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Expendable Pandits~I

The contention that Mountbatten and Nehru promised reference to people’s opinion was no longer relevant after the accession of the State to India was ratified by the Constituent Assembly of the State in 1954.

NANDALAL CHAKRABARTY |

Recent killings of Pandits in Kashmir are a cruel reminder of the genocide that happened in 1989-90 in the Valley. Kashmiri Pandits cannot forget the horror that gripped them when loudspeakers from mosques blared “Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galiv’’ (convert, leave or die). They had to leave the Valley. Overnight, they became refugees in their own country. They lived under inhuman conditions in the camps of Jammu and Delhi. In each refugee camp, 9-15 members of a Pandit family huddled together under one roof. They perished, cherishing fond memories of places which they had frequented in the valley at one time. One wonders why the nation’s conscience was not stirred. 

We have a strange situation in our country. Instead of demanding justice for Pandits, some of us find it more important to campaign for Kashmir’s freedom from ‘Indian occupation’. These people always avoid discussion of the instrument of accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh because they know that it would expose their lies. 

When Kashmir was almost under siege by Pakistan-backed raiders, Maharaja Hari Singh, seeking India’s help, signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947. On the same date, he wrote in his forwarding letter to Mountbatten, the then Governor-General of India, “… I have no option but to ask for help from Indian Dominion. Naturally, they cannot send the help asked for by me without my State acceding to the Dominion of India. I have accordingly decided to do so and I attach the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by your Government…” 

The Instrument of Accession Maharaja Hari Singh signed was not a special one. The same type of Instrument of Accession was signed by other princely states. In accordance with the Government of India Act, 1935 which empowered the ruler of an Indian State to decide on the State’s accession, Hari Singh, ruler of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, executed the Instrument of Accession and declared that he acceded to the Dominion of India. Mountbatten accepted the Accession on 27 October 1947. 

The contention that Mount- batten and Nehru promised reference to people’s opinion was no longer relevant after the accession of the State to India was ratified by the Constituent Assembly of the State in 1954. The Constituent Assembly was elected by the people of Jammu and Kashmir and therefore, the demand as certainly people’s opinion was also met. The issue of ‘Indian occupation’ is, therefore, a carefully nurtured myth. 

Another myth is the privileged position of the Pandits. It is often argued that Pandits were forced to leave as they were part of the Valley’s privileged minority. The killing was just an out- burst of the poor majority’s accumulated anger. Is it true that minorities in Kashmir, which includes the Pandits, were a privileged class? Let us find out. 

The White Paper on Kashmir was prepared by Dr MK Tengand CL Gaddu for the Joint Human Rights Committee (for Minorities in Kashmir) and dealt with the conditions of Pandits and the minorities in general. It says that financial resources allotted to the Kashmir valley were 65-69 per cent while only 35-31 per cent were allotted to Jammu and Ladakh. The majority community, in the valley, owned 96 per cent of the fruit orchard acreage and owned 98.7 per cent of Kareva highland growing saffron. 96 per cent of the hotels which sustained Kashmir’s tourism were owned by the state’s majority community. The entire boat transport was monopolized by the majority community. 98.9 per cent of the industries using electric power in Kashmir valley were owned by the majority community. 

In the case of industrial development, there was also a disparity between Jammu and Kashmir. In 2002, Chennai was the only power project in Jammu producing only 22 MW of power. The rest of the projects were in the valley with a production capacity of 328 MW. Were the minorities in the valley privileged? 

Attempts have also been made to show that the number of killings of Pandits is insignificant. An RTI response informed that the number of Pandits killed since the inception of militancy in 1990 is 89. This became a defence of those who tried to downplay the genocide of Pandits. Does it mean that 89 lives do not matter? On the other hand, they have conveniently ignored the fact that the RTI response provided the record since 1990 and did not include killings that took place in 1989. 

The Home Ministry records say that 217 Hindu civilians were killed from 1988 to 1991. If one still has any doubt about the wanton murder of Pandits, one should listen to the admissions of two dreaded butchers of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF], Bitta karate and Yasin Malik. 

