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The Survival And The Continued Struggle Of The Kashmiri Pandits: A Human Rights Perspective

Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."[1]

It is clear that the community of Pandits in Kashmir, regardless of their Hindu faith, has a place in society in Kashmir. Kashmir's Muslims and Pandits have coexisted for centuries as brothers, and they continue to do so today.

Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits fled their motherland and migrated to other areas of India in the early 1990s as a result of the state's violence. The majority of the Pandit community living in the valley left the valley as the militant violence overwhelmed the state of J&K.In the beginning, they lived in filthy refugee camps, but by 1997, the majority had gone on to either suitable homes in Jammu or other Indian cities. The refugee camps' living conditions were deplorable.

The purpose of this article is to elucidate what happened to Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, as well as to examine the consequences of mass migration and their impact on diverse aspects of life. Let us move further and answer various questions like- Who are Kashmiri Pandits? What were the exact reasons for the exodus? Were any human rights violated? Is there hope for returning them to their motherland?

Who are Kashmiri Pandits?

The Kashmiri Pandits (also known as Kashmiri Brahmins) are a group of Kashmiri Hindus and a part of the larger Saraswat Brahmin community of India. They belong to the Pancha Gauda Brahmin group from the Kashmir Valley, a mountainous region located within the Indian-administered union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits originally lived in the Kashmir Valley before Muslim influence entered the region, following which large numbers converted to Islam. They are the only remaining Hindu community native to Kashmir.[2]

Voice of terror: A conspiracy to remove Kashmiri Pandits

Tracing back to 1975, Sheikh Abdullah agreed to decisions made by the federal government in Jammu and Kashmir to merge the state into India under the 1975 Indira–Sheikh Accord. Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir, the People's League in Indian Jammu and Kashmir, and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) rooted in Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir were among those who denounced the accords.

In such an era, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) intended to spread Wahhabism in place of Sufism in order to foster religious unity in the country. In the 1980s, Sheikh Abdullah's government began Islamizing Kashmir by changing the names of around 2,500 villages from their native names to new Islamic ones. Sheikh also began giving communal lectures at mosques, which were evocative of his aggressive pro-independence speeches from the 1930s. He also referred the Kashmiri Hindus as mukhbir or Indian military informants.

In Kashmir, the formation of the Muslim United Front, the forefront of activists Jamaat-e-Islami, aroused fear in Kashmiri Pandits. During the state assembly election, they promoted their notion by mentioning the Islamic resistance movement and Pakistan's ISI's active involvement in it. The Pakistani ISI funds a terrorist organisation known as Hizbul-e-Mujahideen (HM).

JKLF was a supporter of ISI, and they used to spread a lot of misinformation among the Kashmiri Muslim people in order to get support from them and aid in the exodus of Pandits from the valley. They used to foster anti-Hindu attitudes in their training camps by persuading the masses to cleanse the valley of these Hindus, no matter how minuscule their numbers were. In the valley, there should be no Hindus. This was the beginning of displacing Kashmiri Pandits, and then came the night of exodus.

19th January, 1990: The night of the exodus

The date was January 19, 1990, and the days were chilly and the nights were unpleasant. Around 9 p.m., eardrums were almost pierced by loud and thunderous Islamic and pro-Pakistan slogans raised collectively by a multitude of humans and relayed through powerful loudspeakers. These slogans were not unfamiliar to Kashmiri Pandits. 3

The sights on the city's streets, squares, and open areas had to be seen to be believed. Thousands of Muslims, young and old, children and women, descended into the streets, gesticulating vehemently and chanting slogans in support of Islam, Pakistan, and the insurgency The Pandits found that overnight their neighbours had changed color. Pandit and Muslim neighbours known to one another for generations began to behave like strangers.

Suspicions loomed largely and in a few days the entire atmosphere changed and the Pandit came to be called 'the other'. The government was knocked out by a single night of defiance and revolt and the next morning not a single policeman was visible anywhere in the city. They had withdrawn to their barracks or hid in their homes as the administrative machinery had collapsed and law and order crumbled. From the next morning viz. 20th of January, 1990 it was the rule of the mosque, the priest and the Islamists. Loudspeakers fixed to mosque tops, blurred uninterruptedly cautioning the Pandits to leave the Valley. [3]

Pandits had no choice but to flee their old homelands, including their homes, hearths, properties, jobs, businesses, farms, orchards, temples, shrines, cremation grounds, Gods, deities, and ancestors' ashes. They enlisted whatever mode of transportation they could, packed a bag full of clothes, and left the Valley for unknown and uncharted territory. They left in small groups for fear of being apprehended and slaughtered.

Jagmohan replied that if the Pandits decide to leave the valley, then they will stay in the refugee camps that were set up by the Indian government in Jammu because the political will of the Indian government was not in favour of intervening in the incident. "However, if they decide to stay back, then he would not be able to guarantee the safety of the Pandits in the valley", which clearly illustrates that there is no one in the valley who can wipe Kashmiri Pandits' tears. [4]

Human rights violation of Kashmiri Pandits

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life.[5]

Human rights are being violated at every moment in the Indian administered portion of Kashmir. Whether it is murder, abductions, torture, rape, or sexual abuse, it is repression and intimidation throughout their day to day lives, they suffer the oppression of freedom of speech. Militant action undertaken by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front has resulted in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, who make up around 3% of the valley's population.

