January  2004 
Year 11    No.104

Cover Story

Prejudice in paradise

Distorted histories and divisive myths have made the Kashmir conflict messier, murkier, etching deep divides in a land that once boasted a rich and unique tradition of syncretism


Where does one begin the story of the Kashmir conflict? Does one begin at 1947 when India was partitioned and Kashmir became a bone of contention between the two new dominions – India and Pakistan? Or does one just wish away history with the blink of an eye and move on to 1989 when armed insurgents began to surface in the Valley? Or does one move ahead to newly created histories of prejudice framed by religious and ethnic divides – Kashmiri Hindus versus Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmir versus Jammu Dogras, Gujjars versus Paharis, and so on and so forth. The irony is that the story of the Kashmir conflict is read by most just where the chapter of prejudiced histories becomes more pronounced. The perils are that a conflict that was not essentially communal or regional in nature becomes more vulnerable to such divisions and polarisation. While the gun was introduced with the slogan of azadi and talk of a secular Jammu and Kashmir, it was essentially the government response through its various agencies and sponsored or patronised organisations that ensured that seeds of division and consequent fanaticism were sown.

The Kashmir conflict can be dated back to the partition of 1947; the violent conflict is also steeped in long years of historic wars between India and Pakistan fought over the land of Kashmir. But the insurgency operations and counter insurgency operations are a far more recent phenomenon that gained momentum in 1989, beginning first in the Valley. Ask a Pandit from the Valley about the genesis of the conflict and he will blame the Islamisation of the Valley and talk of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits following threats to Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley. Ask any Kashmiri Muslim and he’d swear that the threats are vastly overrated and that the Pandits deserted them when the azadi slogan gained momentum in the Valley. The two diametrically antagonistic histories born in 1989, when the gun arrived, have contributed in sharply dividing the two communities and shaped communal politics within and outside the ambit of the gun. The much-fabled Kashmiriyat, bonds of which every Kashmiri on both sides of the communal divide would love to eulogise, was the casualty. But if the bonds were so strong, why did they suddenly snap, the bullet piercing through age-old harmony?

It is necessary to first explore the genesis of the gun. Why did this come about? Was Islamic jehad a propelling force? It would be difficult to describe this genesis in a nutshell. And yet, for a cursory glance through the events that shaped the history of militancy in Kashmir one would have to begin in 1947 itself with the Instrument of Accession of Jammu and Kashmir State. Jawaharlal Nehru’s unfulfilled promise for plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir followed by New Delhi’s dictatorial policies and centralising control of the state had subverted all democratic institutions in Jammu and Kashmir. It was obvious that New Delhi could not implicitly trust any leader with a mass following in Kashmir, particularly one who questioned central policies or actions. Sheikh Abdullah was arrested, released, re-arrested and finally released on a number of occasions during the period between the Delhi Agreement, 1952 and the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975. It was mainly government policy followed in New Delhi that led to the Sheikh’s oscillation from the demand for plebiscite to a mellowed autonomy, an autonomy that had been totally eroded long before his death. The puppet regimes imposed in Jammu and Kashmir may have been mere extensions of this policy but they were nevertheless a clear signal to the only state in the Indian union with not just a Muslim majority population but also a disputed history that New Delhi was in no mood to set aside its bid to rule the state through autocratic policies.

That religion may have had something to do with this is not known. For even in the case of Pakistan, which administers one-third of this divided state, with a majority Muslim population, various governments of Pakistan ensured that only puppet governments took charge in Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir. However, religion was definitely being liberally used by India to convey the message that the people of Jammu and Kashmir were not to be trusted owing to their ethnic and community identity. This was the same state, the south of which burned like other parts of the subcontinent in 1947, but where in the north, in the Valley, Mahatma Gandhi saw a beacon of light. Not a single killing was reported on communal lines. Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir under the secular umbrella of the National Conference also rallied for peace in October 1947 when raiders began their attack. Sheikh Abdullah’s clarion call raised 15,000 volunteers and a peace brigade was formed as all of Srinagar echoed with slogans of "Sher-e-Kashmir ka kya irshad, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh Ittehad" and "Hamlawar khabardar, Hum Kashmiri hain taiyar" ("What does the Sher-e-Kashmir decree, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh Unity" and "Attackers beware, We Kashmiris are prepared").