Farooq Ahmed Dar known as Bitta karate, the hitman of JKLF, said in a 1991 interview that he had killed 30-40 Pandits following the order of JKLF’s top commander, Ashfaq Majeed Wani. Yasin Malik, the JKLF leader, who has recently been sentenced to life imprisonment, once in a BBC interview confessed that he was responsible for the killing of Kashmiri Hindus including Justice Neelkant Ganjoo and unarmed Air Force officers. Videos of all these shocking interviews are in the public domain. How did heaven on earth turn into a veritable hell? Has the non-functioning of Article 370 changed the scenario? There is a lot more to be looked into. In 2019 an order of the President of India put an end to the special status of Jammu and Kash- mir by rendering Article 370 inoperative. Kashmir ceased to have its separate constitution. Simultaneously, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were made union territories by passing a bill for reorganisation of the State, in the Parliament. This was a big blow to the movements for Kashmir’s separation from the Indian Union. Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and all the separatist outfits, screamed foul. 

They spread the fear that the state of Kashmir would be destroyed as a result of the end of its special status. The contention is not tenable. Amendments to the constitution or even replacement of one constitution by another do not destroy any State. This is elementary. They are aware of it, but they stick to this line to placate the anti-India sections of the Val- ley’s population. 

Kashmir, these days, rarely witnesses any incident of stone-pelting. Bomb blasts and Fedayeen attacks are less frequent. Still, the latest surge of targeted killings of both Pandits and non-locals shows that Kashmir is yet to come out of the spell of radicalisation and pro-Pakistan separatism. 

Non-locals are being targeted to prove the abolition of Art. 35A is against the wishes of Kashmiris. Art. 35A was added to the Constitution of India by Presidential order. It stipulated that permanent residents of the State would be defined by the State’s Legislature. The non-permanent residents, even if they were Indian citizens, would not be entitled to get the rights and privileges enjoyed by the permanent residents. This is not only unethical but also against the spirit of equality enshrined in our Constitution. 

On the other hand, many false narratives are dished out to turn our attention from the genocide of 1989-90. The 1947 Jammu riots and the Poonch rebellion are referred to as the main factors leading to the massacre of Kashmiri Pandits. 

It is pointed out that the Valley’s majority community was also subjected to torture and ethnic cleansing. Nehru and Gandhi, under Sheikh Abdullah’s influence, blindly accepted that it was one-sided violence unleashed by Hindus and Sikhs in connivance with Maharaja Hari Singh and his Prime Minister, Mehr Chand Mahajan. 

Mahajan, in his letter to Gandhi, explained that Muslims suffered most in Udhampur, Rias districts and in parts of Kathua and Jammu Districts while Hindus and Sikhs were practically wiped out in a part of the Riasi district on the side of the Chenab, in Bhadarwa, Kisht- war and in the Rajouri area. In the Mirpur district, Hindu and Sikh populations were exterminated. Gandhi met Mahajan and after an hour-long discussion, accept- ed his version. So, what happened in Jammu in 1947 was a riot and not ethnic cleansing. 

Another counterfactual is related to the Poonch episode. Pakistan propagated that Muslim peasants’ protests in Poonch turned into a large-scale uprising against the Hindu King. But the Poonch episode never turned into a large-scale revolt. The trouble was sporadic. 

There is evidence that Pakistan had a hand in it. The leader of the ‘Poonch rebellion’, Sarder Mahammad Ibrahim Khan, in August 1947 went to Lahore and persuaded Pakistani authorities to provide assistance for the rebellion. 

The rebellion was deliberately blown out of proportion by Pakistan with an ulterior motive of annexing the state. Unfortunately, the disinformation campaign was endorsed by many of our political leaders. They were duped by Sheikh Abdullah’s promises. The man iconised as the lion of Kashmir indulged in the worst political opportunism. The ground reality of his actions must be brought to the fore.