KP Exodus – A Genocide Passed Over

Yoginder Kandhari
India’s super-cop, KPS Gill, aptly summed up the plight of Kashmiri Pandit (KP) community in his observation that ‘The Pandits have become the targets and victims of one of the most successful, though little known, campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the world. Progroms of a far lesser magnitude in other parts of the world have attracted international attention, censure and action in support of the victim communities, but this is an insidious campaign that has passed virtually unnoticed and on which the world remains silent’. Indian state and its national political parties of all hues are far more culpable for this callous indifference
Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), defines Genocide as ” ……acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; …”. Article V of the Convention mandates Indian state to prevent and punish acts of genocide as does Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Unfortunately, neither ‘Crimes against Humanity’ nor ‘genocide’ is part of our domestic law of crime.
Indeed, the present plight of the KPs is a direct result of genocide unleashed upon them since 1998/90. Their exodus from Kashmir Valley has left an indelible scar on the post-independence history of our country as it has happened in the Secular Democratic Republic of India. Successive governments, including the present one, have shied away from recognising KPs’ ethnic cleansing in its diabolical reality. Instead, governments, both in the state and at the centre, have played it down as ‘migration’ of a section of the populace, as if in search of greener pastures. That Advani set out on a Rath Yatra, on 25th September 1990, not to protest then union government’s callous indifference towards KPs’ bloody expulsion but to build a voter base for his fledging party, exposes the dark underbelly of India’s political culture.
Not digging deep into the medieval history of the Valley when conversion to Islam with the might of the sword was commonplace triggering many a KP exodus, suffice to say that Sikandar Butshikan treated KPs exactly in the manner as they were treated by democratic regimes post-accession of J&K to the Indian union. While mayhem in the aftermath of 31st July 1931 incident in the Valley was just a curtain raiser to what was to befall the community, Sheikh Abdullah, after grabbing political power, unleashed a silent campaign to economically disempower KPs. With landholdings taken away and government services and contracts denied to them, insecurity and uncertainty were deliberately built about their future in the Valley, compelling many KPs to leave their land of birth for good.
Exodus in the 1990s- The Genocide.
“They (KPs) have to realise that nobody is going to come with a begging bowl and say come and stay with us. They have to make the move. Don’t wait till the guns stop firing. … Who are you waiting for? You think Farooq Abdullah will come, hold your hand and take you there.’. This contemptuous invitation was extended to the KPs by none other than the mercurial Farooq Abdullah, who, in 1990, abdicated his constitutional and moral responsibility as a CM, abandoning them to the mercy of the murderers. Farooq’s antics don’t surprise KPs. They have had enough of these during successive NC regimes, be those in forms of social exclusion and political marginalization or of the economic squeeze. KPs singularly hold him responsible for the mayhem that was unleashed on them in the early 1990s.
During the period between 15th March 1989 and 31st October 1990, about 514 KPs were brutally done to death by Jihadis prompting a wave of fear among them which resulted in their running to safety in the plains. Every day then, scores of families would pick up whatever they could and huddle into whatever transport they managed to cross Pirpanjal to safety. Migration to the plains of India hurled rural folks, who barely had moved out of their Tehsils/Districts, into proverbial furnaces. With banking system paralysed throughout the Valley, most KPs reached Jammu with barely a day’s sustenance in hand. It was a common sight to find KPs sleeping under open skies in Jammu with nothing to cover their bodies with. Finally, KPs lost all hope when New Delhi, seeking the release of Rubaiya Sayeed, was brought down on its knees by the insurgents. New Delhi had no idea what to do.
Ethnic cleansing was a systemic component of the insurgents’ strategy. In a matter of three months, between January and March 1990, about 1,60,000 KPs fled the Valley to Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country. Eventually, about 4,50,000 of them, over 99% of their population in the Valley, became part of this statistic. Not only did Indian state fail to protect them in their homes, successive governments too have provided no more than a lip-service. Exiled community seldom features in the discourse on Kashmir.
Institutional Indifference.
Perpetuation of genocide is not a lone wolf crime. It is the work, wittingly or unwittingly, of many hands.
Political Executive. Governments, both in the state and in New Delhi, have shown cruel indifference to the human rights of the KPs. The concept of Insanyat (humanity) in their context is often given a go-by. Had it not been for some voluntary organisations and untiring efforts its youth, the community would have starved to death with a miserly monthly sustenance allowance of Rs. 500/= per family.
Without exonerating them of serious omissions, UPA dispensations at the centre made some amends by rescuing these ‘refugees’ from sub-human shanties to tenements in Jagati township and by setting aside a quota in government jobs. Modi and his party, other than playing politics over KPs’ plight, has done absolutely nothing, not even filling the vacancies sanctioned way back in 2009. Even BJP’s rehabilitation plan was shelved at the altar of party’s political greed.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). A three-member NHRC Bench, headed by Justice M. N. Vetkatachaliah, evaluating conditions leading to the exodus of KPs from the Valley against the ‘stern definition of the Genocide Convention’, recorded ‘the commission is constrained to observe that while acts akin to genocide have occurred in respect of the Kashmiri Pandits…, the crimes against Kashmiri Pandits, grave as they undoubtedly are, fall short of the ‘ultimate’ crime – genocide’. Sadly, the Commission, as usual, delivered a ‘politically correct’ verdict ignoring the reality – KPs were butchered because they were Hindus. NHRC verdict was a clear case of politics overriding KPs’ human rights.
If killings of about a thousand KPs, wholesale burning down of their dwellings and their places of worship do not constitute cleansing of an ethnoreligious group, an essential condition for Genocide, what else was it?
Judiciary. Last year, in a big blow to the KPs’ fight for justice, the Apex Court of India rejected their second plea to re-open investigations into mass killings of members of their community that resulted in their exodus from the Valley. SC upheld its earlier order declining investigation into killings claiming ‘it had happened 27 years ago’. “If SC can scrutinize each case of anti-Sikh riots that happened 33 years and order re-opening of closed ones, why can’t they order a probe into Kashmiri Pandit killings which took place 27 years ago?”, wonders Vikas Padora, the lawyer appearing for KPs. Earlier too, Bitta Karate, who had publicly confessed to killing more than twenty KPs, was let off. The Trial Court judge lamented prosecution’s non-seriousness to seek his conviction. The community fully realizes that justice essentially depends on the impartiality of the state and even-handedness of the judicial system. While their murderers roam free in the Valley, KPs justifiably feel let down by every institution of the state
Looking Ahead.
KPs seem reconciled to their fate. With new generation not having lived in the Valley, the yarning to reclaim moorings is all but lost. Indian political system fully understands this dilemma of the community. Only an out of box solutions like the cancellation of all distress sales by the KPs, as hinted by Ghulam Nabi Azad on the floor of the assembly during his tenure as CM, may infuse some degree of confidence in the beleaguered community. Unfortunately, Azad’s proposition was buried deep under the weight of vested interests of the political class exactly in the way Kashmir Temples and Shrines Bill was. Ultimately, solution to the problem lies in political re-organization of Kashmir valley to set aside an enclave for the KPs. As of now, the only silver lining is the presence of KP youth serving there under UPA rolled out employment package. Maybe the folklore of ‘eleven KP households’ rebuilding KP numbers in the Valley is retold in future.