The secular essence of the Valley was embodied in the Sheikh’s words, when he addressed the people: "Today the raiders from Pakistan are a few miles from Srinagar. They are raising the slogan of Islam. It is open to you to be with them or to be with me. If you opt to be with me you must know that you have to live for all times on the principle that Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are brothers. If that is the language of a ‘kafir’ you should raise your sword against me. If you want to raid or rape ‘kafirs’ I am the first ‘kafir’ and you must start from my place and my family."1 

The holocaust that raged through certain states like Bengal and Punjab in 1947 "failed to have any echo" in the Kashmir Valley, which had a 93.7 per cent Muslim population. The Hindus in the Kashmir Valley remained safe and protected even in the wake of communal killings of Muslims in the Hindu dominated Jammu region. Credit for this goes mainly to Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues in the party.2 

If this was the picture of communal harmony in Kashmir in 1947, did it take five decades for the fabric of Kashmiriyat to be tarnished, or did this happen suddenly in the 1990s? Though the chasms between the two communities seem to have appeared suddenly, with both sides being caught a little unawares, a closer scrutiny of their prejudiced histories shows that cracks had begun to form long ago. Many did not realise this and many chose to overlook it as a passing phase. The Kashmiri Pandits formed a minuscule minority in the Kashmir Valley, being only about two to three per cent of the Valley’s total population. The rest were largely Muslim, mostly Kashmiri speaking. The creation of the gulf between the two sides was shaped by several events and follies of history and the manner in which both sides interpreted these events. The story probably began some time in 1947 itself, with an incident in Baramulla:

"Left behind in Baramulla [on 27 and 28 October] were assorted groups of [Pathan] tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province and, even, it is very possible, Afghanistan. Discipline was not the strongest characteristic of such men; and their officers experienced serious difficulty in keeping them under control, particularly when stories began to circulate of the arrival of the Sikhs (who had been generally accepted by the tribesmen as the greatest scourge of the Muslims in the communal massacres which accompanied Partition, and the legitimate foe in any jehad, holy war) at Srinagar airfield. The inevitable killing of Sikhs and Hindus in Baramulla, particularly merchants who had remained to guard their stock, now began to be accompanied by indiscriminate looting and a considerable amount of rape, applied as much to unfortunate Kashmiri Muslims as to the infidel. Usually these outrages did not lead to massacre; but in a few cases, where leaders completely lost control over their men, an orgy of killing was the result. This was certainly the case at St. Joseph’s College, Convent and Hospital, the site of what was to become one of the most publicised incidents of the entire Kashmir conflict. Here nuns, priests and congregation, including patients in the hospital, were slaughtered; and at the same time a small number of Europeans, notably Lt.-Colonel DO Dykes and his wife, as well as the assistant Mother Superior and one Mr. Barretto, met their deaths at tribal hands."3 

The Baramulla affair has become central to the Indian or Kashmiri Pandit mythology about Kashmir. Events to the south of the Valley in the same state during the same period may also have shaped the sense of respective insecurities of both the Kashmiri Hindus and the Muslims. In the Jammu province, things went very differently. There, unlike every other part of the state, Hindus and Sikhs slightly outnumbered Muslims; and within a period of 11 weeks starting in August, systematic savageries, similar to those already launched in East Punjab and in Patiala and Kapurthala, practically eliminated the entire Muslim element in the population, amounting to 500,000 people. About 200,000 just disappeared, remaining untraceable, having presumably been butchered, or died from epidemics or exposure. The rest fled destitute to West Punjab.4 

According to official records of the United Nations Security Council, Meeting No. 534, March 6, 1951: "Shortly after the terrible slaughters in India, which accompanied Partition, the Maharaja set upon a course of action whereby, in the words of the special correspondent of The Times of London published in its issue of 10 October 1948, "in the remaining Dogra area, 237,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated, unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border, by all the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs"."

