Documenting Migration

The eruption of militancy in 1990 created a situation that is difficult to even imagine now, thirty years down the road. The situation had restricted reportage in Srinagar and everyone was in survival mode when the exodus of Pandits took place. However, this facet of the Kashmir tragedy was well documented by the resourceful Delhi media. Here are three detailed reports that appeared in three major publications outside Kashmir

An 1872 painting showing the Kashmir Pandits busy in Surya Namskar in Srinagar.

Migrating To Safety

India Week,
February 15-19, 1990

Aasha Khosa reports from Jammu on how intimidated, terror-stricken non-Muslims from Srinagar have come down to the region after the recent wave of violence in the valley.

Even while they toil day in and day out searching for shelter and the means to rekindle their hearths, the memories of that night still haunt them. About 2,000 families from both the rural and the urban areas of Kashmir valley have moved down to Jammu for what they call “permanent settlement”. Leaving behind their homes, property and even jobs, these migrants, mostly Hindus, are still under the spell of fear which has gripped the valley till yesterday virtually ruled by the pro-Pak militants.

Without disclosing their full identity, some of them narrated the experiences, which led to the mass exodus. Manisha, a 21-year-old post-graduate lived in a pala­tial bungalow in Srinagar city’s Magarmal Bagh locality. She and her parents escaped from Srinagar in a luggage truck. Manisha said: “The deafening calls on loud speak­ers, probably fitted in the mosque near our house, are still fresh in my mind. Allah-o-Akbar and other Islamic slogans rent the air. Even though the militant tone of the slogans was scary, we consoled ourselves that it did not mean any harm to the non-Muslims. But then, suddenly, some imma­ture and young voices besieged the mega­phone system and then there were slogans calling for raiding the houses of non-Mus­lims.”

Her mother adds: “In the absence of a male member in the family – they had gone in hiding to avoid participation in the rally to be held against curfew restrictions – we were scared. I bolted the house and locked my daughter in a room. To tell you honestly, I was even prepared for self-immolation in case the threats issued from the loudspeakers were realized.” Manisha is looking for a job and is sure she will never go back.

Migrant Kashmiri Pandits taking bath in a small stream in Jammu with their tented accommodation in the background.

Abducted

A young employee working with the wire­less section of the state police as a techni­cian is reluctant to recall his experience for fear of retribution from the militants. Three masked men broke into his house in a downtown locality in broad daylight and asked him to go along with them. At gun­point and in the presence of all his family members, he was taken away. He returned after three days. In the meantime, the family was too scared to even report the matter to the police. They did not dare disclose the matter to even close friends. “All we did was hope against hope,” said his brother.

Another employee of the post and tele­graphs department in Srinagar recalls how he was beaten up by some urchins when they found him loitering around on the bundh. He was taken to the mosque and kept there for the night. “I sat in a corner while the huge congregation, mostly comprising young boys, raised militant slogans throughout the night. In fact, the atmos­phere inside became such that I began fearing for my life. Next day, I, along with others, was taken outside to march in a procession protesting against the curfew orders.”

Reports pouring in from Srinagar, along with the accounts of the people who have shifted out from there, suggest that the militants had mobilized the public for the January 21, protest against curfew restric­tions by selling them the idea that it would be the final showdown between them and the government. The latter, on the other hand, has started justifying its existence of late. At least 30 people were killed on the day when paramilitary forces opened fire on the mobs defying curfew restrictions in various parts of the city. “The militants did not show up,” lamented a citizen of Srinagar’s walled city who felt humiliated to have been taken in by the militants’ propa­ganda.

Top BJP leader, LK Advani in an all-party meeting on Kashmir with Prime Minister V P Singh presiding over. Rajiv Gandhi is also part of the meeting.

