Revisiting the traumatic exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland

Rhea Mathur 

Jammu and Kashmir is still a land of disputes, which bears with itself a long list of struggles and terror. The segregation of the Hindus and Muslims brought with itself the worst form of atrocities on a peaceful community of Pandits. They were the primary residents of the Vitasta Valley more than five thousand years ago and developed it to be their homeland. These Kashmiri Pandits, twenty-eight years ago, were driven out from their roots and even today, have not found their path back home.

The inflictor of this pain is the militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen. They spurned the ball of hatred towards the Pandits, years ago, torturing them to an inhumane extent. However, their real struggle lies with the Indian Army and not the peaceful Pandits themselves. This story of the development of hate and anger is recited by the past of their most famous leader, Burhan Wani.

This brutality faced by the Pandits also raises a question about the secularist India and the forces that should have been present to save the livelihood of this community.

The land of the Kashmiri Pandits

The land of the Pandits had been established before the arrival of the Muslim community. Yet the two were able to maintain harmony. The Kashmiri Pandits had a strong sense of their Hindu culture that grew stronger with their presence for more than a thousand years. Even though they were a minority Hindu group in a Muslim community, their significance and place in society were unquestionable.

However, the religious distress commenced in the region due to several political factors that together contributed to the extremities that followed. This includes the Pakistani support towards separatist movements as well as the influence of the Afghanis after their invasion in 1979. While the Afghanis retreated by 1989, they had a major hand in sowing the seeds of unrest in an otherwise peaceful society. There was a sudden growth in support for Islamic radicalism. The insufficient governance of the area contributed to these factors. Kashmiri Pandits had also established their ways of livelihood, developed their farms and built their communities, contrasting the majority of Muslims in the area. Due to the insufficient governance, there was a lack of economic stability for those in Kashmir, apart from the Pandits. This caused a rise in the need for vengeance and the spread of enmity towards the Hindus.

Allegations against the Indian army

The story of the leader of the militant group, Burhan Wani, helps one understand the source of the heinous acts committed by the group. The youth that refuses to be silenced and tortured, paints the Indian army as the creators of unrest. The Indian army’s brutality towards the youth in Kashmir gave rise to the need for retaliation.

As a fifteen-year-old boy, Burhan along with his brother and a friend were beaten up by army personnel. The personnel had asked them to buy cigarettes for the use of the road they were on, yet even after the completion of the task, had beaten the boys ruthlessly. This led to the rage and agitation against India that was later unleashed at peaceful Pandits. The Kashmiris state that military brutality is a common phenomenon. Having no other form of protest against this brutality, they state that it simply depends on how much one can bear before they succumb to joining militant groups for retaliation and vengeance.

The massacre of a religion

The act of hate that took place against the Kashmiri Pandits is classified as ethnic cleansing. It is the inhumane act of cleansing an area of a religion completely and driving them out by using cruel and inhumane ways. Some of the ways to rid Kashmir of Pandits used by the militant group included hanging, drowning, dismembering their bodies, strangulation with wires and branding with iron. In fact, it is also reported that each murder was celebrated with dance and music by the militants.

More than twenty thousand houses were burnt, almost all houses looted, more than a thousand torture killings took place, a hundred temples were completely destroyed, all shops and facilities were burnt. All that the Pandits spent more than five thousand years building was destroyed ruthlessly in the matter of a few days.

On 19th of January 1990, the Pandits after having been given twenty-four hours to convert to Islam or leave their homeland were eventually forced to leave.

The aftermath of the unspeakable ordeal

It was the duty of the government to protect the secularism of the nation, especially helping minorities and their livelihood. The ordeal faced by the Pandits at the hands of the militants proved that politics had a greater control of the government rather than the people.

The Pandits themselves were left homeless. Even after the killings, the sufferings of the Pandits saw no end. Those who survived the ordeal dispersed into India, finding new homes in other Hindu states. The rich culture the Kashmiri Pandits supported their entire lives suddenly saw itself at the risk of dilution. Having been displaced to other locations, it became hard for the Pandits to keep their true heritage alive in their new lives.

Not all of them, however, received this opportunity. After the displacement, some succumbed to the physical and mental trauma facing heatstrokes and heart attacks. Most families were also broken and dislocated, with only a few members having survived the atrocious ordeal.

Where are the Pandits now?

The strength of the Kashmiri Pandits and their culture is depicted by their existence in today’s world along with their determination. Even after suffering the hardships inflicted upon them, the Pandits found their way to keep their culture alive in the minds and hearts of today’s youth. The desire for vengeance or violence, however, even today finds no place in their hearts.

Twenty-eight years later, the Kashmiri Pandits still live in exile, the answers to their inability to return to their home lie with the government. In November 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the second plea made by the Pandits to investigate the mass killings. This plea was denied by the court deeming the killing as news too old to review. The government once again denied the Pandits justice but could not drown their spirit.

“Roots in Kashmir” is an organisation started by the Kashmiri youth who are ready to fight for justice. They choose the path of civil and just ways to fight for their rights. By creating organisations, filing petitions and spreading awareness, the Hindu Kashmiri youth plan to win back their homeland, not with terror, but the peace they have always stood for.

Featured Image Source: Pixabay

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