GK Reddy, a Hindu editor of Kashmir Times, said in a statement published in The Daily Gazette, a Hindu paper of Karachi, in its issue of October 28, 1947: "The mad orgy of Dogra violence against unarmed Muslims should put any self-respecting human being to shame. I saw armed bands of ruffians and soldiers shooting down and hacking to pieces helpless Muslim refugees heading towards Pakistan… I saw en route State officials freely distributing arms and ammunition among the Dogras… From the hotel room where I was detained in Jammu, I counted as many as twenty-six villages burning one night and all through the night rattling fire of automatic weapons could be heard from the surrounding refugee camps."

The communal violence that gripped Jammu was not altogether one-sided. A large number of Hindu and Sikhs too were butchered in some parts of the region, particularly in Rajouri, Mirpur and areas now under Pakistani occupation. But the fact that there was an obvious bid by State forces to patronise the killings and victimisation of Muslims was a more glaring occurrence. Trouble was brewing in Poonch where a popular non-communal agitation was launched after the Maharaja’s administration took over the erstwhile jagir under its direct control and imposed some taxes. The mishandling of this agitation and use of brutal forces by the Maharaja’s administration inflamed passions, turning this non-communal struggle into communal strife. The Maharaja’s administration had not only asked all Muslims to surrender their arms but also demobilised a large number of Muslim soldiers in the Dogra army and the Muslim police officers, whose loyalty it suspected. The Maharaja’s visit to Bhimber was followed by large-scale killings in some areas of Poonch like Pulandri, Bagh and Sudhnoti with a large number of ex-servicemen and soldiers who had joined the British Indian Army and had served them in the Second World War raising a banner of revolt against the Maharaja.5  The events in Jammu province revealed that there was an attempt to change the demographics of the division. The 1947 carnage left several Muslim majority populated villages in Jammu district alone totally Hindu or Sikh populated. In Jammu district alone, which is a part of the larger Jammu province, Muslims numbered 158,630 and comprised 37 per cent of the total population of 428,719 in the year 1941. In the year 1961, Muslims numbered only 51,693 and comprised only 10 per cent of the total population of 516,932. The decrease in the number of Muslims in Jammu district alone was over 100,000.6  That there was a design to change the demographics is demonstrated by another incident. Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehr Chand Mahajan told a delegation of Hindus who met him in the palace when he arrived in Jammu that now when the power was being transferred to the people they should better demand parity. When one of them associated with the National Conference asked how they could demand parity when there was so much difference in population ratio. Pointing to the Ramnagar natural reserve below, where some bodies of Muslims were still lying, he said, "the population ratio too can change."7 

The events in Jammu may have stirred up insecurities among the Muslims and Pandits of the Valley for different reasons. The Kashmiri Muslims may have felt threatened by the State’s role in patronising violence against Jammu’s Muslim population. Added to this was the fact that while the raiders who attacked Kashmir in 1947 from the Pakistani side were notorious for loot, plunder and rapes, the policy of the Indian forces was not particularly sympathetic towards the Muslims. The Pandits had reason to fear a backlash for what happened in Jammu where Muslims were in a minority. The fears may have stemmed from a minority syndrome, which could to some extent have been natural due to their minuscule population in the Valley. But much of this fear stemmed from a history of the misplaced sense of persecution that Pandits began to feel especially after 1947 when the rule of the Hindu Dogra ruler was over and the state was ruled by a government led by a Kashmiri Muslim. The fears were misplaced on several counts. The Baramulla memory, one of the bitterest, was haunting for Pandits and Muslims alike because the raiders did not spare any community. Secondly, Jammu and Kashmir, despite its disputed nature, was for all practical purposes administratively a unit of India. The state was initially granted full autonomy barring three issues – external affairs, defence and communication. The presence of the Indian army, an epitome of security for the Pandits, itself ensured a smoother integration of Pandits with the rest of India and they were indeed a part of the larger Hindu majority. Besides, the New Delhi dominated politics that took hold in Kashmir in subsequent years was proof enough that Pandits had no reason to feel insecure where majority Hindu State-centric policies were to determine the fate of the land. Coupled with this was the State-sponsored bid to change demographics in 1947, followed by the Hindu nationalist demand to dilute Jammu and Kashmir’s special status with their slogan of "Ek Vidhaan, Ek Pradhan aur Ek Nishaan". In fact, Hindu right wing leaders like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Balraj Madhok’s repeated rhetoric questioning the safety of border villages where Muslims were in a greater majority was a greater source of insecurity for the Muslims than it was for the Hindus. Thirdly and more importantly, in 1947, unlike elsewhere in the subcontinent, here it was the 97 per cent Muslims of the Valley who ensured full protection to the minority Hindus. But it seemed that one isolated event of Baramulla and exaggerated rumours were more likely to shape the psyche of the Kashmiri Pandits in years to come.