Human rights activists have accused security forces in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir of employing rape and molestation as a punishment and intimidating technique against civilians suspected of sympathising with militants by armed personnel representing India's central government. Armed soldiers, including the Army, the Central Reserve Police Force, and the Border Security Force, are believed to number between 3 and 5 lakh. According to Liaquat Ali Khan, an academic writer, these abuses in Kashmir are not sanctioned by the government but are easier to carry out because to the law's authority to isolate and search villages and regions.

Terrorist organisations such as the JKLF and the Hizbul Mujahideen, as well as about a hundred other groups, have raped and murdered Hindu people. Over three lakh Hindus have been compelled to flee the Kashmir valley, resulting in internal displacement to refugee camps in Jammu and New Delhi. Muslim citizens who are perceived to be political opponents of terrorists or who are suspected of being informers have also been raped or killed. Pandits in Kashmir were offered three options: escape, convert, or death. No human rights activists questioned the biggest ethnic cleansing of Hindus in independent India's history. Nobody objected when it was made clear that they wanted Hindu women but not Hindu men.

Now the question arises, where were the human rights? Do Kashmiri Pandits don't deserve that too being a citizen of a country? Nobody came to the rescue, and no one offered assistance. Where were the human rights advocates when men had no choice but to slaughter their wives and daughters in order to shield them from the evil? Terrorism is the worst foe of human rights, and the evacuation of Kashmiri Pandits was nothing more than an act of terrorism. Human rights cannot and should not take precedence over human life.

Abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the continued struggle?

After the repealment of Article 370 of our Indian Constitution, this article was considered to give some special powers to Jammu and Kashmir. It was meant that after abolishing this, it will restore all human rights of Kashmiri Pandits. Many of the things that were illegal were permissible before Article 370 was repealed, and J&K was freed as a result. Sex trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of child marriage are now prohibited. Women and children in Kashmir now have the same rights as the rest of India.

The desire to return to the Valley grew stronger with time, but it may have been more of a concept than an eagerness. Successive governments have stated that they will assist in this process, but the reality in Kashmir has ensured that this is simply a wish. In the last two decades, efforts to relocate Pandits in the Valley have resulted in ghetto-like constructions being built in various sections of Kashmir, surrounded by heavily guarded, implying that normal life is impossible.

The community has come to the realisation that the Valley is no longer the same as it was in 1990. In several cases, their properties were vandalised right away. Abrogation of article 370 and Section 35A was immense for Kashmiri Pandits , they were among the first to applaud, seeing it as long overdue "revenge" for what had occurred to them three decades before. Nonetheless, their recovery appears to be as tough as it has always been.

Conclusion and way ahead
This is a call to action for the thousands of young people who have scattered in search of a better life. "Vasudev Kutumbakam," which means "This planet is a family, and we are all members of it," for generations. Unfortunately, we have all turned to a zero-tolerance approach to its profound lesson, resulting in several misfortunes. Human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir are one of these calamities.

This is an appeal because there is a fear among us that the community is crumbling at its current rate, and we need to protect them before they become lost. It is right of passage to speak up for Kashmiri pandits, to help them reclaim their lost status and return to the valley, to their homeland, with honour and dignity, for they deserve it.

The higher authorities should not be used for selfish enrichment. They should strive to negotiate with the separatists, putting their selfishness aside. Few Muslim separatist political leaders are actively working to reintegrate their fellow Kashmiris but that won't suffice until the peacemakers make every effort to integrate the separatists into the mainstream not only to bring Kashmiri Pandits back but also the lost Indian civilisation who contributed to language, linguistics and grammar, philosophy and religion, aesthetics and historiography, astrology and mathematics.

End-Notes:
  1. Quote taken from- https://unfoundation.org/blog/post/10-inspiring-eleanor-roosevelt-quotes/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CWhere%2C%20after%20all%2C%20do,or%20office%20where%20he%20works.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmiri_Pandits#:~:text=The%20Kashmiri%20Pandits%20(also%20known,territory%20of%20Jammu%20and%20Kashmir.
  3. Page no. 6-7, European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Amsterdam, July 2017.- https://www.efsas.org/EFSAS-The%20Exodus%20of%20Kashmiri%20Pandits.pdf
  4. https://www.thequint.com/news/india/exodus-of-kashmiri-pandits-january-1990-refugees-in-their-country-valley-pain-separation-trauma-jammu-delhi-camps
  5. Definition taken from-
    https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights/what-are-human-rights
Sources referred:
  1. https://www.thequint.com/news/india/exodus-of-kashmiri-pandits-january-1990-refugees-in-their-country-valley-pain-separation-trauma-jammu-delhi-camps
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmiri_Pandits
  3. https://thewire.in/rights/kashmiri-pandits-exile
  4. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/exodus-of-kashmiri-pandits-from-valley-6232410/
  5. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/8/15/kashmirs-struggle-did-not-start-in-1947-and-will-not-end-today
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_abuses_in_Jammu_and_Kashmir
  7. https://www.njlrii.com/2020/11/the-survival-and-continued-struggle-of.html
  8. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/where-were-human-rights-when-hindus-fled-kashmir/1663195
  9. https://www.ikashmir.net/appeal/index.html
  10. https://ijmr.net.in/current/3UeVOVi3U7eNqzO.pdf
  11. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/111699/ct_2009_4.pdf
  12. https://www.efsas.org/EFSAS-The%20Exodus%20of%20Kashmiri%20Pandits.pdf

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