An open letter to Rahul Pandita
by Kashmir Vale
“19 January 1990 was a very cold day despite the sun’s weak attempts to emerge from behind dark clouds. In the afternoon, I played cricket with some boys from my neighbourhood” writes Rahul Pandita is his book. But Kashmiris will remember that on 19th January 1990 a strict curfew had been enforced across the Kashmir valley and no civilian movement was allowed, whatsoever. So where did these Rahul Pandita’s boys play cricket in this sealed curfew?
“Father was waking me up. “Something is happening,” he said. I could hear it—there were people out on the streets. They were talking loudly. Some major activity was underfoot. Were they setting our locality on fire?” he further continues. I lived in the same locality that Rahul Pandita lived, some mohallas away, and we all knew curfew had been enforced with such brute force across Srinagar that even opening a window was deemed risky. Every Kashmiri who lived in the 90’s will tell you the horror of that January when curfew would not relent for days from 16th itself. In fact neighbors living in Jogilanker, Kalwal Mohalla, Chowdari Bagh and other Pandit populated localities (like Habba kadal) will tell you how many people heard J&K road transport buses being driven on a curfewed night into these areas and Pandit families being ferried out. This all was happening in such tight curfew that other households were not even allowed to creak open a door. Was this Rahul Pandita’s imagination with “Some major activity was underfoot. Were they setting our locality on fire?” For many days now, localities had been going without essentials, babies without milk, curfew had limited sustenance to bare basics, so how could anybody (least of all young men who were always a shooting target for security forces) venture out for “Some major activity …setting locality on fire?”?
Mr. Pandita claims “That night, the muezzin didn’t call. That night, it felt like something sinister was going to happen.” The muezzin not calling for prayers sounds too farfetched. Everybody in Kashmir is aware of the fact that the muezzins call won’t happen only when a mosque becomes out of bounds for the praying faithful; and such circumstances happen only in cases of extreme curfews, or crackdowns when entire populations would be herded by Indian security forces pre dawn. If locals were present in the mosque (as claimed by Mr. Pandita, how could the Muezzin not call for prayer (also given your contention that Kashmiri Muslims attached a great importance to faith and prayers)?
Your contention that “Naara-e-taqbeer, Allah ho Akbar!” was an omen of “Something is happening,” “They are up to something” is as ridiculous as it can get. Has the same slogan not been used in Kashmir for centuries? How would “Naara-e-taqbeer, Allah ho Akbar!” be seen as a threatening call against you? You have further claimed that ‘within a few minutes battle cries of “Hum kya chaaaahte: Azadiiii! Eiy zalimon, eiy kafiron, Kashmir humara chhod do” flew from all directions’ While there is no denying the fact that Kashmiris have been using the slogan “Hum kya chahte Azadi” for decades now (which is any case not venomous nor any battle cry) but you sure have modified, for your own lies, the other slogan. Walk down in Kashmir to those who lived the 90’s and they will tell you the original slogan was “Ai zalimou ai jaabiro Kashmir hamara chood do” You have cleverly replaced ‘Kaafir” with “Jaabir”; a word mix-up for you means propaganda, for reality means a false redirection. If you would have been truthful of the slogans of 90’s, you would remember one of common slogans then also used to be “Allah-o-Akbar Kabeeran Cabrera (Allah is great; greater than the greatest).” But then truth may not suit your narrative. And these slogans were being used end to end from the start of popular rebellion in Kashmir (early 1989), surely you must have heard them before too. Why did they startle you on 19th January 1990 only, as if you had heard them for the first time? Why did your 19th January incidents coincide with Jagmohan taking over Kashmir?
You further claim that ‘Ma began to tremble like a leaf when we heard it. “Assi gacchi panu’nuy Pakistan, batav rostuy, batenein saan.”’. Even a lie would be ashamed before your claims; truth is that this slogan was first time heard in 1992, when in Jammu some desperate young Kashmiri Pandits were narrating (and editing) their ordeal. Since then it has been filtered and passed on to your Kashmir narrative. Kashmiris could be accused of all other slogans, but this one was not heard of in the 90’s. People who lived the 90’s in Kashmir and who survived the silent genocide at the hands of the Indian state will tell you how hollow this claim of yours is.