There were some more compelling economic reasons as well, making both the Pandits and Muslims reel under a minority syndrome. Sheikh Abdullah’s land reforms had mainly affected the Pandits or the upper caste Hindus of Jammu province in whose hands the major portion of landholding was consolidated. A mere two per cent of Pandits owned 30 per cent of all landholdings in the Valley. The land reforms introduced by Sheikh Abdullah from 1948 to 1953, together with the spread of free primary education, had created a new class of ambitious Kashmiri Muslims. But no new institutions had been provided to accommodate these Muslims; and the older ones were monopolised by the minority Hindus who ran schools and colleges and had a disproportionate presence in the bureaucracy. Thus on the part of Muslims there was also a brewing resentment against Pandits who had a history of being over-represented in government employment as compared to the overall proportion of their population. They were better educated and occupied all top posts in the bureaucracy and other professional fields. Even as Muslims started making indents in various fields, taking a share of what was otherwise a monopoly of the Pandits, during the 1960s and ’70s, the Pandits gradually began to slip into a syndrome of insecurity. They were aware of their minuscule minority and their history of monopoly, educational, professional and economic.

This feeling of ‘dispossession’, along with the interplay of rumours and some stray events that became part of a bitter collective memory, enhanced their insecurities within the Valley. Whether motivated by misplaced psychological fear or deliberate design, most of the rumours were exaggerated through a whisper campaign projecting the Pandits as victims and the Muslims as perpetrators. Several incidents such as the involvement of a group of five men with Pakistani agencies in the mountains of North Kashmir during the 1965 war, the murder of a Hindu youth in a downtown area and the damage to a temple in Anantnag in South Kashmir in 1986, were cited again and again to magnify the threat perception to Pandits. Kashmiris in the diaspora have been particularly active in engaging world opinion with this sort of perception. The Tiger Ladies: A Memoir of Kashmir, the memoirs of an expatriate Kashmiri woman, Sudha Kaul, is trapped in the same mindset. Despite its high literary merit, it talks of such myths as memories that are suddenly shaped into history without chronological details. This is a clever ploy as the writer jumps from the incident of 1965 to the militancy of 1989 as if the events are not just interrelated but as if there were no intervening period in between. Such myths that were only oral history became more prevalent after 1989. The perils here cannot be overemphasised as today these distorted histories from a community perspective are being handed down in written form.

In retrospect, several Pandits look back and recall that they had always felt secure amidst the presence of the Indian army, a presence of which most Muslims were wary. Their ‘patriotism’ towards India was their potential weapon against any Muslim domination or the threat that Muslim Pakistan would take their side. This is what essentially shaped the Pandit psyche in the years preceding the insurgency. Thus, when militancy suddenly surfaced, with reports that disgruntled Muslim youth were going across the Line of Control to receive arms training in camps set up by Pakistan, the fears multiplied. Added to this was the nationalist discourse going on at two levels – one at the government level and a parallel one at the Hindu right wing level. The killings of some prominent Pandits, including right wing leaders or men who had affiliations with the Hindu right wing like Tikalal Taploo, added fuel to the fire. The killings of all Muslims was eclipsed by the killings of the Hindus, projected more widely and with a twist both by the Pandit community, under the shadow of its growing insecurities, and the Indian agencies. The media happily played the role of force multiplier, this side or that.

