Gradually and then Suddenly Print
Written by Lalit Koul   
Monday, 26 March 2012 18:18

[As published in The Pioneer]  A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine wanted to know more about my community’s forced displacement from the valley of Kashmir and asked me, “How did your ethnic cleansing in Kashmir come about?”

I struggled for an answer. I paused. I thought and then I said, “Gradually and then suddenly”.


“Gradually and then suddenly.”

Yes! That is how we were ethnically cleansed from our valley, our home, our holy land, our homeland Kashmir. Ghastly night of January 19, 1990 was “sudden” but years before that night were the period of “gradual” ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Islamic Jihadis. It did not all happen on the intervening night between Jan 19 and 20, 1990. It started centuries ago.

Our first experience of this barbaric ethnic cleansing came about during the period of 1389-1413 AD under the rule of Mir Hamdani and Sultan Sikandar, also known as Sikandar But-Shikan. Two of them made it a state policy to unleash their terrible reign of terror on Kashmiri Hindus with the sole objective of totally eradicating us from our ancestral lands. Even back then, we were given only three choices: Convert to Islam, Die or Escape. Without succumbing to the conversion pressure, hundreds of our ancestors poisoned themselves and their women folk. Seven mounds of the sacred thread (Janeue) of murdered Kashmiri Hindus were burnt by Sikandar But-Shikan. More than a lakh of our ancestors were brutally murdered and burned at one spot near Rainawari. The spot is now known as Batta Mazaar (Kashmiri Hindu Cemetery). Such was the situation that we had to cremate our revered dead ones in our own courtyards and keep the ashes hidden in our houses until we would get an opportunity to immerse the ashes in Vitasta river. During this phase, a time came when only 11 Kashmiri Hindu families were left in the valley, after most were either killed or hounded out of their homeland.

Our second encounter with mass exodus was engineered during the period of 1506-1585 under the rule of Chak dynasty. Even after going through sustained persecution at the hands of Islamic zealots and rulers, Kashmiri Hindus attained new heights in the field of education and cultural revival. Since they believed in mutual understanding, cohesiveness and peace, they once again became soft targets and were subjected to horrendous atrocities. During this time, Chak rulers ordered one thousand cows, holy to Kashmiri Hindus, be slaughtered every day to create a vicious environment and force Kashmiri Hindus to convert to Islam. Chak rulers also imposed a punitive tax (Jazia) specifically on Kashmiri Hindus to harass and subjugate them into conversion. We had to even pay punitive tax for performing our religious rituals. Once again, to escape the forced conversions and day-to-day persecution, thousands of us escaped from the valley and settled in other parts of India. This ethnic cleansing was systematically engineered to change the cultural and ethnic landscape of Kashmir and convert it into an Islamic state.

Towards the end of 16th century, Mughals invaded Kashmir and ruled it for next two hundred years. While Akbar reversed some of the previous state policies of systemic persecution of Kashmiri Hindus, his progeny was not that tolerant and benevolent. Jehangir, Shahjahan and Aurnagzeb were as ruthless in their policies and actions against Kashmiri Hindus as the Hamdanis and Chaks. While Akbar launched rehabilitation schemes for Kashmiri Hindus and abolished the punitive tax (Jazia) on them, his descendants engaged into another round of systemic state-approved ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus. Most of Hindu temples and shrines were demolished or desecrated during Shahjahan’s and Aurangzeb’s merciless rule. Aurangzeb reinstituted the punitive tax (Jazia) on Kashmiri Hindus. He also established a state policy to liquidate Kashmiri Hindu scholars. Per him, for Islam to successfully spread all over India, elimination of Hindu scholars was a necessity. It was during this period that Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur was executed by Aurangzeb while he stood against the persecution of Kashmiri Hindus and fought for their fundamental rights. This state sponsored persecution at the hands of Islamic zealots resulted in third major wave of ethnic cleansing and forced exodus of our community from our homeland.

