I grew up in Kashmir, we were there from around 1983 to 1990. I spent my entire childhood in Kashmir, and if childhood is the best part of one’s life, than assuredly I grew up in the Heaven on Earth, Kashmir. Often people question what happened to Kashmiri Pandits specifically, how and why they were targetted. There are no simple answers to this. What happened to Kashmiri Pandits was extremely wrong and nothing in the world can justify it, but what happened to them is also very complicated and not simple as many think and believe. The following is my recollection of what happened in 1989-1990 in Kashmir, with some filling in by my parents. I was there when it happened and am aware of many other things most people are not.
Around 1988, My father posted in Governor House near Chashm-e-Shahi as in-charge of security and we used to visit him often as he was permanently posted in Governor House and we lived on the far end of the city in BSF Campus at Panthachowk. I remember going to Chashme-Shahi to chat up with foreigners and show off my English skills. We had been in Kashmir since I was in KG but in winter of 1989-90 I was in 6th class, and we went to give our half yearly exams in peace in December 1989 (exams used to finish by later part of December, followed by two months of Winter holidays (summer holidays used to be of two weeks). Till December of 1989 we could go anywhere without security in BSF vehicles, no problem, our school bus didn’t even have an escort, and I used to go to the local market in Panthachowk alone, and everybody knew that I am child of an officer in BSF. I remember playing with local kids just outside the back gate of campus that opened to a big playing field, often sipahis from BSF (we called them Bhaiyya) used to join the game as well.
The biggest thing to happen in December 1989 was kidnapping of Rubiya Saeed, I still remember watching it on news while having breakfast and running down to kitchen to tell my mother the explosive news. During those days My father was in Baramulla where his battalion was based and we were going to Baramulla after the exams. I remember that it was after Rubiya Saeed that an armed guard came on our school bus, before that a BSF bus, full of children of soldiers could ply through 9kms of Srinagar without any security. And what could one armed guard do even if two or three insurgents were to attack? Hardly anything, he was there for only one thing, prevent kidnapping by a small gang of insurgents (because they were small and did not have popular support), compare this to when we went in our school bus after winter vacation, we had two escort vehicles full of armed soldiers.
To imagine how peaceful Kashmir was, you really have to look at the way Rubiya Saeed was kidnapped. She was daughter of Home Minister of India (think of Raj Nath Singh’s daughter). She was pursuing her MBBS and was an intern in a Govt hospital in Srinagar. As usual she was traveling alone in the local mini buses that used to ply in Srinagar, can you imagine children of Rajnath Singh traveling in local DTC buses everyday? The idea is to tell that till December 1989 there was hardly any violence in public, it was a peaceful place. There was militancy but it was not a mass movement certainly not something that one would be scared of, that winter vacation changed how we travelled in Kashmir. After Rubiya Saeed incidence some blamed the then Governor Gen. KV Krishna Rao who was a moderate and recognised roots and extent of issues. He was blamed for being soft and the then Indian Government wanted to a hard man. Jagmohan was their choice. Jagmohan was a Sanghi and on 19th Jan he was sworn in Governor and since Farooq Abdullah had resigned it was Governor’s rule.
Jagmohan denies it but the common belief is that he ordered a huge search operation in Srinagar on 19 Jan 1989 and if security forces found any guns in any house they would arrest people and have them taken as terrorist, hundreds of Kashmiris were arrested, because there was an underground insurgency and not a mass movement this was akin to going to UP and checking hundreds of houses, and any house that has a gun being charged with terrorism charges. Not just this, there were widespread allegations of rape, theft and torture by the security forces during these searches.
It is also the night where the grapevine was that Jagmohan had told Kashmiri Pandits to leave Kashmir as he would not provide them any security. It is openly alleged that he told Kashmiri Pandits that Muslims will come after them after what was to happen to Muslims.
19th Morning a Sanghi with reputation of being hawkish is appointed governor. On the night of 19th searches happen, with Muslims alleging rape, torture, beating and general injustice. The grapevine on the same night is the Governor had asked Kashmiri Pandits to leave the Valley. And Pandits left valley on 19th and 20th January in hoardes and on 21st January Gawkadal massacare happens, that transformers a low level independence movement into a full blown militancy. To me this looks like a far too improbable to be coincidence. And what I have described is also far too simplistic view of events that were happening during those days.
There were mistakes made by Government, Jagmohan, Farooq Abduallah, Insurgents, Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits as well…. JKLF the foremost militant organisation in Kashmir during those days denied killing of Pandits because of their religion but there were insurgents who blamed Pandits of being mukhbirs of security forces that needed to be routed out if battle of independence was to be won. Killings of Pandits did not happen before 19th January, i.e. appointment of Jagmohan. They happened exclusively after Gawkadal Massacre, militants swore that they were killing mukhbirs. And most unfortunately for most Kashmiri Pandits, they fitted the bill. Targeted by militants and they were also refused protection by government.
Jagmohan refused the state machinery to come to rescue of Pandits, in fact it was alleged that the government machinery was instructed not to act. Jagmohan allowed the Pandits to be trapped and killed by militants …. Jagmohan not only refused to protect Pandits and allowed them to be killed by militants but also encouraged Pandits to leave Kashmir to the extent of forcing Pandits to leave. Pandits leaders were forced to leave Kashmir, for example H.N. Jatto the Hindu Vice President of a reconciliation committee of Hindus and Muslims that were asking Pandits not to leave. Jagmohan sent a DSP to Jatto with an air ticket for Jammu, a jeep to take him to the airport, an offer of accommodation at Jammu and an advice to leave Kashmir immediately.
As described there were many Pandits who went because they were genuinely scared, many were forced to leave by Jagmohan and many left because Government refused to provide them security. However, today the most important thing is that everyone has realised their mistakes. That killings and sending off of Pandits was a huge mistake and great injustice. Contrary to what media says there is no life threatening scenario for Pandits for just being Pandits… although I won’t recommend BJP supporters and Pseudo Sympathisers like Anupam Kher to go and live in Kashmir.
Situation in Kashmir today is much better with Kashmiri Pandit Organisations coming out and telling the truth that Pandits are not being killed for being Pandits. Here is one such example. Jammu and Kashmir is a complicated problem that can only be solved by talks and not by Israeli type heavy handed approach that has ot brought peace to Israel anyway.