On 19th of January, 1990 when the days were cold and nights bitter, though there was no snow on the ground to chill the people. Around 9 PM, loud and thunderous Islamic and pro-Pakistan slogans rose collectively by a multitude of humanity and relayed through powerful loudspeakers almost pierced ear drums. These slogans were not new to Pandits in the Valley of Kashmir as they were familiar to such out bursts; however the very odd hour, the tumultuous bang and the intriguing spontaneity besides the pressing loudspeakers into service, all spoke threateningly that a storm was brewing in the Kashmir Valley. Suddenly, telephone bells began ringing loudly in the houses of most of the Pandits in Srinagar. Mobile phones had not been introduced then. Each caller on the other end of the line asked his relative, friend or acquaintance whether they were safe. This question carried more meaning underneath its simple words. The callers told their respondents to come out of their houses in that dark and dreary night and see for themselves what a strange scenario was unfolding on the streets and squares of the city of Srinagar. Scenes on the streets, squares and open spaces in the city were to be seen to be believed. Masses of Muslim population, young, old, children, and women came out of their homes, crowded the streets, gesticulating vigorously and yelling slogans in favor of Islam, Pakistan and the insurgency. Crowds of people carried rugs, carpets, mats and furnishing and spread it out on the streets and squares. They brought wood and lit bonfires to keep their bodies warm. People sat, squatted, danced, shook fists made violent gestures as loud speakers were fixed and microphones blurred a mix of Quranic verses, revolutionary songs, anti-India vitriolic and the supremacy of Islamic faith, all by turn making rounds from one to another speaker, each speaker more rabid fire brand than his predecessor. Islamic slogans, profuse admiration for Pakistan, stories of the heroes of early Islamic conquests, the paradise created by Allah for the Momin (pious) and hell fire for the Kufaar (unbelievers) etc. were the major themes of their outpouring. Speakers praised Islam as the best religion God had sent through the Prophet. The crux of these surcharged utterances was that all symptoms of Kufr (heresy), Butparast (idolatry) and dualism as with the Hindus had to be cleaned from Daru’l salam (the place of peace). Spirited stories of the heroes of early Islam like Omar and great commanders like Sa’d bin Waqqas and Tariq and others were recounted conveying that Islam had not lost the strength of destroying non-believers. This rant continued till wee hours. The message went to the Pandits that they were in the line of fire. Like frightened pigeons, the Pandits huddled up in their nests and kept vigil all night. Not a single soul came out of his house to go to the temple for prayers or to Hari Parbat heights to pay usual obeisance to the deity. The night-long tirade against non-Muslims on the one hand and lionizing of Islamic war lords on the other snatched whatever remnant of peace of mind they were left with. The question that caused them grave distress was how they could live in the Valley of Kashmir without the goodwill of the majority community with which they have had centuries of good and brotherly relations.
To Kashmiri Pandits his Muslim neighbor was neither an enemy nor a rival just because of their very insignificant rather negligible numbers. For the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir this open and unabashed tirade was let loose against them on such a massive scale. The administration collapsed and law and order were thrown to winds. The police deserted their posts and the Pandits were left to themselves with their survival hanging in balance. The Pandits found that overnight their neighbors had changed color. Their idiom changed as if they had thrown off the mask they wore for such a long time. Pandit and Muslim neighbors known to one another for generations began to behave as strangers. Suspicions loomed large 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. Loud speakers fixed to mosque tops, blurred uninterruptedly cautioning the Pandits to leave the Valley. The refrain of their slogans was that they wanted their Kashmir without Pandit males but with their women folk. Traditional Kashmir Muslim society has always been respectful of Kashmiri Pandit womenfolk and this shameful and shocking slogan showed that only a fringe section of Kashmir Muslim society indoctrinated in hate mania was out to disrupt communal harmony. However, the hate campaign, carried forward through barbaric and inhuman means of violence, struck fear among the entire Kashmiri population to the extent that nobody was prepared to show even the slightest goodwill to the Pandits. Al Safa, a popular Urdu daily of Srinagar minced no words in telling the Pandits to leave the Valley within hours if they wanted to save their lives and honor. Loud speakers fixed on mosque tops blurred a profusion of warnings of similar type. More and more anti-India demonstrations were to be seen on the streets in which demonstrators were mad with anger, hate and revenge. Fear stricken Pandits did not find any source that could assure them at least the safety of life. In its evening news bulletin, Radio Kashmir took the name of the Kashmiri Pandits gunned down by terrorists. The gruesome stories of murder of hapless Pandits unnerved the community members. There was no sense of approaching majority community for protection and help because the neighbors, too, were in the grip of fear heightened by the collapse of law and order.