Militant slogans

Another young girl belonging to one of the Hindu-dominated downtown localities said: “Even now when I think of that night, a shiver runs down my spine. (The night she and the others are referring to is the one preceding the day when 30 persons were killed when paramilitary forces fired on mobs defying curfew orders). All the women in our locality were huddled to­gether in a room as the mikes-fitted in the mosque started blaring out militant slo­gans. We reinforced the bolted door with more nails to delay the forcible entry of the raiders. We all wore sports shoes and searched for an escape route.” However, nothing happened.

The next day the girl was packed off with a number of other women in a taxi to Jammu. She is staying there with a relative, waiting for her par­ents to join her.

In the villages, the story is even worse. The last time the villagers had deserted their homes in search of security in the city was in 1947-48 when, in the wake of raids from the Pakistani infiltrators, they had moved to Srinagar city. The first time communal riots broke out in the entire Kashmir valley was when a Muslim boy married a Hindu girl.

This time, initially, tension prevailed in Anantnag town and the villages surround­ing it. However, soon the tension perco­lated down to all the villages in the valley and, according to the migrants, at many places religious places were used to fan propaganda against the government and, at places, against the non-Muslims. In a particular village of Badgam district where there are only three non-Muslim families, there were threats of “axing them to death”. Said a young housewife of that village: “No doubt every Muslim in the village assured us of help in case anything did happen, but, I think, they too would be too scared to act in such an eventuality. So we decided to move.”

Muslims, too

But it should not be inferred from all this that only the non-Muslims are in the grip of the fear which, despite governor Jagmohan’s assurances, still pervades the Ka­shmir valley.

According to reports, even Muslim families have shifted their women to safer places and taken all measures to ensure their safety. The worst-affected are children who are confined to their houses thanks to the disturbances and curfew at a time when they should be enjoying their annual winter vacations.

Said a young Muslim who is looking for accommoda­tion in Jammu: “It is easier for the non-Muslims. At least they feel secure in Jammu, the Muslims are tied down to Kashmir valley. The affluent Muslims who fear a Hindu backlash in Jammu can safely move to Delhi or other places. But what about the less afflu­ent?”

According to reports, a number of government em­ployees working in state and central intelligence set-ups want to be moved out from the valley. They have all applied for transfers. The central departments, too, are facing similar problems, thanks to the militants’ call for boycott of the central services and their threat to; women employees to quit since “Islam does not allow women to work”. The cen­tral departments, however, are sitting pretty over the innumerable applications for transfers out of the valley. According to sources, Jagmohan has issued instruc­tions to the state authorities not to transfer anyone for such a reason. Yet state measures for their rehabilitation are yet to be pronounced.

Flooded

The exodus from the valley has added to the problems in Jammu. Normally, the winter capital of the state is flooded with people from Kashmir during the biennial move of the government. But, this year, the situation is different.

This year the Ka­shmiri’s are too busy hunting for shelter and jobs to be overjoyed at the change of scene. Every day, state road transport corporation buses and private taxis bring loads of Kashmiri’s to Jammu while the outgoing traffic from Jammu comprises mostly Muslims, mostly the families of employees who move along with the government.

Accommodation is scarce and, as a result, rents of private houses have gone up. No governmental help, not even a vol­untary organization has come forward to help these migrants. The Shiv Sena, quick to exploit the situation, did make an offer, but the migrants have discreetly avoided their help. “The situation in the valley will deteriorate further if we let anyone raise the issue here,” said a young journalist who, too, has abandoned his home in Srinagar and shifted here.

Post-migration, this was a vegetable seller in one of Jammu’s migrant Kashmiri Pandit camps. Photograph: Nitin Rai/Sunday Magazine

An Alarming Exodus

India Today,
March 31, 1990

Kashmiri Hindus flee the valley creating a communal crisis

 by Pankaj Pachauri in Jammu with Nisha Puri

In 1947, when Pakistani raiders pil­laged the homes of Kashmiri Hindus, Sohan Lal was a seven-year-old child in the border district of Kupwara. He lost his father and eight relatives before fleeing to Srinagar. He returned home after two years. The neighbourhood mason, carpenter and shopkeeper- all Muslims – helped him start afresh. He became a teacher in the local school and lived with his family in a house which, over the years, expanded to 15 rooms.

