Pandits, the Hindu natives of Kashmir, completed today 30 years of haunting memories of being driven out of their home and hearth amid murders of their men, rapes of their womenfolk and forced conversion of their children into Islam. While the Islamists had begun issuing threats in 1989, On 19 January 1990, the Pandits in the valley received a decree to leave Kashmir. They had to abandon the houses whose walls still echoed with the giggles of their children, lullabies of mothers and laughter of relatives and friends because the majority of the population in the valley, Muslims, said they could not tolerate the Hindus in their midst any more.
Under the so-called rehabilitation scheme, only one family has returned to Kashmir in the last 30 years. A minuscule section hopes to return after the virtual repeal of Article 370.
Before the onset of the period of terrorism in Kashmir, about 3,00,000 Kashmiri Pandit families lived across 1,242 cities, towns and villages in the valley. With the beginning of terrorism in the region, 808 families remained at 242 places.
Only 65,000 Kashmiri Pandit families were lodged with the Relief and Rehabilitation Department in Jammu, out of all who were left homeless following the decree of the terrorists.
The power of the state remained in the hands of a few people and they never made any effort to return to the Pandits what belonged to them. The brotherhood of Kashmiri Pandits remained only in speeches as thousands of families continued to suffer the same pain for three decades.
“Our sisters and daughters were abused. I was 18 when we were ordered to leave Kashmir. We left home with old memories. What do you do? Our Muslim neighbours wrote abusive words on the walls of our house about the women in the family. They threw stones at us. We could either save our houses or save our lives. I tremble even today, remembering everything,” says Sunil Pandita, a displaced Kashmiri Pandit.
“Due to Article 370, Kashmir had become like an Islamic state in India. Now, with the constitution of the country coming into force, we hope that our good days return. The union is expected to take concrete decisions to settle us on our soil and ensure the safety of Kashmiri Pandits,” chairman of Panun Kashmir Ajay Churangu said.
Under a scheme named after the prime minister, about 6,000 jobs were announced for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes. The then state government filled only 2,200 posts. The appointed have not been able to take their families to Kashmir. Either their properties lay captured or they had been burnt down to ashes. As per the record of the package, only one Kashmiri Pandit family returned to Kashmir in the last 30 years. That was in 2015.
After 1980, Russia invaded Afghanistan and the US tried to push it back. For that, the Americans needed the people of Afghanistan to be turned into a militia. To evoke religiosity so that the numbers swell up, they called the local Afghans with newly acquired guns the “mujahideen” (a Muslim who does jihad). When the police took action, the killing of Muslims was attributed to Kashmiri kafirs (infidels). That provoked Afghan Muslims to join their fellow religionists in Kashmir to oust the Pandits.
About 5% of the Pandits were in Kashmir; some say 15–20%. In 1986, Ghulam Mohammad Shah wrested power from his brother-in-law Farooq Abdullah and became the chief minister. His administration decided to demolish an old temple in the New Civil Secretariat area of Jammu and build a mosque in its place. When Hindus protested, Muslims raised the slogan that Islam was in danger. Kashmiri Pandits were attacked.
On 4 January 1990, Hizb ul Mujahideen published an article in Urdu newspaper Aftab that ordered all Pandits to leave Kashmir. Placing loudspeakers in squares and atop mosques, they said, “Leave your women here.” Then they began a massacre.
Pandits want a separate homeland in Kashmir for them to be given the status of a union territory. All political parties in the state oppose it. What to talk of the INC, the BJP does not seem to directly support the cause of Pandits either. After virtually scrapping Article 370, not even Prime Minister Narendra Modi said for once that Pandits were one of the groups whose plight necessitated the repeal.
If a separate homeland with Jammu and Kashmir is not possible, say Pandits, they should be settled together in the state so that they can conserve their culture, religious beliefs and practices. Apart from this, they want the central and state governments to get their houses, land and other properties occupied in the last decade of the last century, and those sold under fear or coercion earlier returned.