In 1753, Fazal, son of Faquirullah ruled the Kashmir valley. Under his tyrannical rule, Kashmiri Hindus were once again terrorized and persecuted. On his orders, one of his lieutenants beheaded a Kashmiri Hindu Kailash Dhar in broad day light in the open courts of then Governor Amir Khan Jawansher and then dumped the dead body in river Vitasta (also known as Jhelum). Following this barbaric killing, Fazal’s lieutenants went on rampage and killed hundreds of Kashmiri Hindus. This created a wave of fresh terror in the hearts of our community and many more escaped from the valley at the first possible opportunity. This marked the fourth major exodus of our community from the land of our genesis.

After bearing the brunt of persecution at the hands of Islamic rulers for more than 400 years, it was only in 1820 that Kashmiri Hindus started to breathe freely. It was in 1820 when Maharaja Ranjit Singh took over the reins of Kashmir valley that we Kashmiri Hindus started to heal our wounds and bring back some semblance to our lives. It was a period of peaceful development and fair governance, which continued much into the Dogra rule until early 20th century. Around same time, while British colonial power was failing in countering India’s independence movement, it was also using the time tested and proven “Divide and Rule” strategy in Kashmir. It supported and promoted Muslim insurgency against the Dogra rule in Jammu & Kashmir and implanted activists like Shiekh Mohd. Abdullah in the valley. Sheikh Abdullah, after graduating from Aligarh Muslim University got very active in Muslim Reading Room party in the valley, with the key objective of creating a revolt against Dogra King Maharaja Hari Singh. Sheikh Abdullah and his party men started gathering in big numbers in mosques and instigated masses with their fiery and provocative speeches. And then came 13th July 1931 – the black day in the history of our community. That day, Kashmiri Hindus were once again made targets and subjected to horrendous attacks. Shops and houses belonging to Kashmiri Hindus were ransacked and burnt down. Several Kashmiri Hindu innocents were killed in Kanikoot, a village few miles outside of Srinagar city.

As Britain was leaving India after dissecting it into two countries in fall of 1947, Pakistan was getting ready with its evil designs to attack Kashmir. Still in its infancy, Pakistan launched a deadly attack on Kashmir during October of 1947 by sending her army men pretending as tribesmen. These armed men engaged in indiscriminate looting and killing of innocent Kashmiri Hindus at various places in districts of Kupwara, Baramulla, Badgam and outskirts of Srinagar. Thousands of Kashmiri Hindus living in the Northern Kashmir had to overnight escape to Indian plains to protect their womenfolk from Pakistani Islamic marauders. Legend is that during those trying times all Kashmiri Hindus used to keep some amount of poison in their homes, ready to be administered to their women folk in case of an attack from Islamic zealots. This wave of exodus was the fifth major exodus for our community.

Since Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India, it has always been ruled by Muslim rulers from Kashmir. Even though India’s independence brought democracy and popular rule to Jammu & Kashmir, plight of Kashmiri Hindus didn’t have any material change. Yes, they were not subjected to day-to-day Islamists’ torture but they were still subjected to targeted discrimination and ridicule at the hands of majority Muslims. Kashmiri Hindu children were consistently discriminated during admission to various professional colleges. Corruption was rampant and Kashmiri Hindu professionals were consistently denied professional promotions to appease other undeserving candidates from majority community. Every time there was a burning issue that Kashmiri Muslims agitated for, innocent Kashmiri Hindus became victims of Islamist’s wrath. Whether it was Pakistan losing a cricket match to India or Salman Rushdie writing a novel in London or Babri Masjid being demolished in Ayodhya, it would always be Kashmiri Hindus’ houses which will get stoned. Even though we were living in a so-called democratic state, we always felt persecuted. Our speech was always stifled. We were always reminded as if we were living there at the mercy of majority community.