Last fortnight, Sohan Lal fled Kup­wara again. There was no raid on his house. No killings. Not even a threat. But when after Shivratri, his relatives from Anantnag and Srinagar did not visit him as they had done every year, Sohan Lal panicked. He locked up his house, gave the keys and his cattle to a Muslim friend and departed with nine other families for a relief camp in Jammu. Says Sohan Lal: “There was no communal tension. It took us six days to leave everything because of fear. And we cried – my family and that of my Muslim friend.”

On his third day in Jammu, Sohan Lal was exposed to an alien phenomenon. He was part of a 10,000-strong procession led by VHP acting President, Vishnu Hari Dalmia. As the protestors wound their way through the streets of Jammu, the sloganeering became dis­tinctly communal. “Security for Hindus in Kashmir” and “Down with Pakistan” soon gave way to “Har-har Mahadev” and “Bharatvarsh main rehna hoga, Vande Mataram kehna hoga” (If you want to live in India, you have to chant Vande Mataram). If there were any doubts that RSS cadres had taken over the demonstration, they were put to rest when a placard that read “Down with Indian secularism” was raised. Sohan Lal had never heard such a communal outburst.

For most of the migrant Kashmiri Pandits, most of the day would be spent in protests and demanding basic life support.

But Sohan Lal was just one among over 10,000 Hindu families, which have left the valley – and whose in­securities organizations like the RSS and VHP are trying to exploit. And should they fall into the net of communal propaganda, they can reverse the politi­cal efforts for normalizing the Kashmir crisis. Says Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed: “We can’t afford more complications.” Adds an IAS officer in Jammu: “Our hands are full with the migrants. The last thing we want is a communal flare-up.”

In fact, by the time the all party delegation reached Srinagar, about 40,000 people had reached Jammu, 2,500 Udhampur, 600 Kathua and about 2,000 Haridwar and Delhi. In each of the dozen filthy camps in Jammu and in the decrepit Kashmir Bhawan in Delhi, most refugees said that though they were initially reassured by Jagmohan’s installation as governor, the mili­tancy was unstoppable. Said a doctor from Srinagar: “How can we raise slo­gans for Islamic rule or say Pakistan zindabad?” Understandably, the mili­tant’s   movement   has   isolated   the valley’s 1.2 lakh Hindus.

 The migrants’ woes were doubled by the unpreparedness of the Jammu administration. The first trickle of refugees began in mid-January. They took shel­ter at Geeta Bhawan, a pilgrims’ transit house. When the organizers of Geeta Bhawan heard about the refugees’ plight, they announced in the press that all persons looking for safe sanctu­ary could come to them. This resulted in a flood of migration. Geeta Bhawan could not cope and the administration stepped in. Migrants were housed in government buildings and food­stuffs distributed. But with gov­ernment housing also running out, the last batch of refugees was put up in a camp made up of 100 tents on the banks of the Tawi River in Nagrota, 12 km off Jammu. As most refugees belong to the middle class pandit com­munity they are appalled at be­ing forced to stay in tents.

Their reasons for abandon­ing their comfortable homes are easy to pinpoint. Most of the senior government officials killed by the militants were pundits, who have traditionally dominated the state’s bureau­cracy. Moreover, the movement in the valley has acquired a religious tone with precisionists singing verses from the Quran and demanding an Is­lamic state. And when thou­sands of Kashmiris spilled on to the streets after Jagmohan al­lowed processions, the secession of Kashmir seemed inevitable to many Hindus.

Jagmohan, the governor meeting people in Rajbhawan Srinagar in 1990.

