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Speech at US Congressional Kashmir Briefing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Rahul Pandit   
Tuesday, 02 October 2007 00:00

Text of speech delivered by IAKF President at the Rayburn House Office Building, U.S. Captiol, Washington, D.C., at a Congressional Kashmir Briefing.

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss with you the story of the Kashmiri Pandit community. The Pandits are the Hindu minority community who were the original inhabitants of the valley of Kashmir, with a recorded history of over 5000 years. At there current rate of decline, if unchecked, they are destined to be erased from history in the next 15 years.

The last sad chapter in their history began in the late 1980s, when Kashmiri Pandit minorities were selectively targeted in a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Muslim-majority Valley of Kashmir. The factors leading to this campaign of terror are beyond the scope of my talk, but let me just summarize by reading to you the following quote from the respected newsmagazine India Today in February, 1990: “Total inaction, unbelievable incompetence, widespread corruption, and passive connivance” of the state government allowed the insurgency to flourish.
[quote by Inderjit Badhwar, in India Today, February 28, 1990, p. 24, “Inexplicable Neglect”. A summary of memos and letters sent by then-governor Jagmohan repeatedly warning P.M. Rajiv Gandhi of Kashmiri discontent]

 


EARLY 1990s

On January 19, 1990, over 360,000 Kashmiri Pandits began their exodus from their homeland valley, due to the rise of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Loud-speakers blared from the Mosques of Kashmir, spewing sectarian hateful messages like:

 
·        “Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Alla ho Akbar kehna hai.”

[If you want to live in Kashmir, you have to pray to the god Allah.]
·        “Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batav rus te Batanyev saan”.

[We want Pakistan, without the Hindu men, but with the Hindu women.]

 

This of course puts to rest any notion that this so-called freedom struggle was secular in nature.

 

The early 1990s saw the mass torture, rape, mutilation, and murder of Hindu Pandit minorities. Well-documented sources describe how hot irons were used to burn their faces, acid was thrown on women’s faces, and eyes were gouged out.

 

In his book Beyond Terrorism, Salman Khurshid writes of a particularly barbaric act. On June 11, 1990, Mrs. Girja Tikoo was kidnapped from the house of her Muslim friend, stripped, and for several days gang-raped by Islamic terrorists. When they were done, she was placed on a mechanical wood saw and cut in half.

 

These acts of terror struck fear in the hearts of the Pandits, who left the Kashmir valley in hordes. Their plight has been referred to as a “near genocide” by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 1999.
The U.N. convention signed in 1948 says genocide involves an intent to destroy -- in whole or in part -- a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

 

In spite of the brutality endured by the Hindus, NOT ONE INSTANCE of violence by a Kashmiri Pandit unto another person has occurred in the last 17 years of unrest.

 
2000 – present

Later other minorities were targeted. We are all perhaps aware of the infamous Chittisinghpora tragedy of March 20, 2000 in which terrorists dressed in Indian Army official uniforms ruthlessly gunned down 35 Sikh villagers a few hours prior to President Clinton’s arrival in India.

 

And let us not forget the Christian community. On November 21, 2006, a Christian convert and social worker Bashir Ahmed Tantrey was shot by militants outside a mosque in the valley [AsiaNews]. On April 14, 2007, a group of Islamic militants kidnapped Manzoor Ahmad Chat, a 33 year-old Christian convert who secretly operated a small church in his home in Srinagar. He was beheaded and his head placed in a plastic bag outside of a mosque.

 
And Hindus still are not safe. Furthermore, the violence that was once confined to the valley of Kashmir has now extended into regions outside of the valley, in a deliberate and selective attempt by Islamic terrorists to spread their Islamic banner throughout the region.

 
On April 30, 2006, 22 Hindu villagers were dragged from their homes, beaten, then shot dead. One day earlier on April 29, 13 Hindus were kidnapped from a remote village and found dead over the following two days. Both of these incidences occurred outside of the Valley.
April 30, Doda; April 29, Udhampur. The Indian security forces have radio intercepts from Pakistan handlers to Pak-trained mercenaries with specific instructions of where to carry out the killings.

