The Last Days of Lassa Kaul and Rise of Kashmiri Terrorism Print
Written by Capt. S.K. Tikoo   
Monday, 01 February 2010 00:00

[As published in Koshur Samachar].

It was a sunny day. The atmosphere was tense and that was nothing unusual those days. Selective killing of prominent Kashmiri Pandits had already begun. It didn’t matter even if one had devoted himself to the noble cause of serving the suffering population of the city of Srinagar with door to door delivery of essentials like rice, wheat flour, fresh vegetables, sugar and edible oil. That all the beneficiaries of this social and selfless service were his Muslim neighbors, for whom, he along with an equally dedicated band of young Kashmiri Muslims was going from door to door and collecting these essential food commodities for the less fortunate ones who were the worst sufferers as daily wagers now rendered jobless because of the endless  'civil curfew' imposed by the JKLF who loved to be called as freedom fighters.



That was one SK Tikoo of Shalla Kadal, incidentally my namesake. He too had to be shot dead because he was a Kashmiri Pandit. Yet fools like me, and I was not alone, there were thousands like me who continued to live in the valley even after having survived the holocaust day-19 jan,1990. Totally outwitted and outsmarted, each one of us, of course, individually, was convinced  that this  great Indian state was too strong to be brought to a stage where it would cease to be visible, where the shots would be called by terrorists even when the  state of J&K was still a part of this great country also known as Bharat.


Mohan Chiragi editor of QUAMI AWAZ an Urdu daily, the official organ of Indian National  Congress being published from Lucknow and New Delhi, had vainly volunteered to be the resident editor of this very paper to be published from Srinagar too. The well known and well established Urdu newspapers of Srinagar with absolute 'secular' credentials had moved mountains to see that this ‘intruder’ newspaper from INDIA does not get the requisite permission to start publication from Srinagar. Having failed at the administrative level, one well known senior editor of a leading Urdu daily of Srinagar even went to the court of law to obtain an injunction against this ‘intruding’ publication. In the meantime a vicious publicity campaign was launched against the paper. But Mohan Chiragi was foolhardy and he started the paper from there. Reporters, editorial staff, KATIBS, photographers and office staff were recruited and they obviously were all Kashmiri Muslims. Their salaries were at par with their counterparts in the rest of the country and they were at that time the highest paid employees of this trade in the state. The paper started selling like hot cakes. The office situated in sprawling KHIDMAT HOUSE on the bund near Abi-Guzar was frequented by media glitterati of the town. This was, perhaps, the only place in Srinagar where you could exchange views in a comparatively free atmosphere. Lassa Kaul the then Station Director of Door Darshan Kendra Srinagar too would drop in once a while very briefly .The only purpose of his visiting the Quami Awaz office was to see Mohan Chiragi who used to treat Lassa Kaul as his own son.


Lassa Kaul had already become a controversial figure. Diehard nationalists, hardly visible in Kashmir those days, accused him of giving wide and undue coverage to  those four terrorists who were released in exchange of the safe release of Ms. Rubiya Syed,  daughter of Mufti Mohammed Syed the then Union Home Minister, who was earlier kidnapped by JKLF. The scenes of jostling, breast beating, singing and dancing crowds, celebrating the release of these dreaded terrorists were telecast by DDK Srinagar and the photographers wielding the video cameras had done an excellent job by focusing on those wild crowds in such a professional and ‘committed’ manner that it gave the impression that the entire population of the valley was on roads to accord these ‘heroes’ an unprecedented and impromptu reception. This very lobby, wherever it was, accused Lassa Kaul of giving fillip to militancy-calling it terrorism was a taboo even with these well meaning nationalist guys. The TV coverage of the wild celebrations by huge crowds celebrating the release of their ‘heroes’ was , no doubt stupendous and a government owned and controlled organization was  not expected to go overboard to give this kind of publicity to a patently anti national gathering shouting secessionist and rabidly communal slogans and a large section of them displaying weapons not seen so far. That these very weapons--Kalashnikovs, AK 47, AK 56, pikka, etc--became household names immediately thereafter is another grim reality. Lassa Kaul was different; he did not want DDK Srinagar to be seen as a suppressor of news even if it did not suit some of his bosses. He was absolutely clear that news is sacred and must not be hidden and he was willing to pay any price for it. He was such a clean hearted fellow and he trusted almost every member of his staff , least knowing that some of them were busy plotting against him and waiting for an opportunity to stab him in the back.