When men from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) began the armed struggle, it was not an Islamic jehad. Slogans of ‘azadi’ rent the air as the JKLF presented its vision of a secular Jammu and Kashmir, although aberrations by some over-zealous youth talking also of ‘nizam-e-Mustafa’ and sloganeering from mosques, which has been a traditional manner of politicking in the Valley, cannot be ruled out. The first casualty of the struggle was a Muslim, Mohd. Yusuf Halwai, demonstrating that the targets were not only Hindus but also Muslims. Though in proportion to their population a larger number of Pandits were killed in this first phase of militancy, they were not killed because of the community they belonged to. There were other reasons behind the killings. The Kashmiri Pandits formed a kind of elite in the Valley; they had a large presence in the bureaucracy, both in the Valley and in Delhi, where government policy on Kashmir was often dictated by the fears and concerns of this tiny minority. Their connections with India and their relative affluence made them highly visible targets during the first few months of the insurgency in 1990.8  The myth of selective killings is further exploded by statistics. According to a report in The Times of India in 1993, quoting official sources, militants killed 1,585 men and women, including 981 Muslims, 218 Hindus, 23 Sikhs and 363 security personnel between January 1990 and October 1992. According to research by the Strategic Foresight Group, 29 Muslims were killed in 1988 in militancy related violence. There was no Hindu killing. In 1989 and 1990, six and 177 Hindus respectively were killed, as against 73 and 679 Muslims, besides six Sikhs. In 1991, the killings of Hindus are recorded at 34 and those of Muslims at 549. These killings are not Valley specific but hold good for the entire state. Moreover, these figures also include Hindu pilgrims or tourists killed in the state. The statistics reveal that at no point of time were more Hindus killed than Muslims. In fact, barring 1990, Hindus formed a minuscule percentage of the total killings.9  In fact, the victimisation of Muslims is also greater in view of the large-scale atrocities by security forces.

But the damage had been done. The minority syndrome, the perpetuated myths and baggage of distorted history that the Pandits carried, coupled with the killings, the sloganeering and mosque calls, which, like the Anantnag event of 1986 when a temple was damaged, became the accepted generalisation. This was further compounded by the appointment of a new governor to the state, Jagmohan, and the consequent announcement of governor’s rule. The exodus of Pandits from the Valley had become inevitable. For many, Jagmohan is seen as the man who engineered the mass flight. Whether this was true or not, Jagmohan did see the Kashmir problem as essentially a Muslim versus Hindu one, where Muslim was perpetrator and Hindu the victim. This was no strong departure from the myths those at the helm of affairs in New Delhi shared. In an interview to Current, May 1990, Jagmohan stated, "Every Muslim in Kashmir is a militant today. All of them are for secession from India. I am scuttling Srinagar Doordarshan’s programmes because everyone there is a militant... The bullet is the only solution for Kashmir. Unless the militants are fully wiped out, normalcy can’t return to the Valley."10  It was in early 1990, during Jagmohan’s few months as India’s appointed governor – and, some say, with his active encouragement – that most of the community of 140,00011  Kashmiri Hindus left the Valley. Jagmohan had originally been made governor of Kashmir in 1984 by Indira Gandhi in order to dismiss Kashmir’s elected government; he had served for five turbulent years during which his aggressively pro-Hindu policies further alienated Muslims in the Valley from India. His limited comprehension of the insurgency – as simply a limited law-and-order problem that could be swiftly contained – is apparent in his memoir about his time as governor of Kashmir. Many Kashmiris believe that he wanted the Hindus safely out of the way while he dealt with the Muslim guerrillas.12 

