On the firing line

The nearly 8,000 Kashmiri Pandits still living in the Valley and determined to stay put there feel bitter that the rest of India — the J&K and the central government, fellow Pandits who have migrated in large numbers, the sangh parivar and the Shiv Sena which pretends to speak for them and Indians in general — are insensitive to their predicament

Last week I visited about 15 villages and towns of rural Srinagar, Pulwama, Anantnag and Baramulla districts. The two–day visits were aimed at meeting the Kashmiri Pandits living in far–flung areas and gathering first hand information about their local situation. Accompanying me was a young Kashmiri Pandit in his early thirties whose outlook regarding Kashmir and the world was very refreshing. He kept saying that men who had narrow visions have created the problems in Kashmir. I learnt a lot about the views of his generation living in Kashmir and how deeply rooted they feel in the soil. Listening to him was both a challenging and a refreshing experience.

After the Nadimarg massacre, uncertainty has gripped the Pandit community, especially women. People complained that the government was yet to take any concrete steps in respect of their demands. Those we met told us that the earlier massacres had not frightened them so much but the brutality displayed in the Nadimarg killings has shaken them. They are asking questions about their future and trying to decide what they should do next.

The Hindu Welfare Society of Kashmir had organised a meeting in Srinagar on Sunday, May 4. Pandits from all over the valley were invited. They wanted to take a collective decision about their future rather than each family deciding on its own. Among the issues discussed at the Sunday meeting in Srinagar were –

  • To stay or to migrate?
  • Resettlement of families in clusters where security could be better managed.
  • Economic and employment security.

Some young men were very emotional when they told me, "If we are forced to leave, we would not go to Delhi or Jammu or Mumbai. India has done very little to safeguard us and we are very disappointed. We would ask for refugee status in one of the foreign countries and migrate there."

Many of those we met were present at Nadimarg for the funeral of the victims. I give below the account of what they told me about Nadimarg. About two years ago, some of the Pandits had informed the authorities about the particular belt in which Nadimarg lies. A large number of Pandit families live in isolated villages in that belt and are very vulnerable. The village head of Nadimarg, Avtar Krishen and his wife had seen some people moving around in the village two nights before the massacre. When the villagers got suspicious, two of them, Deep Kumar and Chandji, went to the deputy commissioner and asked for his help. He was callous enough to ask for a written complaint.

"You have lived here for 13 years and nothing has happened. What can happen now?" he asked them. This has been quoted in several newspapers. Some journalists in Srinagar told me that they heard some of the survivors relate this to the DC concerned in the presence of home minister, LK Advani. There are conflicting versions about which DC the villagers actually met and who made the above statement. Some say that these people also went to the deputy commissioner of Pulwama who has since been transferred. (As all the Nadimarg people have now left, it was not possible to verify the facts with them.) Nadimarg, however, lies in two districts and the Pandit hamlet is in Anantnag district. Why, then, was the Pulwama DC transferred?

The villagers had also met the DIG. On the day of the massacre the SHO visited the village and told the policemen posted there to be alert. Instructions were given for a signal to be sent so that help could be rushed in. Twenty–five policemen were supposed to be posted as security for the Nadimarg hamlet. On the fateful night just nine were on duty and they did nothing.

A young man called Ramesh who managed to escape the killers ran several kilometres to seek help from the Zainpora police station. He was at the police station within 30 minutes of the intruders entering the village. At the police station he was asked to stay put. In The Indian Express of March 30, SSP Pulwama, Vipul Kumar, is quoted as saying, "I received the information around 12.30–12.35 a.m. and alerted all the forces including the camp of 1 Rashtriya Rifles that lies a few km from Nadimarg. The first police team arrived in the village at 3.30 a.m. from Shopian. The Zainpora police station doesn’t have enough strength to react to such a carnage, so we sent our people from Shopian."

A senior army officer says the army does take some time to react. The army troops arrived in the village at the same time as the police. Kashmiris want to know: why this delay?

“Where is this army of one lakh that Bal Thackeray talks about? If he or Togadia really have courage let them come and stay with us. I would like to meet them and have a public debate in front of the media. I do not like their politics.”

