The generation that grew up then (in the 1990s) was surrounded by violence. The only argument that prevailed was one of violence. We were forced to remain indoors for months together, caged in our own homes like criminals. The enforced imprisonment gave us time to read why this was happening to us. We read Kashmir’s history, Kashmir’s literature of conflict and its literature of resistance. We got to know of the string of broken promises by the likes of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The erosion of democratic processes through a series of rigged elections. The toppling of governments at New Delhi’s behest. The suppression of dissent with brute force. The politics of militarization. And Delhi’s stick-and-carrot policy that was an appalling mix of ‘democracy’ and ‘martial law’.
Yet another aspect of the times was the armed militancy. Rebel outfits would plan and execute deadly attacks not only against government forces, but also those they perceived as ‘collaborators’, ‘mukhbir’ (informers) or ‘Indian spies’. Hapless citizens would often find themselves caught between two guns. In several attacks carried out by militants, some innocent lives too would be lost in the crossfire. The people of Kashmir had become ‘cannon fodder’ and ‘collateral damage’ for both the Armed Forces as well as armed guerillas. Hundreds would be injured in grenade attacks that would miss the intended target and explode at crowded places instead. In 1989 and 1990, militants targeted and killed both Muslims and Pandits who they thought were close to the ruling establishment, the state’s bureaucracy, the Armed Forces, intelligence agencies, and so on.
Anyone suspected of being a mukhbir by militants would have to face their bullets. And anyone seen as a sympathizer of the anti-State movement would be targeted by government forces. If the Armed Forces killed a civilian, they would call it ‘collateral damage’ and regret the killing. Sometimes, they would use terms like ‘error of judgment’, ‘mistaken identity’ or an ‘aberration’. Militants, too, would regret civilian casualties in grenade attacks. Civilians could not say ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘thank you’ to either the Armed Forces or the armed rebels. Those with guns enjoyed the ‘azadi’ to kill, and the civilians at the receiving end did not have the azadi to even mourn their death.
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A.S. Dulat, in Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, noted that India’s intelligence network and infrastructure in Kashmir grew during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership. According to him, 1989 onwards, armed militants were trying to destabilize J&K at Pakistan’s behest. They would target pro-India Kashmiri Pandits and those working specifically for India’s intelligence agencies. As recorded in the previous chapter, Neel Kanth Ganjoo, a Pandit judge who had sentenced Maqbool Bhat to death, was gunned down by the outfit in an act of revenge. Other Pandits killed by militants in 1989–90 included Lassa Koul, director of Doordarshan, a government broadcasting organization accused of anti-Kashmir and pro-Delhi propaganda. Dulat was then the station head of the IB in Kashmir and his colleague was shot dead by the JKLF on 3 January 1990. Dulat writes that most IB officers in Kashmir were Kashmiri Pandits. They lived among the people and made for easy targets.
Militants also targeted several Muslims who were members of the pro-India NC or worked for spy agencies and the Armed Forces. Clearly, their strategy was to create fear among anyone with a pro-India affiliation and convert them to their ideology. On 21 August 1989, JKLF militants killed Mohammed Yusuf Halwai, a staunch NC block president from downtown Srinagar. Moulana Masoodi, as mentioned in Chapter 4, was gunned down by Hizbullah militants. Dulat writes in his memoir that the first IB officer to be killed in Kashmir, in Anantnag district, was from Bihar, R.N.P Singh. Kishen Gopal was killed in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on 9 January 1990, followed by M.L. Bhan in Nowgam on 15 January and T.K. Razdan in Srinagar on 12 February. These were all targeted killings that were ideology-driven and not religion-specific.
Some Kashmiri Pandits associated with Right-wing groups like Panun Kashmir and Roots in Kashmir claim that their community faced an ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’. This is far from the truth. Far more Muslims were targeted by militants than Kashmiri Pandits. In March 2010, the J&K government said on the floor of the Legislative Assembly that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants from 1989 to 2004 (in fifteen years). A total of 38,119 Kashmiri Pandit families were registered with the government, of which 24,202 migrated in January 1990. According to official figures, the total number of Pandits stood at 1.5 lakh at the time of migration. Pandits represented less than 5 per cent of the total population. At present, the government claims 60,452 families are registered with it, of which 808 families (3,500 people) continue to live in the Valley.
In 2010, Basharat Bukhari, senior NC leader and a former minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government in 2016, had asked a question regarding the status, migration and killings of Kashmiri Pandits to the then revenue minister, Raman Bhalla, in the Assembly. In response, Mr Bhalla said, ‘219 Pandits were killed in Kashmir from 1989 to 2004. From 2004, no killing of any person from the community [Kashmiri Pandits] took place till now.’ Raman Bhalla also said that 808 Pandit families consisting of 3,445 people had never migrated and still lived in the Valley.
In stark contrast to government figures, Panun Kashmir exaggerates the number of Kashmiri Pandits killed in the Valley with the intention of branding Kashmir’s political movement for self-determination as an ultra-radical Islamist movement. On its website, Panun Kashmir claims that over 1,000 Kashmiri Pandits were murdered, which is factually incorrect. They also allege forced conversion to Islam, which is untrue. The radical organization has failed to back and substantiate its horrific claims with facts. This is not to say that the Kashmiri Pandit community did not suffer, which will be dealt with in some detail in a later chapter.
Growing up in Kashmir in the horror-filled 1990s was nightmarish. It was a battle for survival, as if a sword was constantly hanging over one’s head. For a child, the constant sight of the gun, whether in the hands of Indian military personnel or Kashmiri militants, was a constant reminder of the harsh reality of the times. The sloganeering during massive anti-State demonstrations was tempting, but the bullets piercing human bodies and the wails of mothers, sisters and wives forced one to be pragmatic. Mourning had become a routine affair, as if it was Kashmir’s destiny.
The pro-freedom songs had lured many young people to tread a path fraught with dangers and serious ramifications. Young men in their thousands had crossed the LoC to receive arms training in camps run by the Pakistani Army and its spy wing, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). I was too young to take such a life-turning decision then, of fighting the State with a gun in my hand. All my hands could handle well were a cricket ball and bat, as an off-spinning all-rounder, and a pen, which I hoped to put to good use in the years to come.
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