The dynamics of secret and selective militancy so rigidly drilled into the heads of the actors, had reached a level that the son who returned after training never disclosed to his parents and family members where he had been and on what mission. Indoctrination was of the level that even parents began to fear their sons. This is best explained in the television interview which Bitta Karate gave to the security officials after he was arrested and interrogated by security agencies. Bitta Karate was one of the top JKLF gun wielders who had crossed over to Pakistan Administered Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, and received training and indoctrination in the camps there. In the interview, the journalist asks him on whose behest did he carry out the killing of the Pandits. He replied that he obeyed the orders of his senior Ashfaq Wani and Amanullah Khan. When asked if his senior told him to kill his parents would he do that as well, he emphatically said, “Yes”. This speaks of the type of barbarianism that was sucking the Valley into its vortex. Asked how many Kashmiri Pandits he had gunned down, Bitta replied, “I lost the count after killing 22 of them”. When asked who was the first victim of his bullets he took the name of one Satish Kumar Tiku, who was a friend (and perhaps also a class fellow) of Bitta Karate, and occasionally visited him in his Srinagar home. Bitta Karate had returned after undergoing training in terrorist camps and Satish, not knowing where his friend Bitta had disappeared for a while, went to see him in his home. He found Bitta cleaning a gun (AK 47). Surprised on seeing the weapon Satish asked him what it was. Bitta avoided the question and said that it was a toy he played with. Naïve as Satish was, he took it lightly and soon forgot the incident and left his friend. But Bitta was greatly disturbed and went to see the ‘commander’, related to him the story and asked for directions. The commander told him to finish Satish lest he discloses it to police. Bitta went to Satish’s house and called him to come out of his home. No sooner did Satish step out on the street, Bitta, in a flash of a moment, aimed his China made pistol at him and fired shots that pierced through Satish’s heart. He fell down dead in a pool of blood. Brandishing his pistol in the air in broad day light, Bitta scared the pedestrians and walked away in complete confidence. Today the killer of 22+ Pandits is roaming a freeman in Srinagar city. Yasin Malik, a terror comrade of Bitta was arrested in connection with the gunning down of six uniformed Indian Air Force personnel at Barzulla, Srinagar waiting at a bus stand. Yasin Malik riding the pillion of his friend’s bike opened fire at the standing airmen with an automatic weapon, killing all of them and the bike riders sped away.
Yasin Malik, later on became the chief of JKLF in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir after the party split. Ms. Girija Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit teacher in a government school in Kupwara district was coming out of the school building after collecting her salary when she was accosted by gunmen who kidnapped her to some unknown place where she was gang raped. The assailants, fearing she might disclose their identity, forcibly put her under a machine saw and cut her body into pieces. Avtar Krishan Koul, Deputy Director Food Supplies was gunned down by masked terrorists in his office. He had enquired into the disappearance of some truckloads of food grain supplies reportedly taken away by JKLF activists at gun point. Lassa Kaul, Director Doordarshan (Television) Srinagar was gunned down outside his house in Bhan Mohalla. He was accused of relaying anti-militancy news.
