34th anniversary of ‘19 January’

Can we spare a thought please?

Many thoughts have been troubling my mind as our community observed this year the 34th anniversary of ‘19 January’- the Kashmiri Pandit Holocaust Day. I have not been lucky enough to visit the valley ever since I was finally forced into exile in 2nd week of March 1990.

Earlier, on 23rd of December 1989, our family, including my revered mother, myself, my wife and six month old son had, as a precaution, shifted to Jammu to join our revered father there as the thunder of gun and evocative Jihadi slogans like, “yahan kya chalega, nizaami mustafaa” (What will prevail here?: Only the rule of “Mustaffa”!); “ralliv, galliv, ya tsalliv,”( join / convert, perish or run away) etc., etc., had already become a normal routine. Popular community voice Tikka
Lal Taploo, living in our adjacent Mohalla, Habbakadal, in Srinagar city had been silenced on 13 September 1989. A Pandit lady Sheela Tikoo was gunned down on 1st November, followed immediately by killing of Justice Nila Kanth Ganjoo outside the J&K High Court in the city on 4 November 1989.

Then Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohd. Sayed’s medico daughter Rubaiya was kidnapped by JKLF, spearheaded by Yasin Malik, on 8 December 1989 in Srinagar while she was on her way back to her home in Nowgam in an auto rickshaw. Rubaiya was an intern then in Valley’s main maternity hospital, named after well-known 14th century Shaivite saint-poetess of Kashmir-Lal Ded. Then Indian government, headed by V.P. Singh, succumbed to JKLF’s tactics and released five hard core Islamic Jihadis from jail in the bargain to get HM’s daughter released. The unpardonable act is rightly believed to be a “watershed moment” in the recent history of Islamic terrorism in Kashmir. The terrorists, supported by almost the entire Kashmiri Muslim society, celebrated the ‘victory’ brandishing, in full public view, AK-47s which they, otherwise, used to carry underneath their Pherans-being a winter month. Overnight, the Islamic terrorists became public heroes.

While our family was in Jammu, another popular member of Kashmiri Pandit community, advocate Prem Nath Bhat was gunned down in his hometown in district Anantnag on 27 December (1989). The situation in the valley kept on deteriorating by every hour. Administration was just not visible. Islamists virtually ruled the roost. However, I ventured to return back to valley (alone) in the first week of January 1990. But couldn’t hold for longer as the frightful night of ‘19 January’ happened when the entire valley was engulfed in the frenzy of “Jihad” – Islamic Jihad. Local mosques, all across, bellowed out slogans like: “aye kafiro, aye zaalimo, yeh mulak hamara chhod do”; (O kafirs / O cruel ones, just leave our country); “yahan kyaa banega-pakistan; battav rotsc, maggar bat’aneav saan (we will turn this country into Pakistan- without Pandit men, but with Pandit women included)”etc., loudly and repeatedly throughout the night.

Warning messages had earlier been pasted outside some select Pandit houses. Many Kashmiri Pandits were served such messages individually, asking them to leave the valley immediately or join the ‘movement’ for aazadi – which the Islamic terrorists, backed actively by Pakistan, were convinced was round the corner. A community of nearly four lakhs (then) suffered Genocide and was forced into exile – lock stock and barrel.

The society was ordered to adjust their watches to Pakistani time. In defiance, I chose not to wear, though in imperceptible manner, my wrist watch ever since. However, the wrist watch, preserved by me, continues to act as a grim reminder of those dreadful times responsible for uprooting an entire civilisation of over five thousand years from its roots.

Many rumours, including the one that the drinking water supplied to Srinagar city had been poisoned, flew across, adding further grimness to the then prevailing scary atmosphere while Jagmohan took over the State administration, as Governor the second time, on 20 January 1990. CM of the erstwhile state, Farooq Abdullah had abdicated his constitutional obligations on 18 January 1990 and subsequently ran away to London.

Satish Tikoo, a resident of Karfali Mohalla, was shot dead at point blank range by his “close friend”, just outside his home after being called out, at a time when I was trying to enquire about the well-being of a close relation living nearby as curfew had been relaxed for a few hours on the morning of 2 February 1990. The “close friend”, Bitta Karate had publicly taken pride in such a barbaric act, later in a video interview with senior journalist Manoj Raghuvanshi in 1991, besides
admitting, without any remorse, of having killed over a dozen more selectively from the Pandit community. Much more savagery, including many bomb blasts, rape, loot and arson took place in between and subsequently – that made Maa Sharada’s desh bereft of Her ardent students / devotees – the Kashmiri Pandits. It may be recalled that more than three dozens of Kashmiri Hindus were brutally killed just between September 1989 and March 1990.

As the sudden influx of the uprooted community continued in Jammu following such terrorist activities / happenings, finding a suitable accommodation turned into a nightmare task. Five of our immediate families, comprising of nearly twenty members, were forced to spend almost a year in a three room official quarter (with a common kitchen) allotted to my late father-who had managed, with much difficulty and persuasion, to get his transfer orders redirected to
Jammu in place of Srinagar – where my father was longing to join upon being transferred, as per his choice, from his earlier long spell of outside (J&K) postings in mid-1989.

Nearly one thousand and five hundred Kashmiri Pandits / Hindus have been brutally killed by the Islamic Jihadis till date, either individually or in mass massacres like at Sangrampora, Wandhama and Nadimarg that have happened throughout the valley and in some parts of Jammu region, including at Doda, Rajouri and Udhampur of the state during the last nearly three and a half decades. But, none of the perpetrators and their masterminds have been brought to justice till date.