Feb12, 1990

Lassa Kaul, Mohan Chiragi and I met briefly at Chiragi’s residential quarter. Chiragi had been allotted a flat in one of the buildings on the Residency Road Srinagar. In one of his jovial moods, Lassa Kaul wanted to know if we could enjoy a typical Kashmiri fish preparation, now that the HURRA DAYS leading to Shivaratri had already set in. Mohan turned to me and enquired if my mother could make the delicacy. I did not have to do anything afresh, not even buy the fish. Being almost fanatically tradition bound, as per our family REETI, it was a must for us to make Fish on second Hurra, so the fish was already there and it was decided that both Lassa Kaul and Mohan would join me at my Kani Kadal pad for dinner the next day. It was also decided that Mohan would stay overnight with me and Lassa Kaul could go back. It was a brief meeting over a cup of tea and we discussed the fast deteriorating situation but laughed it off. I reminded Lassa Koal  of an afternoon meeting in his office chambers only a few days earlier when two burqa clad young women were seeking his explanation for  various programmes being telecast from there. I was a silent spectator, and appreciated the cool and calm composure of Lassa Kaul when he disarmed them with his sound arguments that DDK Srinagar was producing just two in house programmes, one on agriculture and the other being regional news and posed a question asking them if they had any complaints about these programmes. They demanded that all film based programmes be put off the air and Lassa Kaul smilingly expressed his helplessness since they were directly relayed to all Door Darshan Kendras. Typical Zaafrani kehwa was served and out came the beautifully manicured hands of these two young ladies attracting everybody’s attention including mine and it was at this stage that I was introduced to these VIPs. They beat a hasty retreat immediately thereafter. I too left his chamber satisfied that Lassa Kaul did not face any mortal danger after having risked his job to give such wide publicity to those traitors. I had a mistaken belief that terrorists would want him to be there because he delivered, and the worst that could happen was that his dissatisfied bosses would post him out for the same reason. In both cases, I presumed, he would survive the rest of his tenure.


Feb 13, 1990.

I was in my Karan Nagar office near Gole Market. Around 11 am, I heard a huge blast followed by rapid firing. Nothing new, such things were a daily routine, but this day the manager of the J&K Bank branch, in the same building came to me and suggested that I let the female staff go without causing any panic. He also requested me not to ask any more questions. The ladies working in the office were all KPs and I had to ensure that they reach their homes safely. I let some Muslim employees escort them to as far as possible and they readily agreed promising to lay down their lives protecting them. I closed the office at around 2pm and rushed towards Residency Road to find out what this panic was all about. I was driving my Premier Padmini JKE 3223 and I saw Lassa Kaul sitting in the rear seat of his Official Ambassador car coming from the opposite direction near Badshah Chowk. I frantically waived at him and shouted as loudly as I could. I somehow succeeded in catching his eye and I implored him to turn back. I waited near the College of Education for him to come back, he did but did not stop. However, he looked at me and I conveyed to him through sign language to come to Chiragi’s flat. He nodded and sped fast. I thought he had gone to his office.


In a few minutes, I was in Chiragi’s flat, all by myself. Soon, a Sikh gentleman entered the flat. He was supposed to be Chiragi’s PSO (personal security officer). He was all bones, hardly any flesh on him; he was an apology for a Sikh and a PSO, both. It was quite dark and in came Chiragi. He had just returned from a press conference addressed by Governor Jagmohan and had already filed the story. He had met Lassa Kaul at the same press conference and he had promised he would join us for dinner. We drove to my home in my car, parked it on the road just across the fire-station, in front of the famous PANEER shop. We walked through the lanes leading to my home, we could hear our heart beats, such was the eerie silence. The ground floor room was cozy, BUKHARI was on and we made ourselves comfortable on the divan. Fish as snack was served and we were really relishing it, waiting for Lassa Kaul. We called his personal telephone number (there were no mobiles then), there was no response. Obviously he was on his way.