 
In July 2006, a letter was sent to Kashmir Pandit activists in Jammu (PK) by the terrorist group Harkut-Ul-Jehad-Islami, or HUJI, threatening their lives if they continued with their planned Maha Shraadh, or homage to the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, in the Kashmir Valley.

 

On March 30, 2007, a group of terrorists barged into a house, segregated laborers belonging to the minority community, and shot them, killing five and injuring four others. The terrorists even stayed in the same house for the night, cooked and ate their food, slept comfortably, and left the next morning. [Rajouri District]

 

And of course Muslims that don’t tow the party line are also targeted. To name a few, Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq, Dr. Abdul Ahad Guru, Abdul Ghani Lone, Usman Majid.

 
VALLEY BASED KPS

The exodus of nearly all of the Kashmiri Pandit community continues slowly to this day. Currently, there are less than 7000 [approximately 6,654 KPs] still permanently residing in the valley of Kashmir. On the table here is a research report published in the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies which I hope you have all received. It goes into greater detail about the Valley-based Kashmiri Pandit community. I will only briefly address some of its findings.

 

The “non-migrant” Kashmiri Pandits face grave problems today, including lack of employment opportunities, government corruption and complacency, and inadequate socioeconomic support. The next two speakers will expand on political and economic issues in Kashmir.

 
Many of these individuals have been victims of kidnappings and multiple attacks. They talk matter-of-factly about the inevitability of death and destiny. Leaving Kashmir would have been a kind of death in and of itself, and so they chose to remain and face the consequences. On the other hand, they admit to a transient existence and don’t know how long they can last.

 
The primary problems that the Pandit minority faces in the Valley today are that of unemployment and inadequate rehabilitation. Approximately 125 Pandit families in the Kashmir Valley live below the poverty line.  According to a survey taken by the Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir in 2003, there were more than 500 educated youth who were unemployed.

 
What is clearly evident is that due to the lassitude of the state government, there is no assistance to Kashmiri Pandits in employment or political representation in Valley affairs. For example, according to the Hindu Welfare Society of Kashmir, there were 87 Pandit families from various districts [Budgam, Mattan, etc.] who had been relocated over the past few years due to terrorist attacks. The majority of these have yet to receive the migrant relief they were promised by the government upon relocation, nor have they been provided any means to rehabilitate into society after their intra-Valley displacement.

 
Socio-cultural problems are also abundant for the Kashmiri Pandits who have stayed back. With a diminishing community, it is difficult for them to maintain their 5000 year old culture and identity. The nature of religious worship has changed, with the well-documented encroachment and piecemeal destruction of Hindu temples and holy sites, and the lack of Kashmiri priests to conduct worship in their own native language.

 

CONDITION OF DISPLACED PANDITS IN CAMPS

Let us focus now on the camp-dwellers in Jammu. Let me remind you that these Kashmiri Pandits were forced from their ‘heaven on earth’ to live as refugees within their own country. Official figures in 1999 from the government of India placed the number of so-called refugees living in camps at over 216,000. Initially, families were forced to live in tents. Later, rooms with solid walls were constructed, but still only one-room tenements. The number of camp dwellers is now estimated at 75,000. Even in the best of camps like Purkhoo, each family resides in one room, with up to 8 or more people sharing a 9ft. x 6ft. room. There are no bathrooms. There is no running water or electricity. Children are either unable to attend school or are educated in substandard conditions in the camps.

 

Over the 17 years, Pandits have continued to show multiple signs of deteriorating health, premature aging and death, unnatural death, and a high incidence of serious and potentially fatal diseases. The situation is worsened by unhygienic living conditions, malnutrition, and inadequate medical facilities.

 
Medical Health

As a physician with a strong interest in international medical health, I would like to take a few moments to read to you the following medical facts and figures, which come mainly from two sources:

1.      Internal Displacement Monitoring Center report on Health issues in the camps (IDMC, http://www.internal-displacement.org). The IDMC was established in 1998 by the Norweigan Refugee Council (NRC).