Some have alleged that for three days — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — the militants lived in the hamlet with the policemen. They even ate there and watched an India–Pakistan cricket match. At night the local policemen on duty went and knocked on the doors of people’s houses and told them to come out because the army had come and there was a crackdown. People came out because of this. They were asked to sit in a group. Some of the survivors say that the killers were clad in army fatigues and also wore helmets and bulletproof jackets.

It is alleged that a group photo was taken of the people who only a few minutes later were to be sprayed with bullets. Many people were shot in the face, faces that were blown apart completely. The bodies were badly mutilated. Some of the women’s ears were cut off for the gold earrings they wore. The houses, too, were looted, and the culprits knew exactly which box or cupboard to open. It is also alleged that three of the killers were present amongst the hundreds of people who had turned up for the funeral in Nadimarg.

A member of the Hindu Welfare Society had to request the authorities to bandage the faces of the victims as they were far too disfigured. The member concerned had himself put Gangajal on the lips of every victim and put tikka on their foreheads before the last rites were performed. The carnage has left a deep scar, yet he has maintained his objectivity. The members of the Hindu Welfare Society had successfully thwarted attempts by some people from Jammu who wanted to take the bodies to Jammu for cremation.

Nadimarg has left far too many questions unanswered. The Kashmiris, Pandits as well as Muslims, want answers to the following questions:

  • Despite a warning given by the villagers three days earlier, why did law enforcement and civil administration fail to evaluate the imminent danger to Nadimarg?
  • Does it not mean complete intelligence failure?
  • Even on the night of the massacre, the police and the security agencies took almost three hours to swing into action. Is this the response time to be expected of them even after an alarm has been sounded?
  • The allegation by some of the villagers that the militants had camped out in the village for three days prior to the massacre is also alarming. How is it possible that the SHO or other higher-ups were unaware of what their colleagues were up to in Nadimarg?

A group of concerned citizens working for peace have sent a letter to the chief minister stating that they have a right to information regarding what action the government has taken against the erring civil and police officials. The transfer of the deputy commissioner of Pulwama and the arrest of the policemen who are in the interrogation centre do not satisfy them. They would like the process to be transparent and officials to be accountable.

One of the villages I visited was Zainpora, the village to which Ramesh from Nadimarg had rushed for help from the police and to report that intruders had entered the village. This was the largest conclave of Pandits. Over 100 Pandit families used to live in Zainpora till they migrated in the early 1990s. Today there are just five families living there. On seeing a telephone in one home, I asked about it, and was informed that two months earlier the local exchange had been blown up in a blast and had not been repaired since. Some simple issues such as restoring telephone lines in remote areas could help restore some confidence amongst the people.

The topography of Zainpora is similar to Nadimarg. The five Pandit families living there are scattered on a steep slope. Everywhere, I made it a point to talk to the women. I asked them how they felt and what they wanted to do? None of the women wanted to stay on. They found sleeping difficult and suffered from severe palpitation. Given the the location of their homes, I found it difficult to tell them to have courage and stay on there. All I could do was embrace them and hold them close for a long time. How brave they have been and how alone.

In most places the women told me that although they were absolutely terrified, if they had better security and jobs for their children they would never leave. Not a single Pandit I talked to has any faith in the Kashmir police and Nadimarg has made them very jittery. They all demanded security, either from the CRPF or the BSF. When I mentioned this to some of my Muslim friends in Srinagar they countered, "Does anyone trust the local police? If they were efficient and alert would Kashmir have come to such a pass?" Therein lies, I believe, a very critical challenge regarding the Kashmir conflict. The police and the security agencies are far from restoring confidence in the local population.


Today there are 1,765 Pandit families in the valley making up a population of around 8,000. Out of these, between 2–300 families spend six months in the valley and six months outside it. Not all of those who have stayed behind have land from which they make a living. Many of them have been in government jobs and are about to retire or have already retired. Their children, though qualified for certain posts, are having a tough time getting government jobs. According to some of those I met, there has not been a single fresh recruitment in government jobs from among the Kashmiri Pandit community over the past 14 years. There are 500 educated jobless youth in the community. About 150 among them are now over the stipulated age requirement necessary for government jobs.

A large number of those I met during our two day visits are determined to stay on and would not allow the gun to dictate their future. Says Sanjay, "Why should we leave? This is our home and we belong here. Those who ask for a separate homeland for the Kashmiri Pandits are doing a disservice to us. If one were to continue with this logic we would need to accept the demand of the majority community of Kashmir for the right to a separate homeland. Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims must build their future together as they are part of the same heritage."