Pandit Premnath Bhat of Anantnag was a lawyer by profession and a very popular social figure much liked by people of all communities. Masked Jihadis barged into his house, dragged him out and emptied on him their magazines of their guns. Professor Nilakanth Raina (Lala) of Jammu and Kashmir Government Higher Education Department, an eminent historian and researcher was called by masked and armed gunmen at about dusk at his home in Fateh Kadal locality in Srinagar and gunned down at point blank range. Professor Nilakanth was conducting researches into the Buddhist antiquity of Jam’a Masjid mosque in Nowhatta, Srinagar. In November 1989, Sheela Tikoo was gunned down near Habba Kadal. On 4th of March, 1990, Mrs. M.N Paul, the wife of an Inspector of BSF was kidnapped, raped and then murdered because she happened to be the wife of a government official. Also in March 1990, B.K. Ganjoo, an engineer in Telecommunication Department was brutally gunned down while he tried to hide himself in an empty drum used for storing rice. The assailants climbed the third floor of his house to catch hold of him. His wife begged the murderers to kill her too but only to receive the sadist remark, “there should be someone left to cry over his dead body”. In April 1990, a nurse named Sarla Bhat was kidnapped and continuously raped for several days before her dead body was thrown on the roadside. In May 1990, Mrs. Prana Ganjoo and her husband Prof. K.L. Ganjoo were kidnapped in Sopore where the woman was raped and then both of them were murdered. In June 1990, Mrs. J.L. Ganjoo, her husband and her sister-in-law (husband’s sister) were killed in their home in Ban Mohalla, Srinagar. In July 1990, a working woman, namely Teja Dhar was shot dead on the roadside in Ali Kadal, Srinagar. In July 1990, a Pandit lady named Nanaji was gunned down on the roadside in Batamaloo, Srinagar. In July 1990, Dr. Shani was locked up in her house in Karan Nagar and then the house was set on fire. Flames consumed her alive. In August 1990, Babli Raina was raped in front of her family members in her house and then shot dead. One particular case which literally butchered the tradition of tolerance and communal harmony as well as the tradition of humanism in the Valley of Kashmir happened on 30th of April 1990, when four armed persons forced entry into the house of Sarwanand Koul Premi in Anantnag district. They dragged him out of his house along with Virender Koul, his 27-year old son for ‘enquiry’ and in the nearby jungle, the father and son both were gunned down. Sarwanand Koul, a poet and scholar, was 64 years of age and had translated the Bhagwat Gita into Kashmiri. A copy of the Quran was preserved in his house which he used to read occasionally.
As disorder and lawlessness gripped the Valley, the Pandits shivered with fear. This was the atmosphere of fear and lawlessness in which the Pandits became homeless. In these circumstances it was but natural that the entire Pandit community stood fear-stricken and then followed the impulse of running away from this cauldron. The entire community had lost the confidence in the majority community. Members of a high ranking delegation of parliamentarians visiting Srinagar to assess the ground situation quarreled among themselves on seating arrangements in the meeting room. They showed scant understanding and interest in the critical situation in the Valley and the sword of death dangling on the head of the vulnerable minority.
The Pandits found that the Indian government, too, had written them off. Threatened and defenseless Pandits had no option but to leave their millennia old homeland, homes, hearths, properties, jobs, business, farms, orchards, temples, shrines, cremation grounds, Gods, deities, and the ashes of their forefathers. They engaged whatever means of transportation they could manage, took a bagful of clothing and headed out of the Valley to unknown and un-seen destinations. They left in trickles for fear of being captured en route and butchered in cold blood.
The process continued for the first two-three months of 1990. Despite the fact that thousands of soldiers were garrisoned in Badami Bagh Cantonment, Srinagar, not one soldier escorted the fleeing fugitives. In spite of the silence of the Kashmiri Muslims on the atrocities committed against the Kashmiri Pandits, the general masses of Kashmiri Muslims did not obstruct the exit of the Kashmiri Pandits and facilitated their safe journey out of the Kashmir Valley. The Pandits of Kashmir, who had braved numerous spells of forced conversions and destruction of their civilization symbols during six centuries in the past, were extirpated from their five thousand year-old homeland at a time when India was governed by a Democratic and Secular dispensation. Seeing the current rise in Islamic fundamentalism and radicalization of the youth of the Valley of Kashmir, it can be concluded that the Kashmir Valley’s ethnic cleansing is complete and everlasting. They have been banished from their birth place not for decades or centuries or millennia, but for all times to come.