New Delhi: Every year 14 September is remembered as ‘Martyrdom Day’ by Kashmiri Hindus and organisations that support the cause of those who had to flee the Valley in the face of terrorism in 1990.
In fact, a motion was tabled in the UK Parliament, to commemorate the ‘Martyrdom Day’ of Kashmir, on 14 September 2020.
“That this House commemorates with deep sadness the Martyrdom Day of Kashmiri Hindus on 14 September, those Hindus having lost their lives to cross-border Islamic Jihad who committed atrocities on the population of Jammu and Kashmir, India; expresses its condolences to the families and friends of all those who were killed, raped and injured in that act of genocide; is concerned that the Kashmiris who fled to save life and limb have still not secured justice for those atrocities committed against them; commends the resilience and courage shown by the members of the Kashmiri Pandit community who survived that gruesome ethnic genocide; recognises the role of Panun Kashmir in campaigning for the rights of Hindus in Kashmir; and urges the Government of India to legislate a Genocide Crime Punishment Law in fulfilment of their international obligation by being a proposer and signatory to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” the motion reads.
The date is significant as it was on 14 September 1989 that the first major killing of a Kashmiri Hindu leader, Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, occurred in the Valley, setting the tone for the mass exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the region on 19 January 1990.
Pandit Taploo’s killing at the hands of terrorists was a turning point in the conflict in the region as he was then the most prominent Kashmiri Hindu leader in the Valley. It also sparked the spree of terrorist attacks on Kashmiri Hindu leaders.
Pandit Taploo’s assassination was arguably the biggest blow to the morale of Kashmiri Hindus who had dug in their heels to stay back in the Valley. It appears that he was chosen as a target strategically to create mayhem that culminated in the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus.
A lawyer from AMU
Pandit Taploo passed his matriculation in 1945 from Panjab University. He did his Masters in Arts (MA) and and earned an LLB from Aligarh Muslim University. He joined the Kashmir Bar in 1957.
He was denied admission at AMU, along with some other Kashmiri Hindus, but he staged a dharna at the university campus. The protests compelled the AMU administration to yield ground and grant admission to all of them.
Taploo, who was also associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, enrolled as an advocate of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1971. Taploo was married to Sarla in 1957 who was a government school teacher.
When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in 1975, he courted arrest at Lal Chowk in Srinagar and led the agitation against it in the Valley.
He had a huge following amongst both Muslims and Hindus. He was popularly addressed as ‘Lala’( ‘elder brother’ in Pashto) by the common people for his helpful attitude cutting across religious lines. He was known for his extensive social work activities and led a spartan lifestyle.
It was his popularity among Muslims that proved to be one of the major challenges for terrorists in Kashmir who were trying to communalise the atmosphere in the 1980s.
After he received many threats from the terrorists, Taploo took his family to Delhi but he came back to challenge them. Four days after he had returned from Delhi, he was attacked at his residence in Chinkral Mohalla. He publicly challenged the terrorists to dare to attack him again. On 14 September, in broad daylight he was shot dead by the terrorists.
His funeral was attended by thousands of people, including senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Kedarnath Sahani. Taploo was also the vice-president of the Jammu-Kashmir unit of the BJP.
Muslims of the Valley also attended his funeral in large numbers. His assassination was a brutal blow to the resolve of Kashmiri Hindus and it sent shock waves among the community. They expressed their anguish by shutting all shops and business establishments for a day as a mark of protest. This was probably the first and last time that Kashmiri Hindus had observed a ‘bandh’ in the Valley.
His killing was followed by a spate of murders targeting Kashmiri Hindus.
After Taploo’s death, Srinagar District Sessions Judge Nilkanth Ganjoo was shot dead. He had sentenced Maqbul Bhat, a terrorist and founder of the separatist organisation National Liberation Front. Maqbul Bhat was hanged on 11 February 1984 in Tihar Jail in New Delhi.
The lead up to the Kashmiri Hindu exodus
In 1989, the then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had ordered the release of around 70 terrorists between July and December of that year. They had been trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied J&K.
The top four among them were Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani, Javed Mir and Yasin Malik. They played a major role in promoting insurgency and creating an anti-Hindu atmosphere in the Valley.
By the end of 1989, the demand to establish the Islamic dominion in the Kashmir Valley and separate it from India had hit its zenith. On the evening of 19 January 1990, pro-Pakistan sloganeering started from mosques in the Valley and mobs started gathering. Posters came up, asking Hindus to either convert to Islam and join the separatists or leave their homes.
Thousands of Hindus left through the night. According to a report by Jammu-Kashmir Study Centre, a Delhi-based think-tank, by March 1990, more than 90 per cent of the Hindus residing in the Valley had left their homes. Meanwhile, most of the Hindu homes were burnt down in the Valley and whatever was left of their movable properties was looted. However, the precursor to all these developments was the killing of Pandit Taploo on 14 September 1989.
(The writer is a research director at RSS-linked think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. Views expressed are personal.)