You claim that “It was well orchestrated (the slogans). It was meant to frighten us into exile.” Why did these slogans (like the ‘Hum kya chahte Azadi’ & “Ai zalimou ai jaabiro Kashmir hamara chood do”) continue even after your exile and still continue even now in the collective protests of Kashmiris? What were they intended at all these years, now that you had already migrated decades back? And why was your claim of “ Eiy zalimon, eiy kafiron, Kashmir humara chhod do” not heard by Kashmiri Sikhs who also lived in the midst of the same Kashmiri populations? Or maybe they did not understand the linguistics of your claimed ‘slogan threats’? Remember the areas where Sikhs lived, have an equal number of (or more) mosques (and Muslims living) than did the Pandit areas have. Why were they immune to your ‘slogan threat’ claims? Were they not non Muslims, your claimed ‘Kaafirs’ (your convenient replacement for ‘Jaabir’)?
On a night when the whole of Srinagar had been placed under curfew, that had been already draining its population for many days; on a night when even the whisper of a window would be dreaded by its souls, you heard slogans from mosques! Must be some wild imaginations at work with you. To refresh your memory, you can refer to journalists who covered the 90’s of Kashmir about the curfews of January 1990.
If your memory of 19th January, 1990 fails you, let me remind you that Jagmohan took over as governor of J&K on 19th January and had already discussed and planned his ways and means for Kashmir in New Delhi some days prior to 19th January. Right after he had assumed power, in continuity of the imposed curfew, Indian forces conducted house to house searches in many areas of Srinagar and during the intervening night of January 20th, 1990, dragged people from their homes, molested women and arrested hundreds of civilians. As the news about molestation of women and arrest of civilians spread across Kashmir, people in thousands came out to protest, breaking the curfew and began marching thru various areas of Srinagar, moving towards the city centre via Gaw Kadal. As the protestors reached the Gaw Kadal bridge, Indian paramilitaries (CRPF) deployed there allowed the procession to walk and then suddenly opened indiscriminate firing on them from both sides, killing more than 55 people, injuring hundreds more.
Eyewitness accounts said “CRPF troopers were firing indiscriminately on people. They had set up light machine gun (LMG) on the corner of bridge from Basant Bagh end,” pointing to a massacre by design. An eyewitness further says “I had walked amid women thinking that they would not fire on them but CRPF men did not spare them too. Those who were just injured were again shot in head by the CRPF officer to make sure to kill them,” In such circumstances the siege of Srinagar was further intensified with more curfew and more fear.
You claim “After a week or so, Father grew restless and wanted to return home. So we left my sister behind, and the three of us returned late one afternoon.” That would mean around the dates of 24th, 25th, 26th or 2th January, 1990. Kashmir had been reeling under unprecedented curfews especially after the Gawkadal massacre of 21st Jan, 1900 and civilian movement was totally restricted. The Gawkadal massacre was soon followed by the 25th January, 1990 Handwara massacre where more than 25 protesters were killed in cold blood by Indian paramilitary (BSF) and scores more were injured. These massacres and killings only ensured that the state was forcing an iron hand on civilians; the curfew was further strengthened in the aftermath of these tragedies. How could you have travelled across the city (from Cantonment areas to your dwelling in central city) in times of such curfews and post massacre tensions? Even assuming that you had acquired adequate protocols (aka state permissions and security passes) to move in these tough times, right across the most vulnerable areas of Srinagar, your claim of ‘ “Suddenly, we hear laughter outside” and “Let’s distribute these houses,” one of them shouts. “Akram, which one do you want?” he asks’ remains a fable. In times when shoot at sight orders had been implemented especially after the Gowkadal and Handwara massacres (and attempts were being made to break curfew for protests elsewhere, and the state determined to not allow civilians out) how would it be possible for young men to be “loitering outside your habitations” and “distributing houses amongst themselves”? It is a well known fact that security forces moved in swiftly into areas abandoned by Pandits and set up huge camps there. And your area was no different, Indian paramilitaries already had set base there and were consolidating. So what would these ‘curfew runaway vagabonds’ who had somehow ‘broken shoot at sight orders’, “distribute” in areas where there already was a huge concentration of Indian forces? Don’t you think your fables are running against known facts in Kashmir?