There is more evidence to suggest Jagmohan’s role in the exodus. Senior Jammu-based journalist and human rights activist Balraj Puri writes in Kashmir: Towards Insurgency:

"The Jagmohan regime witnessed the exodus of almost the entire small but vital Kashmir Pandit community from the valley. Padma Vibhushan Inder Mohan (later he renounced the title) and I [Balraj Puri] were the first public men to visit Kashmir in the second week of March 1990 after the new phase of repression had started. Though the Kashmiri Muslims were in an angry mood, they heard us with respect and narrated their tales of woe. At scores of the meetings to which we were invited during our short but hectic visit, Kashmiri Muslims expressed a genuine feeling of regret over the migration of Kashmiri Pandits (KP) and urged us to stop and reverse it. Encouraged by the popular mood, we formed a joint committee of the two communities with the former chief justice of the high court Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi as president, the Kashmiri Pandit leader HN Jatto as vice-president and a leading advocate Ghulam Nabi Hagroo as general secretary, in order to allay the apprehensions of the Kashmiri Pandits. Jatto recalled that the Pandits had reversed their decision to migrate in 1986 after the success of the goodwill mission led by me. He expressed the hope that my new initiative would meet with similar success. A number of Muslim leaders and parties, including militant outfits, also appealed to the Pandits not to leave their homes; Jatto welcomed and endorsed their appeals, but soon migrated to Jammu himself. He told me that soon after the joint committee was set up, the governor [Jagmohan] sent a DSP to him with an air ticket for Jammu, a jeep to take him to the airport, an offer of accommodation at Jammu and an advice to leave Kashmir immediately. Obviously the governor did not believe that the effort at restoring inter-community understanding and confidence was worth a trial.

The experiment came under crossfire. The official attitude was far from cooperative. The rise of new militant groups, some warnings in anonymous posters and some unexplained killings of innocent members of the community contributed to an atmosphere of insecurity for the Kashmiri Pandits. A thorough, independent enquiry alone can show whether this exodus of Pandits, the largest in their long history, was entirely unavoidable."

There was an obvious bid to use the theory of Hindu victims suffering at the hands of Muslim guerrillas and their exodus, which the Hindu right wing called ‘forced exile’, as a political tool to demonise the movement for independence through a systematic war of propaganda unleashed by the government, the Hindu right wing and the elite Kashmiri Pandits. The displacement of Pandits from the Valley has been the prime tool of Indian officials, politicians and media in the propaganda war over Kashmir since 1990.13  There were two distinct kinds of displacement from the Valley. Those who were well off, mostly in government jobs, retained the rights to their salaries and looked for better career opportunities in Jammu or elsewhere in the country. And about 5,000 of those who left lived in shabby camps in the scorching heat of Jammu or Delhi. As the latter were left to their fate, there was a growing feeling that the community leadership, mainly the elite class, had betrayed their interests for the sake of vote-bank politics.

Pankaj Mishra writes about a Hindu, Gautam, whom he met in a camp. He had left his apple orchards near Baramulla in the north of the Valley in 1990 with sixty-five rupees in his pocket to come here. There had been no water for eight days and the plastic buckets used for storage had begun to run dry. He said bitterly, "We are like a zoo, people come to watch and then go away." He felt betrayed by Jagmohan and the other politicians, especially the Hindu nationalists, who had held up the community as victims of Muslim guerrillas in order to get more Hindu votes, and had then done very little to resettle them, find jobs for the adults and schools for the young. He had been back to the Valley just once: he had been persuaded to do so by his Muslim neighbour who personally came to the refugee camp to escort him back to his village. The warmth between the Hindu and Muslim communities of the Valley – so alike in many ways for the outsider, so hard to tell apart – had remained intact, and had acquired a kind of poignancy after such a long separation.

