Updated: Wed, 06 Apr 2022 05:00 PM IST
New Delhi | Aalok Sensharma: "If there is heaven on Earth, it's here, it's here, it's here," wrote Mughal Emperor Jehangir when he visited Kashmir in the 17th century, describing the beauty of the Valley and why it is rightfully known as the "paradise on Earth". However, this paradise turned into hell for the Kashmiri Pandits on January 19, 1990.
Kashmiri Pandits, also known as Kashmiri Brahmins, belong to the Pancha Gauda Brahmin group. Historical records suggest the Pandits have been living in Kashmir since the Mauryan period. Kashmir, due to its terrain, largely remained safe from invaders, and it was only in the 14th century when the first Muslim rule was established in the Valley.
Before the events leading up to January 1990, the situation in Kashmir was different. Life in the Valley was peaceful and normal, Hindus and Muslims were "interdependent" on each other for centuries. However, the situation slowly started taking turn for the worse with a section of society, backed by Pakistan-sponsored terror, getting inclined towards the so-called "Azadi".
Slogans of "Azadi" were not new in the Valley, but what happened next could never have been imagined by the Kashmir Pandit community as an angry mob came out of their houses gesturing wrathfully and shouting slogans like "Azadi" and "Rallive, Tsallive ya Gallive" (Convert, Flee or Die).
"These unruly crowds had come prepared as many of them were carrying firewood and with which they lit bonfires to keep their bodies warm. Frenzied mob yelled, performed death dances, shook fists, made ferocious gestures as some people were seen with portable loudspeakers playing anti-India acerbic," Vidya Bhushan Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit who now lives in Canada, tells Jagran English over an email conversation recounting the horrors of January 19, a day observed by displaced Kashmiri Pandits as the 'holocaust day' to mark the exodus of their community members from the Valley in 1990 due to threats and killings by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.
Describing the horrors of that fateful day, Dhar tells Jagran English that the Kashmiri Pandits were petrified, adding that the men "prepared the ladies and young women to consume poison" while they were "ready to set the house on fire using LPG cylinders" if push comes to shove.
"The ghosts of Kabayli raid of 1947 rose from their graves once again. The message for Kashmiri Pandits was as clear as it could be, Rallive (convert), Tsallive (leave the Kashmir Valley) or Gallive (die at our hands). Like terrified pigeons, they huddled up in their nests and kept vigil throughout the night. Not a single soul came out of the house," recounts Dhar.
"It was decided by one and all, it is dangerous to stay on, they all need to leave the Valley to save their honour and lives and thus the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus happened once again for the 7th time in less than 500 years."
"The following days and the week saw complete lawlessness, Kashmiri Hindus fled the Valley in thousands, pitched battles, processions of different kinds, a lot of rioters died in police firing what is called the 'Gaw Kadal Massacre' two days later, followed by a week-long curfew," he adds.
Sunita Ticku, another survivor of the exodus, also recounts that fateful day and says that the angry mob even dragged members of the Hindu community out of their homes, killing several of them. According to official data provided by the Union Home Ministry, 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed during the exodus in the Valley. However, unofficial records suggest that thousands of Pandits lost their lives.
"On January 19, 1990, my mom was home alone with my cousin and just one Hindu domestic help. All three of them had huddled in a small room with lights off. At exactly 10 pm, the deafening slogans got them shocked and terrified. Then the banging on the main door started with the crowds shouting and asking them to come out and join the rally," she tells Jagran English.
"At some places, they were able to drag Hindus out but since our main gate was high and strong, they didn’t dare enter. Or Maybe God’s blessing. Somehow that dark thundering night finished. My mom and cousin stayed out there only till my dad reached home from his posting place and then they left after 2-3 days. But a lot of folks were so scared since they had been dragged out or daughters had been harassed that they left the very next day," she recounts.
How was life in Kashmir before January 19, 1990?
Both Dhar and Ticku agree that life in Kashmir was peaceful.
Dhar says that Kashmir before January 19, 1990 was peaceful for everyone irrespective of caste, creed, faith, or status. Noting that there were no slums of shanties in the Valley, he says that there was no one in Kashmir "who would be called poor as everyone had a roof over their heads and food to eat."
"Crime was unheard of and in my 17 years of life I spent in the valley till I left for post-secondary studies outside the state, there was just one murder and that too of a mistaken identity," he says, adding that Hindus and Muslims lived side-by-side and were "interdependent" on each other.
Both Dhar and Ticku now live outside of India. While Dhar – who is also an activist, writer, and a poet - is as an IT consultant with the Panasonic Canada Inc. in Toronto, Ticku is a homemaker based out of Houston, USA. She is also a passionate poet, who writes in English, Hindustani and Kashmiri.
When asked about how he reached Canada, Dhar says he reached Delhi on March 14, 1990, with just Rs 350 in his pocket. Dhar, who had completed his engineering in 1989, used to work with JK Telecom in Rangreth, Srinagar and shifted to a refugee camp in Delhi's Amar Colony.
Later, Dhar worked as a Sales and Service executive with US's Data General's affiliate in New Delhi for three years and then found a job in Saudi Arabia. After spending 13 years in Saudi Arabia, he moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before moving to Canada in 2008.
Similarly, Ticku says that she reached the US after her marriage. She recounts that life in Kashmir became "extremely tough" after January 19, 1990, adding that the Kashmiri Pandits were "reduced from princes to paupers".
She says that her family shifted to Jammu, where they found a place to live at her father's cousin's house. Ticku's brother started a business in Kashmir, but her family was not able to reap the benefits after they were "thrown out" of their homes.
"...Within a month or so, we found my Bhabhi was pregnant. A huge concern for all of us. We ourselves were homeless and how were we going to sustain this new life that was gracing our family in just a few months. My dad was forced to go back to Kashmir and resume his job; he had to sustain a big family now. I went to Delhi, took some computer courses, and started working there as an EDP Analyst. Meanwhile, my brother started his business in Jammu from the scratch again," she recalls.
"I sold my earrings and pendant so that I could buy a small gold chain for my newborn nephew. So, while the struggle was going on, I got married and my husband was already in the US doing his Master's. I didn’t come to the US on my own but as a spouse of skilled labour."
"But I'm so proud of my community because not a single Kashmiri Hindu has sought asylum here in US. So many have come here on their own merit and qualification. Education has always been the one thing that Kashmiri Hindus could never compromise with. This is one of the reasons that within a span of just three decades, the community has risen like a phoenix from the ashes," she adds.
However, both Ticku and Dhar say that they want to return to Kashmir - the land of their ancestors, the land of sages, the land of ‘moksha’. However, Dhar is fearful of the consequences of returning to the Valley.
"I can be a sitting duck for them and get killed this time," he says.
Did the abrogation of Article 370 do any good for Kashmiri Pandits?
Dhar says that the abrogation of Article 370 "has done too many goods".
"Abrogation of article 370 actually meant the completion of the task taken by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, thus paving the way of actual merger of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian domain. It raised the hopes of Kashmiri Hindus that it is easier to return to their lost homes than when the state had special status," he argues.
Ticku says that unless the demographics of Kashmir change, slogans that drove the Pandits out will always be chanted.
"I believe it is up to the people of Bharatvarsh to buckle up and ride down there and make the holy land of Vitasta again a cosmopolitan land where everybody can thrive, their religious beliefs notwithstanding. Once again, the people of India have to bring back the glory of Kashmir and make it famous again for what it really is - 'the Heaven on Earth'," she concluded.
(Disclaimer: The above article has been written by Aalok Sensharma, Senior Sub-Editor, Jagran English. The views expressed in the article are of the people mentioned in the article and not of the organisation.)