You further write “a bearded man wearing a thick jacket appeared on the other side of the street. His pockets were bulging”, and that ’a piece of paper that had been stuck onto it. It was a hit list. Written in Urdu, with ‘JKLF’ across the top’. With ‘bulging jacket pockets’ did you point to weapons and bundles of ‘hit list’ notices? And this ‘bearded man’ was roaming with weapons and bills on a curfew day, amidst security forces covered areas. Was he some invisible man who was on a notice sticking spree on a ‘shoot at sight day’? There is no denial of the fact that pasting of notices (not necessarily hit lists, but claims and information by organisations) did happen during the 90’s, but such rare acts would be done in the dark of the night rather than broad daylight. You surely missed the timing for the appearance of the ‘bearded man with bulging pockets’ here.
“The previous evening, we had seen our neighbour, Mr Kaul, at the bus stop” you claim. Did buses ply during curfew days after the massacres had taken place and people were forced indoors by security forces? Did they even ply on the few days preceding or following 26th Jan 1990, when the whole of Kashmir would be barricaded and shut? Buses plying normally while people were being shot at in hundreds for coming out to protest, really? This surely does not sound like the Kashmir of 90’s.
You write ‘ “Pandita sa’eb, you don’t worry. The Army has come now, and it will all be over in a couple of months,” he had said.’ Does this claim of yours not substantiate the common belief in Kashmir that the Pandit migration in Kashmir was largely engineered by Jagmohan so that he could finish the popular resistance by brute force within months and then ensure your safe return?
I felt sad when I read “The landlord of the one-room dwelling where Triloki Nath’s son lived had been clear: he did not want any mourning noises inside his premises.” This pain reminded me of the killings of innocents in Kashmir by security forces, especially in the January of 1990 (that still continues unabated), when our corpses would not be returned for days or when Kashmiri children were killed without a trace by Indian forces. We had nothing to bury or grieve; there are thousands of families who are still searching for shreds of their loved ones, which they could bury or at least mark in remembrance.
And if it were not only the factual inaccuracies in your narrative there are some false personal claims too. You and “gaash batte’ (your friend of the Amberdaars) would call us as ‘momme kaett’ (your derogatory slang for Muslims) and there was no known occasion that you ever mingled with Muslim boys (your claim of being friends or playing with local Muslim boys is a lie).
Don’t know if you remember the old lady who used to sell ‘haakh’ at Kalwal Mohalla chowk, and had a son Bilal. Bilal was a poor lad who would help his mother and sit near her haakh gunny. During early 90’s Bilal was arrested by Indian forces and tortured in their camp that was housed in your ghetto. His body was never found, later heard that his eyes had been gouged and torso chopped off. Nobody knew what happened to his body. Bilal’s mother was one day found dead on a cold winter day; while she was asleep in a sitting posture near her door (must have been waiting for her Bilal). She could have been sitting dead there for hours yet nobody knew it till the evening (Bilal had been her only son). You remember Tajammul, the one who used to bowl very fast? He was also tortured in the same camp that was housed in your ghetto. Tajammuls body was found after many days, his father lost his memory and was bed ridden for life after that. There are numerous other tales of innocents disappearing in the camps that were housed in your ghetto. Just to tell you that what you left behind was made into hell for innocents of Kashmir.
While there can be no denying the fact that Pandits suffered during migration, but the fact also remains the people like you are trying to make a career of this suffering by falsifying facts and playing with the anti Kashmiri Muslim sentiment in India, at the same time denying the Indian genocide on Kashmiris. We want migrant Pandits back, to live in their places, like other Pandits who never fled are living in harmony, but your lies are only widening the gap.
My humble suggestion, put a preface in your book “Many claims appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”.
P.S This reply to you is only from the excerpts published in http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/left-with-no-choice . If you were left with no choice, what choices did other Pandits, Sikhs, and Christians choose from, who preferred to stay back in Kashmir? Having read the excerpts I am sure your book will be full of lies and half truths.
Get well soon Rahul Ji.