He is also angry with Togadia and Bal Thackeray. He asked me, "You come from Bombay, where is this army of one lakh that Bal Thackeray talks about? If he or Togadia really have courage let them come and stay with us. I would like to meet them and have a public debate in front of the media. I do not like their politics. It is harmful."

There is also a lot of anger and bitterness against those who migrated in the ’90s. Both sides have their grievances. They have made allegations against one another from time to time. This does not help the cause of the migrant Pandits outside the valley nor those who have chosen to stay on. Those who have stayed in the valley want to know why the media does not ask those who have stayed behind for comments when incidents like Nadimarg happen. They feel unhappy that the Pandit migrants in Delhi or Jammu are asked to speak on behalf of those who live in the valley as if the valley Pandits have no voice. The media and those who work for peace and reconciliation need to understand the complexities in relations among the communities involved.

Some of the Pandits say that when Indian leaders talk about Kashmir as an ‘atut ang (indivisible part) of India’ they say so because of the Kashmiri Pandits still living in Kashmir. If the remaining ones leave the valley, would India have any moral position to hold on to that piece of land? Though we are so vital, for India to hold on to Kashmir, what has India done to safeguard our position? The Pandits in the valley are aware of the regional issues and feel trapped in the larger game. They feel ill–prepared to defend themselves and bitter that the government of India is not doing enough to help them apart from few well–meaning promises that have yet to materialise. One young man angrily told me, "Did the others in desperation not take up the gun? What option do we have before us? If we have to die in any case then it is better that we die fighting rather than be sitting ducks."

He reminded me of the solidarity shown by the Sikh community after the Chittisingpura massacre. Hindus and Indians are hardly bothered about the plight of this small minority. Hundreds of Sikhs from outside Kashmir came to be with the victims as well as others of their community. Aid and relief for the Chittisingpura victim families poured in from all over India and the world. Such gestures are missing for the Nadimarg victims or for the Pandit community who desperately need support from outside, according to the young man.

As the news of the Nadimarg massacre spread, villagers from surrounding areas poured into Nadimarg. They were angry and upset. In downtown Srinagar, hundreds of people poured out on to the streets to protest the carnage the same afternoon. No leader had prompted this demonstration. The protesters came from areas that were traditional strongholds of the Pandits. This was spontaneous. Apart from other national and local politicians, several Hurriyat leaders also went to Nadimarg on hearing the news and stayed until the victims were cremated. A total hartal was observed the next day, called by all the political parties, including Hurriyat.

Two Srinagar women (both Muslim) made a difficult journey to Nadimarg on the third day of the massacre. They pleaded with the survivors, like many others before and after them, not to leave. They were giving expression to the sentiments of scores of Kashmiris, that Kashmir would be incomplete without the Pandits. These women are part of a group that is working for peace. For nearly two years they have been engaged in a dialogue with their counterparts — the Kashmiri Pandit women — in a dialogue of understanding and trust building. It was these interactions that prompted Zubaida and Daisy to make their way to Nadimarg. One has to be in the valley and talk to the general public to realise how deeply the Nadimarg massacre has upset them. Kashmiri Muslims are dismayed and angry that once again peace may elude them.

A small group of Kashmiri Pandits met the Prime Minister and given him a memorandum during his visit to Srinagar in April. The Prime Minister is said to have admitted that many mistakes were made with regard to the Kashmiri Pandit community. Basically,the Pandits are asking for the assurance of physical and economic security, imperative to their survival. Although foolproof security may not be possible for every household, some other arrangements are possible and must be looked at on a priority basis.

Several suggestions regarding this are already before the government. The demand for jobs for the 500 unemployed youth is not impossible to fulfil. Many Kashmiri Muslims have personally told me that they would like the Mufti government to provide jobs for the Kashmiri Pandits just as they are being provided to members of victim families. Unless the government takes quick policy decisions and concrete steps, the trickle that is quietly leaving the valley may well turn into a large exodus before we know it.

As Nadimarg fades from public memory and new events overtake us, let us not forget this tiny minority hanging on to a slender thread in the complex conflict zone that is Kashmir today. As this minority’s future hangs in the balance, it may well decide the larger political future of India.

Archived from Communalism Combat, May 2003 Year 9  No. 87, Special Report 1



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