Fleeing from the strangle­hold of Muslim militants in the valley, many of the migrants have landed straight in the lap of Hindu fundamentalists. These groups choose to ignore the fact that many Muslims too have fled the valley because of crippling curfews and breakdown of the administration. In Delhi itself, dislocated Muslims from the val­ley can be seen hawking the famed Kashmiri shawls and car­pets. But such facts do not fit in, with the Hindu fundamentalists’ perception of the Kashmir problem. So at the refugee camps, they are spreading rumours that the militant movement is di­rected against non-Muslims; that militants are infiltrating camps to identify migrants.

So far, the administration has turned a blind eye to the communal propaganda. For in­stance, though Dalmia and other VHP leaders went to Jammu to sympathise with the refugees, they ended up exhorting them to support their cause. Said Dalmia at a public rally: “Why does VP Singh run to Bhagalpur with a Rs 1crore cheque? The money was distributed only among Muslims. He should come here with a Rs 2.5 core cheque.”

In a knee-jerk reaction, Jagmohan recently announced two new posts of relief commis­sioners and stated that camps would be set up in the valley itself and that government employees and pensioners forced to flee their homes would receive their money regularly. But such steps amounted to locking up the sta­ble after the horse had bolted.

Many of the militants too are unhappy with the flight of Hin­dus.  The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), in par­ticular, realizes that an exodus on communal lines would even­tually discredit their movement. In a written statement, four area commanders of JKLF recently of­fered to “retire” from the seces­sionist movement if it was “proved by an independent agency or media that they killed anyone only because he was from a particular community”.

An added twist to the prob­lem is the hostility towards the migrants from some Jammu resi­dents. Many Jammu Hindus har­bour age-old prejudices against Kashmiri pandits who they be­lieve corner all crucial govern­ment jobs and are more affluent.

With the fate of the migrants intertwined with the solution to the Kashmir problem, their or­deal threatens to be a long one. And if their plight is given a communal colour, it would have a disastrous impact. For a Hindu backlash will only strengthen the case of the Muslim funda­mentalists in Kashmir.

The Exodus

Sunday Magazine,
July 12, 1990

Hindus flee the Kashmir Valley in fear

 by Shiraz Sidhva in Jammu

A deserted Lal Chowk of Srinagar, a scene on a day there was a civil curfew.

As the first rains of the monsoon lashes against the Shamiana at Jammu’s Zanana Park, the slogan-shouting be­comes more strident. Loudspeakers blare out patriotic songs: Lata Mangeshkar’s Oh mere watan ke logo in particular. “Don’t let the weather spoil our rally. Keep seated,” exhorts one of the organizers of the rally. “This is a good omen for us; maybe it signifies better times ahead for us all,” he adds. “Har Har Mahadev,” cheers the crowd with renewed vigour. The voices get more angry as the meeting gets under­way. “The parched earth of our lives will soon be quenched,” promises an elderly speaker on the podium. But soon his rhetoric gets drowned. The crowd shouts back: “VP tere raj mein, Hindu maare jaate hai (VP, in your reign Hindus are being killed)”, and “Mufti teri boliyaan  desh  ke  khilaaf  hain (Mufti, your utterances are against the nation).”

Ever before have a group of people laboured so much to establish their national identity. The Kashmiri pandits who, after several hundred years, have had to flee the Valley out of fear from the Muslim majority, feel that they have been let down and betrayed by the government. “We were the ones who kept the tricolour flying high in Kashmir. But now, the government is doing little for us in return. Sometimes we feel it would have been better had we started shout­ing pro-Pakistani slogans,” shouts an angry young man. “We have run away from our homes to live like beggars in this land that we claim is ours,” he adds bitterly.

