The atrocities on the Pandits in the Valley were publicised well. On many occasions, reports about such violence bordered on exaggeration.
The rise of militancy in Kashmir, along with increasing state repression, led to a sharp decline of communal harmony in the Valley. On many occasions, the Pandits became the target of attack by the militants since 1989-90.
The Hindu Pandits of Kashmir, though a minority group, were used to similar lifestyle as the Muslims in the Valley. Both spoke the same language, partook of similar kind of food and accepted the same syncretic culture. Kashmir actually embraced every new creed with open arms and enriched it with its own contributions, without damaging its earlier traits. The impact of Sufism infused the Kashmiri Muslims with liberal and secular attitude towards others. In the past, only economic rivalry had existed between the Hindus and Muslims, as we have seen earlier that a small minority group of Hindu Pandits would enjoy economic and administrative dominance in Kashmir.
In 1949-50, Sheikh Abdullah’s radical land reforms led to the redistribution of arable land, monopolised by a handful of Pandits, among the poor Muslims. His reforms also aimed at appointing Muslims in certain administrative posts. Such steps, however, did not affect the social harmony of the state, although such steps were criticised by the Hindu outfits like Praja Parishad. Even the Partition riots of 1946-47 in extensive areas of India, could not impair the communal harmony in Jammu and Kashmir, and this trend was applauded by Mahatma Gandhi himself.
Ramchandra Guha attributes the attack on Pandits to the phenomenon that “the Hizbul Mujahideen supplanted the JKLF” in the winter of 1989-90. Just because they were Hindus, they were alleged to be the agents of the State who were responsible for executing a time old oppressive policy against the Kashmiri Muslims. Pandits began to be killed and as a result others within the community felt increasingly insecure. “The Jagmohan regime witnessed the exodus of almost the entire small but vital Kashmiri Pandit community from the Valley”. About 1 lakh of the approximately 1 lakh 40 thousand strong Pandit community of the Valley moved to Jammu, Delhi and other places since the insurgency broke out in early 1990.
“The ostensible catalyst was the killing of several dozen persons belonging to this group by ‘militants’ between September 1989 and March 1990”. Killing and terrorising the Pandits in the Valley by the militants was obviously dastardly acts of violence which deserve to be condemned in unequivocal terms. If the Indian security forces were guilty of killing the innocent Muslims in the Valley, the militants also could not be absolved of the crime of killing innocent Pandits. But one thing must be emphasised that the atrocities on the Pandits in the Valley were heavily publicised and on many occasions the reports and narration on such atrocities and violence came on the threshold of exaggeration. The ruthless ferocity of the Indian security forces, however, did not receive much space in the national press. Atrocities of the security forces in the Valley were only depicted in the reports of the human rights organisations and civil liberties groups. Organised groups representing the Pandits, removed forcibly from the Valley by the militants, claimed that they were compelled to migrate from the Valley through “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide”.
Pro-azadi Muslim opinion in the Valley argued that “the migration was encouraged and even actively facilitated by Indian officials, particularly Governor Jagmohan, in a deliberate attempt to stigmatise the azadi movement as sectarian and fundamentalist”.
True that a number of high profile Pandits were assassinated in the Valley by the militants between September 1989 and March 1990, but the number of Muslim victims were three times that of the assassinated Pandits.
We reiterate that the killing of the Pandits was a deplorable act committed by the militants and the crime should never be minimised at any cost. But at the same time, remaining true to the responsibility of a historian, we are to discern the nature of publicity and propaganda of the exodus of the Pandits. Sumantra Bose in his book entitled, The Challenge in Kashmir, raised some pertinent questions in this regard
His well-thought-out conclusion is that “the available evidence reveals that these allegations are, largely though not entirely, a potpourri of fabrication and exaggeration”. How many Pandits resided in the Valley in 1989-90? The real figure is difficult to specify as several versions have presented varying numbers. Bose points out that according to the Government of India census of 1981, 1,24,078 Hindus lived in the Valley; most of them were Puandits but not all. Assuming a rate of natural increase of 2 per cent per annum, the approximate figure for 1990 is 1,40,000”.
T.N. Madan, in an article entitled, ‘Whither Indian Secularism,’ alleged that the fundamentalist and separatist forces of the Valley had killed more than 2,000 Hindus and injured many. Their properties had been “plundered and burnt”. Two Kashmiri Pandits, K.L. Kaul and M.K. Teng, in an article ‘Human Rights Violations of Kashmiri Hindus’, published in 1992, claimed that over 2,60,000 Pandits fled the Valley for saving their lives. Thousands of homes were pillaged and burnt, and women were the victims of gang rape. They further argued that such terrorist violence in the Valley owed much to “Pan-Islamic fundamentalism in Asia”. The authors also bantered the JKLF leadership for calling themselves “secular”.
An Indian news magazine reported that about 1,200 Pandits were assassinated, 1,600 houses were burnt and at least 50 temples were devastated by the militants. The same report claimed that more than 3,50,000 Hindu Pandits were forced to leave the Valley. When the demolition of Babri Masjid by some Hindu fundamentalist outfits took place on 6 December 1992, the incident drew universal condemnation. In response to such bitter criticism against the miscreants, L.K. Advani, President of the BJP, retorted: “None raised a voice when forty odd temples were desecrated in Kashmir. Why these double-standards”?
Bose in his attempt to expose the “blatant falsehoods” regarding killing and mass exodus of the Pundits from the Valley resorted to certain facts with a view to refute the allegations made by some authors and journalists. He strongly contends, “It is simply impossible for a community numbering fewer than 1,40,000 to generate 2,60,000 or 3,50,000 refugees from Islamic terror, especially since there is still a sizeable Pundit population (perhaps 20,000) living in Kashmir’s towns and villages … … ” Bose arrives at the definite conclusion, “The number of Pundits actually killed is the dozens, not thousands”.
All India Kashmiri Pandit Conference issued a press note on 15 March 1990, claiming that “around 65,000 Hindus (including Kashmiri Pundits) have fled the Valley since September 1989 and that in the past seven months 32 Kashmiri Pundits were killed by militants”. Even an RSS report claimed that about 600 Pundits were murdered and 36 temples were “sacrilege and desecrated”; the report, however, provided 60 specific cases of killings and assaults. An Indian news magazine, after going through a thorough investigation on the allegation of destruction of Hindu temples in the Valley, saw that 21 of 23 shrines were totally intact. The priests of the temples admitted that they had never been threatened.
The Pandit families, who did not flee the Valley, remained custodians of the temples. The report claimed that “they are encouraged by their Muslim neighbours to regularly offer prayers”. This happened to be the feature even in villages infested with militants.
It is necessary to draw the attention of the readers to the fact that there was always an appeal on behalf of the fighters for Azadi in the local newspapers, particularly in Urdu press, requesting the Kashmiri Pandits to return to their Valley. In such appeals, the Muslims were “warned against occupying, tampering with or selling of any movable or immovable property belonging to Kashmiri Pandits”. In the autumn of 1990 George Fernandes, then the Union Minster of Kashmir Affairs, went to the Valley and travelled extensively for investigating the allegations of burning and looting homes and temples. He later wrote in an article, “The property, houses, orchards owned by the Pandits have not been damaged in the last one year. The apples from these orchards have been plucked and money deposited. The houses are being looked after (by local Muslims) as they were earlier”.