And then came 1986. Gul Shah, estranged brother-in-law of Farooq Abdullah, had recently taken over as Chief Minister and was starting to show his true communal colours.  His 20-month rule was one of the worst times in the state. Based on the number of days the valley was under curfew during his rule, he was given a nick name of Gul-Curfew. In order to appease a certain section of the electorate, a new mosque Shah Masjid, named after the chief minister, was built within the premises of a Hindu temple in the New Civil Secretariat in Jammu. This, for obvious reasons, was not taken well by Jammuites and under the leadership of Dogra leader Vaid Vishnu Dutt they protested against it. The whole city of Jammu was shut down for 4 days. Feeling the heat from the charged atmosphere, Gul Shah ran away to Srinagar on February 20, 1986 and started instigating local Muslims against Hindus. It is alleged that he floated two false rumors about Hindus damaging mosques and killing Muslims in the Jammu region. Like any rumor, these too spread like a wild fire and created a very volatile situation in the valley that just needed a little light to turn into a big fireball. And that little light was very conveniently provided by anti-social and anti-India separatists’ forces. As usual, the easy targets for these Kashmiri Islamists were innocent minority Kashmiri Hindus in the valley. Unlike 1947 when the Kashmir’s northern areas saw the brutalities, this time it was the southern areas of Kashmir that faced the brunt of horrendous atrocities. Kashmiri Hindus living in the towns of Anantnag and its adjoining areas were specifically targeted and attacked. Mufti Mohd. Sayeed, who at that time was JKPCC (I) Chief, allegedly played a key role in fomenting the trouble and used his influence in instigating the attacks on Kashmiri Hindus and their properties. It is believed that more than 500 houses belonging to our community were looted and ransacked; more than 50 houses were totally burnt; hundreds of shops were looted and set ablaze; and over 60 Hindu temples were damaged and desecrated. Such massive destruction created an environment of fear psychosis in the minds of innocent Kashmiri Hindus and resulted in the sixth major wave of exodus from our homeland to lands elsewhere.

That is how we, Kashmiri Hindus, have suffered “gradually” over centuries until the “sudden” onslaught on January 19, 1990, which resulted in our most recent and seventh exodus. That night, now etched in our memories as the darkest night of our lives and now observed as “Kashmiri Pandit Exodus Day” was the beginning of our most recent exodus. During the day, then Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah resigned from his post and sent the whole administration into a topsy-turvy. There was absolutely no law and order that night and like on a cue, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims came out on the streets demanding Aazadi and our eviction from our homes. Islamic terrorists used loud speakers installed over all the mosques to blare out their threats to our community. And the whole majority Muslim community stood silent watching our ethnic cleansing. We were given three choices and 24 hours to decide. Three choices of “Raliv, Galiv ya Chaliv” (Convert, Die or Escape). Our houses were marked for impending attacks. Under such circumstances, where there was no government to provide any security and majority community was after the blood of minority community, what should have we done? In order to safeguard and protect our honor, more importantly of our mothers and daughters, thousands of us escaped during that horrendous night. We got on to whatever mode of transportation we could find and started our journey to plains, hoping that it would be a temporary phenomenon. We were under the impression that it will be a 2-3 month phase, the dust will settle and we will be soon back in our homes. But sadly we were wrong. Absolutely wrong! It has been 23 years since and we are still refugees in our country. We are still homeless with no permanent address. Our one-time permanent homes have either been burnt down or illegally occupied by our old neighbors. Security situation in Kashmir is still such that we cannot return and live there with full social, religious, political and economic freedom. We are still fighting for our fundamental rights and this just fight will continue until we return to our homeland with our heads high, even if it takes centuries. We have taken a pledge “Satim Chu Patim” i.e., “Seventh is the last”. We are not going to let our future generations face any more exoduses. Seven were enough and we are here to stop this cyclical phenomenon of ethnic cleansing. We will fight on until we reclaim our homeland. No more “gradually and then suddenly”!

Last Updated on Monday, 26 March 2012 18:23