My telephone rang and I picked up the receiver, the caller identified himself. He was a young neighbor of mine, working in BSNL (then known as Dept. of telecommunications). “Lassa Kaul has been shot dead” he said. I retorted, “Shut Up”. Chiragi wanted to know what it was all about, I told him it was a fake call and he should continue with his glass of kehwa. But then this young neighbor of mine, as good as my own younger brother, called again and requested me to give him a patient hearing. Lassa Kaul had gone to see his ailing parents in his newly constructed house in Bemina, and some unidentified killers were waiting for him in the darkness just outside his home. He just stepped out of the car and he was shot, he could not even see his old, ailing, invalid parents.


“Where is he now” I shouted.


“SMHS Hospital” he said.


It was near impossible to break this news to Chiragi, I knew he could not take it. I prepared him for the shock, asked my brother to look after him and promised to come back in a jiffy. I told him I would be back after getting the details from the caller. Instead I rushed to the hospital, I was there in no time, mine was the only moving object on the road from Kanikadal to the hospital.


The hospital walls were all plastered with anti-Indian graffiti, calligraphically written, “LA SHARQIA LA GHARBIA, ISLAMIA ISLAMIA”. It was not one day’s job. It must have taken many artists many days to paint these walls green. It was so scary. I reached the Operation Theatre, Lassa Kaul lay on a stretcher, outside the OT, unattended. You could not see any wound on his body. Some unknown faces appeared on the scene, virtually out of nowhere. My heart started pounding like a wind mill and suddenly somebody pinched me from the back and pulled me nonchalantly. I recognized him, he was from Chota Bazar and we both walked briskly towards the exit gate.


We sat in the car and sped towards home. En route he asked me to thank my stars. “The men you saw there were all KAAKs” and added that they were there to ensure that no effort was made to save him. “Orders were quite clear”, he continued, “If the injury is caused by police firing, save him or else let him bleed to death.” He named the doctor who had issued such instructions. Unfortunately, I knew him. I had always treated him as a son. I dropped the savior near his home and he assured me JKE3223 was safe. I was home as if I had just not gone out at all. Chiragi had already started dialing Raj Bhavan and ultimately a call came from Governor himself. Chiragi charged him with cold blooded murder for not providing adequate security and poor Jagmohan was pleading that he had done everything humanly possible, but Chiragi did not spare him. I calmed him and we somehow saw the night through.


Feb 14,1990.

We rushed to Lassa Kaul’s Bemina residence and were perhaps the earliest mourners to reach there. They saw Mohan and all hell broke out. It was pathetic to see the old parents wailing the loss of their son. People started assembling outside in large numbers, with placards in their hands. Mohan was part of the bereaved family and it was impossible to console any one of them. Lassa Kaul’s body did not bear a single wound, none of his vital organs was even remotely touched by the single bullet fired at him. Anywhere else, he could have been saved, but the orders there were that he should be just left to bleed to death. With the arrival of the first flight from New Delhi, a large number of VVIPs, which included Union Home Minister, dropped in at Bemina. Lassa Kaul’s only son, who was fondly named as Nego by his father, also arrived by the same flight. It was all over. Lassa Kaul’s funeral procession was one of the longest I have ever seen. Entire Door Darshan and AIR was there, so were the large number of journalists and anybody directly or indirectly connected with media.


There were others too. There were hundreds of placards in the hands of mourners and you could hardly find even one placard mourning Lassa Kaul’s assassination. Midnight oil had been burnt to make these placards as per the ‘agenda’: Jagmohan wapas Jao, Insaniyat (not Lassa Kaul) ka qatil kaun Jagmohan, and that pet one, Hum kya chahti.


Worse was when a senior journalist from Srinagar said something into my ear while I was in a shock, virtually glued to the flames rising out of the pyre right in front of me. When he found I was not responding, he shook me and whispered again, “NATA TRAAVNE TAMIS” (you think they will spare him either). Taken aback, I asked, “KAMIS” (whom?) This journalist named a Kashmiri Muslim holding an equally important post, without batting an eyelid. Thank God, he is alive and kicking, and so is that journalist.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 March 2011 19:17