with this, began the massive religious persecution against them. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, a fanatical ruler called Sultan Sikandar succeeded to the throne of Kashmir and unleashed an unprecedented chain of brutalities against the Hindu populace. He came to be known as ‘Butshikan’ or the ‘idol breaker’. He destroyed Hindu texts, forbade Hindus from practicing their religion. During his reign, the Pandits had to utter words like- “Na Bhatto Aham”, which means, “I am not a Pandit” to escape from death. Around the late fifteenth century, the Chaks came to power and were equally intolerant and in 1589, the valley was taken over by the Mughals. The Hindus faced severe persecution during the rule of Aurangzeb. From 1752 onwards, the valley slipped into the hands of the Afghans and tying up Hindus to drown them into the Dal Lake became a common practice. This period saw rapid conversion as many Hindus accepted Islam to escape death. This marked the rapid emigration of the Hindus out of the valley. The Pandits had to suffer in 1947 too when Pakistan sent tribal invaders from the NWFP to occupy Kashmir. They were aimed and guided by Indian Kashmiri Muslims.
One provided this historical background to the readers to clarify that the ordeal faced by the Kashmiri Hindus is not something which is only thirty-one years old. This has been the pattern since the fourteenth century!
Coming back to the modern times, the fermentation of Kashmir which started developing during the 1980s reached its culmination in the year 1990, between the months of January and March. On the night of 19th January 1990, slogans like “raliv, galiv ya chaliv” which means, “Convert, die or escape” could be heard over loudspeakers from the mosques and on the streets. Speeches highlighting the supremacy of Islam over Hinduism were delivered and slogans like- “Pakistan se rishta kya? La Ilaha Illallah” or “What is our relationship with Pakistan? Islam” could be heard echoing in the valley. The perpetrators said that they were okay with the Hindu women but without their male counterparts! Hindus were being massacred; they were beheaded, shot down with Kalashnikovs or AK-47 guns. Hindu women were brutally raped and then murdered by religious fanatics. The Pandit community decided to leave. For them, their honour and their religious identity was far more important than where they lived. The first stream of Hindus began leaving Kashmir on the 20th of January. A second and larger wave left in March and April after they witnessed more fellow Hindus being killed.
According to some estimates by the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, out of 75,343 Pandit families, more than 70,000 emigrated out of the valley between 1990 and 1992. This outward flow continued till 2000. According to estimates, a total of 399 Pandits were killed from 1990 to 2011, the majority during 1989-90.
Since that fateful night of January 19th, 1990, The Kashmiri Hindus continue to live in refugee camps situated mostly in Jammu. They have adjusted to lives in one room apartments for all their family members, leaving behind their huge mansions in their homeland which were either destroyed or snatched away by their Muslim persecutors.
Unfortunately, since then, no political party, no government and no leader have shown empathy towards these refugees. Nobody tries to fathom their plight; nobody asks for justice on their behalf, nobody takes up the initiative to be their messiah. Every year, on the 19th of January, this unfortunate community comes together to organize peaceful protests asking for justice, in a hope of returning to the valley, in the lap of Mother Nature. Alas, this seems to be a far cry from the reality and seems impossible in the near future.
Only if media houses talked about the Kashmiri Hindu exodus as much as they’re talking about the exodus of TMC leaders out of their party, the circumstances could have been different.
Recently, the community celebrated the Republic day and continues to love their nation despite all the grave injustices they suffered. Their love for their ‘dharma’ is equally conspicuous; they sacrificed every possession of theirs but did not sacrifice the religion which bestowed upon them their culture, their ethics, and their way of life.
Only because they do not destroy public property, wreak havoc, attack police personnel, and block roads under the guise of ‘protests’, it doesn’t mean that the sufferings they faced need not be addressed or their stories are not worth listening to. The next time you visit Jammu; kindly spare some time to visit their camps and look at the circumstances they live in. Maybe that strikes a chord with the otherwise oblivious you.