Now that the situation in the valley is seemingly changing at a “rapid pace” post rescinding / neutralising of Article-35A and 370, naturally the yearning to return to my roots is only increasing day by day. However, the home and hearth where I spent my entire youthful life is all gone. Therefore, the moot question troubling the mind is – return; but where?

I am not sure, how “one place” or “three-place” settlement as is being floated / propagated by some of our own brethren, that too under a deeply radicalised society in Kashmir, is helpful for our exiled community in the long run. As is well known, Kashmiri Pandits have suffered socio-cultural-literary-political GENOCIDE, time and again, and have been forced into exile repeatedly during last over seven centuries (excluding the Sikh and Dogra rule spanning 128 years; 1819 -1947) ever since the advent of Islam in the valley in 1339 AD.

Today, J&K as an UT may be governed directly by hard-core nationalist government lead by BJP; but, is it hard to imagine what will happen when the status of a ‘State’ is restored to Muslim majority J&K, and elections held as is committed by the central government and recently endorsed by the Supreme Court of India on 11 December 2023 while validating the Parliament of India’s resolution of August 5 / 6, 2019 ?

While making a historical correction of rescinding/ neutralising Article 35-A / 370, applicable to erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and its’ maiden reorganization (leading to separating and conversion of Ladakh into an Union Territory without a legislature) on August 5 / 6, 2019, I believe, the Indian government simultaneously made a historical blunder as well, by making an
immature commitment, that too on the floor of Indian Parliament, of restoring Statehood to the then newly created UT of J&K “soon”,

Indian government may continue to claim that Islamic terrorism is in its “last phase” in the UT of J&K; but can the community leadership be expected to be so naive as to discount the true mind-set / psyche, especially that of Jihadi elements, in the valley whose heart only beats for Islamism / Pakistan and who have neither any respect nor any room for the Hindus – the ‘kafirs’/ infidels in their scheme of things.

An octogenarian lady in our extended family had once recounted her childhood experiences about the conditions of KP community prevailing then in Kashmir valley (around early fifties of last century) in a function in NOIDA. The lady distinctly remembered of having often heard a detesting slogan: “bat’a-kati, bat’a-kati, kalli-mai Mohammad para’naavath; hati-kui yonni tsata’naavath” (O Pandit boy, I will make you to recite kallima of the Prophet, besides make you to tear away your (sacred) jenneov worn around the throat…”. The humble lady has since passed away in exile in Jammu nearly a decade back.

The graph of overall physical violence may have seen a decline in the UT in recent years, thanks to some tough measures taken by LG’s administration, guided by Modi government at the centre; however, the graph of radicalised minds has appreciably increased. Terror infrastructure across the border remains “intact – evident from the increased terror activities in recent months in area of Rajouri-Poonch and Pir Panjal”- a bitter fact confirmed recently by Gen. Manoj Pandey, the Chief of Army Staff (TOI; 15 January 2024).

The stress under which some of our younger generation (forced to take up employment under PM’s Employment package) are serving currently in Kashmir valley is too well known; therefore difficult to ignore.

Kashmiri Pandits have no other option than to continue their struggle in exile for getting the issue of its Genocide recognised and redressed by GOI. The community needs not to budge, even an inch, from its just demand of creation of a separate homeland within the valley, with an UT status for the entire peace loving community and thereby enabling them to nourish afresh their ancestral roots, on their own terms and conditions, as has been envisioned way back in December 1991 while adopting the famous Margdarhan resolution in Jammu.

As the community just observed the 34th anniversary of ‘19 January’, this writer is fully conscious of the fact that Kashmiri Pandits’ moorings are getting weaker day by day. The community’s dispersal is ever increasing and the families are getting further disintegrated.

But, let us not forget that it took Lord Ram over five centuries (including seven decades in Independent Bharat) to be able to respectfully ‘return’ to His own rightful birthplace in Ayodhya. Why should the exiled Pandit community lose their hope, lower the guard and scale down on their legitimate claim and demand?

When it comes to Shree Ram, one is reminded of the fact that Kashmiri Pandit community has a direct link with the Lord that dates back to the time when Maata Raghnyaa (then known as Shyama) chose Satidesh as Her new abode leaving Ravana’s palace in Sri Lanka. Hanuman Ji became the carrier as directed by Shree Ram – Himself an ardent devotee of the goddess. While in Sri Lanka, Maata, as Isht-Devi of Ravana, had assumed the form of Kaali and was offered non-veg bhog. As Ravana’s misdeeds kept on increasing, the goddess become fed-up with
Her devotee and decided to leave Lanka.

Now seated in Her sacred abode at Tulmul in Kashmir, Maata as we all know, is known as “Kheer Bhawani” (a name popularised by Dogras – who during Maharaja Pratap Singh’s time constructed a temple for the great goddess in 1912 as we see it today. One can also see a small temple dedicated to Hanuman Ji just at the entrance within the sacred premises. However, we Kashmiri Pandits know the goddess by Raghnyaa Bhagwati being the Isht-Devi of most of our

Meanwhile, more immediate concerns are facing the genocide victim Pandit community – now in their 35th year of forced exile. Among them, the serious issue of late marriages and ever decreasing birth rate is something which can only be addressed by the community itself.

Can we spare a thought please ? Yes, We Can !

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