There may be some stories – of neighbours occupying homes of Pandits – but conversely there are also stories of how Muslim neighbours have looked after the property of Pandit friends and neighbours. In Tulamulla, it was a Muslim family that lit the lamps at a famous temple shrine considered sacred by the Pandits. In some cases there are stories of flight necessitated by the threats Pandits received in the initial years of militancy because envious Muslim neighbours wanted to grab their property. But equally, there are also cases of a Muslim neighbour grabbing the property of a Muslim or a Pandit neighbour grabbing the property of a Pandit. A middle-aged Pandit in a Kashmiri camp on the outskirts of Jammu I met a year ago, Krishan Lal mentioned how he had been persuaded by a relative, also a neighbour, in his village in Tangmarg in North Kashmir, to shift out. They had planned to leave together but the neighbour backed out at the last moment. His son was killed in militancy related violence some years later. Krishan Lal said, "We heard he was involved with some group." His Hindu neighbour continues to live in their ancestral village 14 years after Krishan Lal’s flight. Krishan Lal’s house and small restaurant are today in the neighbour’s possession, who visits Jammu occasionally to tell him that his property is in safe custody but his own return may not be safe. Visit the migrant camps or visit rural Kashmir, villages where Pandits had a substantial presence, and one hears stories with wide ranging reasons on why Kashmiri Hindus fled or how they managed to stay put due to the efforts of good old neighbours. A senior journalist in Kashmir talked of one Pandit family near Tangmarg who decided to stay on till 1991, when the few other Hindu families in their village also shifted out. They decided to follow suit but were stopped by Muslim neighbours. The neighbour’s son, in the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, assured them of protection. They continue to stay there till date.

The exodus itself may not have damaged the bonds of Kashmiriyat as much if the propaganda machinery on Islamic jehad started by the State and the Hindu right wing, which was becoming a force to reckon with in the ’80s, had not roped the displaced Kashmiri Hindus into their fold. Several Pandit organisations that were floated during or after the exodus and several elitist Pandits became a pliable tool in the hands of such propagandist tactics. The bitterness on the other side was a reaction. The timing coincided with the gradual decline of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front after the arrest or killing of its top brass and Pakistan’s conscious decision to strengthen the hands of the Jamaat-e-Islami backed Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM). Pakistan wanted more control in Kashmir politics and the JKLF’s independent approach could have been detrimental to its interests as compared to the HM’s pro-Pakistan agenda.

But first came the propaganda with its exaggerated statistics of Pandit killings and the number of those displaced. Statistics show that there couldn’t have been more than 160,000 Pandits in the Valley at the time of the exodus. But figures were inflated to 4 lakhs as many of those already settled outside the Valley also began to register themselves as displaced. Kashmiri Muslims resented the growing propaganda against them all over India, and which they saw Kashmiri Pandits as being party to. Pakistan’s plan in replacing the JKLF with the HM at this juncture may not have succeeded so well had the gulf between the two communities not widened so much. For even today the sympathies and aspirations of most Muslims in the Valley still lie with the independence ideology. The shift from secular Islam to jehadi Islam may not have triggered the large-scale displacements of Hindus from Kashmir but the latter may have played a part in popularising the jehadi groups during the early ’90s. Kashmiri Pandits did not figure in the HM’s game plan to Islamise the Valley. Most Pandits had fled by the time the HM entered the picture as a dominant group in separatist politics. But its warning – ‘Kashmiri Pandits responsible for duress against Muslims should leave the Valley within two days’ – published in the Urdu daily Alsafa on April 14, 1990, was critical in triggering a fresh exodus. Subsequently, it warned the Pandits against returning to the Valley because they had joined hands against the enemy forces, referring to India. The HM declared that Pandits would be allowed to return only after they had proved themselves to be part and parcel of the movement. The essentially Hindutva-centric approach on Kashmir in India, especially during the ’80s when the BJP and its allies were becoming a power to reckon with, was being complemented by a jehadi Islamic approach from Pakistan. Kashmir was the chessboard and the victims on both sides, swayed by the burden of their prejudiced histories, were, but naturally, the Kashmiris – be it the Hindu or the Muslim.