2.      A 2005 report entitled "The Impact of Migration on the Socio-Economic Conditions of Kashmiri Displaced People" from the Jammu and Kashmir Centre for Minority Studies [chaired by M.L. Kaul]

         1. A report in the October 15, 2004 issue of the Kashmir Times

 

In the early 1990s, over 1000 Pandits died from heatstroke. Over 8000 died from other unnatural causes, including infections such as drug-resistant typhoid, dengue fever causing bleeding and shock, and hepatitis.

 

Over the years, the rate of psychiatric illness grew to previously unknown levels. An alarming 79% of migrants suffer from depression, while 76% suffer from anxiety disorders such as phobias and panic attacks. 8% even suffer from delusional disorders and psychosis. The list goes on.

 

According to a 2006 survey conducted by the non-profit Shirya Bhatt Mission Hospital  in Jammu (www.sbmh.org), a shocking 85% of the population of two of the better camps [Purkhoo and Nagrota] are suffering from anemia.

 

According to a Kashmir Times article on Jan 22, 2007, 65% of the Pandits that reside in the worst of the camps, Battal Ballian, suffer from asthma. That’s nearly 20 times the rate suffered by Ground Zero workers in New York City. This is due in large part to the 22 cement and pesticide plants in the nearby vicinity.

 

More than 36 per cent of women become infertile by the time they reach 40 years of age. This is just one of many explanations for an estimated birth rate of 3%, which is less than half of the estimated death rate of 6.5%. You can do the math and conclude that this is a formula for extinction of the Pandit community.

 

According to noted Kashmiri physician and social worker Dr. K.L. Choudhary:

“Common and uncommon diseases, new syndromes and unique and bizarre constellation of signs and symptoms, have all surfaced, giving rise to a wide array of psychological syndromes and mental and physical diseases."

Unfortunately, despite a very high rate of medical diseases, access to healthcare for the displaced community is limited. The number of doctors available in the camps is far less than required. Those patients that are seen are often inadequately treated due to poor medical resources.

 
CONCLUSION

So after painting this grim picture of SOCIAL, CULTURAL, ECONOMIC, and MEDICAL disintegration, I must ask if there is a future for the Kashmiri Pandit community. One may ask, ‘Why should we care?’ Aside from the humanitarian concerns I have raised, there is another practical issue. Terrorist groups operating in Kashmir will be emboldened if they succeed in their agenda, an agenda that hopes to disturb regional stability and will have repercussions globally. Our esteemed speaker Mr. Riedel will expound more on these issues.

 

I believe we need to follow the example of the European Parliament, which on May 24 [2007, in Strasbourg] nearly unanimously passed a report on Kashmir that was prepared after exhaustive research by Baroness Emma Nicholson of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Let us place the Kashmir issue at the forefront of our Foreign Policy. To that extent, both a U.S. House and companion Senate resolution on the Kashmir situation have been introduced this year by members of the India Caucus—the House version is H.Con.Res.55. This is a good starting point to gather more information and to help strengthen our foreign policy on Kashmir.

 

Let me end with the words of the respected Paul Beersmans, former U.N. observer in Kashmir and current President of the Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu & Kashmir. [1978 - 1979 UNMOGIP, United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, 1991 - 1992: Observer in Yugoslavia (ECMM, European Community Monitor Mission);]

This organization was formed in 1994 and has produced one or two reports every year on the situation in Kashmir, based on their first-hand interviews with Kashmiris of all ranks. This information is presented annually at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In his most recent study report from July 2007, Mr. Beersmans states:
“Kashmir is important for the principle.  It is an experiment with secularism, democracy, rule of law,  and equality.  This should not fail because of the introduction of terrorism, fanaticism, fundamentalism, and intolerance.  This is very important, not only for the Kashmiris, but for the whole world. Article Manager module by by George! Software.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 March 2011 19:43
 

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