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Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Take On Kashmir – It’s Not That Simple

Vidhu Vinod Chopra Kashmiri Pandits

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the maker of the new Hindi movie Shikara, about Kashmiri Pandit exodus, was speaking to India Today about the movie. Chopra was right in his wish that the wounds should heal and there should be a rapprochement. However, he said something else too. He asked the victims to forgive and forget their ‘the little fallout between friends’, hug and move on. While some would consider this simplistic take as idealism, coming from a Kashmiri Punjabi like him, it betrays a lack of understanding of the true horror that was inflicted upon the Kashmiri Pandits.

The Problem Started Before 1990

From 1980 onwards, Kashmiri Pandits had been targeted selectively by not just terrorists but also rogue elements within the administration, and large sections of a brainwashed society. There were cases turning up of targeted killings of eminent Pandits who were or had been part of the government and administration in various capacities. Tika Lal Taploo, Justice Neelkanth Ganjoo, Prem Nath Bhatt were among the various eminent people killed.

This period also saw selected targeting in the name of riots taking place in South Kashmir’s Anantnag in 1986, allegedly at the behest of the Congress leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The anger it generated among the Pandit community was palpable, when during his visit to a damaged temple in Akura, a kangri was thrown at him, while in Bijbehara, he was slapped by an ordinary citizen.

In 1989, Kashi Nath Pandita had written an open letter in the Kashmir Times, asking the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front the fate that awaited the Kashmiri Pandits. In their reply, the message was clear – Pandits should join the separatist movement, and stop supporting the Indian state, failing which they would have to bear the consequences. Hit lists featuring Pandits were published in local newspapers, and would later see execution too.

19 January 1990 – The Night That Never Ended

No one will forget this date, for it was this day that the Pandits can never forget. Many have written about the messages exhorting Jihad blaring from the mosques, while slogans like ‘Sarhad paar jaayenge, Kalashnikov laayenge, Bharat ko bhagayenge!’ replaced them to break monotony. It has also been well documented that slogans targeting Pandits, especially women, were being played out in many mosques in the Valley on cue. That this was well planned is understood in retrospect – in his book The Garden of Solitude Siddhartha Gigoo had pointed out how there were countdowns to azaadi on a daily basis, while people emptied their bank accounts and shifted all their savings to Jammu and Kashmir Bank and also corrected clocks to adjust to the then Pakistan Standard Time. Moreover, notices had been put up asking Pandits to leave the Valley within a few days.

What made it worse was that the intention of using Pandits as human shields against any possible control measures of the security forces. Dr. Shakti Bhan, member of Panun Kashmir, recalled during an interview the threat that she had faced. A crowd had turned up on the night of 19th January, asking her to come out, as they wanted to use her as a human shield against possible police firing on the ‘azaadi march’. Other Pandit families too hid themselves within their houses to avoid any scrutiny. Eventually, amid slogans of raliv, ghaliv ya tschaliv (merge with us, die or leave), the Pandits had decided to migrate en masse.

This is clearly not a simple matter of a ‘little fallout’.

No Joy For The Pandits Who Stayed Or Returned

Pandits who dared to stay behind or came back to the Valley suffered untold consequences. Girija Tikoo, a teacher, was sawed alive, for daring to stay behind. Sarla Bhatt, a nurse had come back to get her salary, only to be raped and murdered, her body mutilated. Many other such murders of Pandits and kidnappings too became common. Eminent Kashmiri poet Sarwanand Koul Premi was murdered in broad daylight. Former trade union leader Hriday Nath Wanchoo also met the same fate. Dr. S N Dhar, prominent Pandit citizen who had chosen to stay behind, was kidnapped and held in captivity for 83 days. Other massacres too followed – the 1998 Wandhama massacre saw over two dozen Pandits being slaughtered. Another incident in 2003 in Nadimarg saw the brutal assassination of over twenty Pandits, including women and children. Including these massacres, more than 600 Pandits were assassinated.

Even those who were supposedly resettled in the Valley under packages have continued to express their unease. Pandit resettlement camps in Pulwama and Anantnag among other places saw attacks by violent mobs, even as the residents have privately admitted to incendiary remarks about their faith and beliefs. Even their dress codes are mocked, and are told that they are unsuitable.

Things Have Changed, So There Is Hope

Things have finally turned around for the better. The atmosphere of insecurity has certainly ebbed. Security forces have broken the back of terrorism in South Kashmir, an erstwhile terror stronghold. The improved security situation alongside the revocation of Article 370 has essentially created a positive atmosphere for the Kashmiri Hindus to seriously consider a return to the Valley. A new social media campaign of the Pandits uploading videos saying ‘Hum Waapis Aayenge’ (‘We will return’) is indicative of a serious change in the position of the Pandits. However, to conflate this hope of a return and rapprochement with ‘forgetting a little fallout’ is a gross oversimplification that borders on trivialising targeted violence.