Both New Delhi and Islamabad’s intentions to reap the harvest of engineered divisions on communal and ethnic lines did not stop at the Valley, which had become a successful experiment for both sides. In the early ’90s it continued in the Doda region, where, unlike the Valley in 1989-91, militant groups carried out massacres on a purely selective basis. While the militant operations were designed to create communal polarisation between the Hindus and Muslims, the State’s role complemented these designs by scuttling all efforts at joint community initiatives. Instead, armed village defence committees were created to provide arms training and .303 rifles mainly to Hindus. The army crackdowns in Doda also created further divisions. In the first half of the ’90s, army crackdowns to trace militants in Doda, which has a 55 per cent Muslim and 45 per cent Hindu population, followed a deliberate pattern. People were asked to come out of their houses and the soldiers asked them to identify themselves. The Hindus were asked to form a separate queue and sent back after just a dose of abuse. The Muslims were often also beaten up. Thankfully, despite much provocation, Doda did not go the Kashmir way. But the bid to play politics of division amidst the conflict continues, now in the twin border districts of Rajouri-Poonch, where active militancy surfaced in the second half of the ’90s though the two districts were popular routes of infiltration for militants in the first phase. The divisions here, unlike in the Valley and Doda, are not so much religious but mainly on ethnic lines. Rajouri-Poonch has an interesting demographic pattern. While the districts have a majority of 80 per cent Muslims, in the two major towns of Rajouri and Poonch the Muslims form a minuscule minority of 20 per cent. Most of the Hindus in these two districts have settled in the towns. Much of the militancy here is concentrated in the rural areas. The forces thus play on the Gujjar Muslim versus Pahari Muslim divide, projecting the former as a ‘patriotic’ victim and the latter as perpetrator at the behest of Pakistan. In recent years several village defence committees formed in these two districts have an overwhelming Gujjar domination. Such engineered divides boded ill for the Valley. If this carries on unchecked, Rajouri and Poonch may fast slip into the same mould. And, as in the Valley, the damage will then be irreversible.

On a personal level, in most cases, traditional bonds of Kashmiriyat between neighbours and friends still exist as they did even in the initial period of militancy, and even though in the collective memory there is bitterness on both sides. But it is difficult to keep building on the hopes imbued by such personal bonds; bonds demonstrated for instance when Kashmiri Pandits visit the Valley every year during the famous Khir Bhawani festival at a Hindu shrine. Let down by their community leaders, many Pandits living in relief camps avow that they still maintain good relations with their old Muslim friends and neighbours, who also occasionally visit them from Kashmir. But as one such camp inhabitant, a man in his forties, Gopi Krishan says, "We know them, but do we know their children, they have not grown up amongst us. Who knows what is on their minds?" His words echo the fears of those on either side of the divide. n

(Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is executive editor, Kashmir Times).


 1Navnit Chadha Behera, State Identity and Violence: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

 2PS Verma, Jammu and Kashmir at political crossroads, New Delhi 1994.

 3Alastair Lamb, Incomplete Partition: The Genesis of the Kashmir Dispute 1947-1948, Roxford 1997.

 4Ian Stephens, Pakistan, New York 1963.

 5Public lecture, ‘Partition of 1947, some memoirs’ by Ved Bhasin, organised by SAFHR, Jammu University, September 2003.

 6India, District Census Handbook, Jammu & Kashmir, Jammu District, 1961.

 7Public lecture, Ved Bhasin.

 8Pankaj Mishra, Kashmir: The Unending War.

 9Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan, Report, International Centre for Peace Initiatives.

 10Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and The Unending War, New York 2000.

 11Estimate of population of Hindus in Kashmir Valley in 1990:

The 1981 census in the Kashmir Valley records 125,000 Hindus (1981 Jammu and Kashmir Census Report). Taking the 30 per cent increase in the total population over the period 1971-1981 and extrapolating it to the period 1981-1990, we get an estimated total Hindu population of the Valley in 1990 as 162,500.

 12Pankaj Mishra, Kashmir: The Unending War.

 13Sumantra Bose, Kashmir: Roots of Conflicts, Paths To Peace.

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