At the Nagrota camp, 25 kilometres out of Jammu, hot, dusty winds relentlessly sweep the barren land. Here, in the middle of nowhere, the state administration has allowed the Kash­miri migrants to pitch 500 tents pro­vided by them. The heat is stifling – some lucky families have table fans on the mud floor, with electricity drawn from the poles along the road. But most of them simply rot. Sintex tanks provide trickles of water, barely enough for 25,000-odd people. The corrugated tin-sheds, which serve as latrines, are veritable furnaces; few inmates are willing to use them. The migrants lie in their tents for most part of the day – they have learnt from experience not to brave the fierce rays of the sun. Already, around 27 Kash­miri pandits have died of heatstroke. And the children are invariably suffer­ing from heat rashes. “We sometimes give up eating vegetables so that we can afford to buy our children water­melons,” moans Susham Kaul, “they will die before this heat ends.” “Kuch de do, tadap tadap ke mar rahe hai (give us something, we are dying a slow and painful death),” begs an old woman, her arms outstretched. She left her home in the Valley in the dead of night on 14 March, after a relative lost her son to a militant’s bullet. This is the first time in 78 years that she has ventured out of the Valley.

The residents of Nagrota camp are trying desperately to survive with a little help from the government. Fami­lies who have registered themselves with the authorities have been pro­vided with tents, free water and electricity, and medical facilities. Each family is given Rs 1,000 per month, nine kilos rice, two kilos of flour and an equal amount of sugar. “We usual­ly finish the ration in just two days,” complains Sushil Bhan, pointing to his family of five. “Now we are used to salted tea as sugar is scarce.”

But the migrants are perhaps aware that they will have to stay on in the camps for quite some time. An enter­prising young school teacher has set up a nursery in her tent. Each child pays a nominal fee of Rs 10. The heat and the unhygienic conditions may not be an ideal atmosphere to learn but the parents feel that it is better than missing out on school completely, and loitering in the sun all day.

For most of the day, the migrant Kashmiri Pandits were busy killing time – a scene from a camp in Jammu. Photograph: Nitin Rai/Sunday Magazine

The migrants of the Nagrota camp have even set up a secondary school under a large banyan tree. For, very few of the 500-odd families here can afford to send their sons to a school in Jammu. Most of them de­pend on the teachers among the camp inmates.

The university students, who have paid lakhs of rupees as capitation fees to get a seat in a medical or engineer­ing college in the Valley – this was commonplace during the Sheikh’s time, and his son did nothing to discourage it – are, however, the worst sufferers. They have missed out on a minimum of two academic years, and they do not know when they will be able to resume their courses.

But why did the Kashmiri pandits desert the Valley? Most families have the same stories to tell. “We were forced to join their (militants) proces­sions,” says a government employee, who came away to the plains in late February. “We were prepared to de­mand azaadi only to please them, but when they forced us to shout pro-Pakistan slogans, we couldn’t take it anymore.”

For the Kashmiri pandits who have not been fortunate enough to have friends and relatives in the plains, Jammu’s Geeta Bhavan is the last refuge. A huge hall, the winding corridors and a spacious courtyard serve as a transit camp for those who have yet to be registered. This build­ing in the heart of Jammu is managed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies – the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Hindu Suraksha Samiti, and the Kashmiri Pandit Samiti.

The influx of the migrants have, however, stretched Jammu’s meagre resources to a breaking point. React­ing strongly to the suggestion that the state government should find jobs for the migrants, a highly-placed state “government official argues, “We would have a civil war on our hands if we gave the migrants jobs. Already, the state machinery has come to a grinding halt because of the relief me­asures we are undertaking. These peo­ple will eventually have to go back to where they belong.” The official points out that medical centre’s have been set up at all 15 recognized camps, something that the administration was never able to provide the local popu­lace with. “You judge for yourself and decide whether or not we are doing everything within our means to allevi­ate the sufferings of the migrants.”

The one party that has all along stood beside the migrants is the Bhar­atiya Janata Party (BJP). The party has distributed over Rs 40 lakhs worth of foodstuffs, plastic buckets, mugs, clothes and utensils among the home­less. Besides, the party’s Jammu unit under the leadership of Chaman Lal Gupta, has disbursed Rs 3.5 lakhs as cash relief for the ill. The BJP has also pressed into operation mobile vans to distribute free medicine. Reacting sharply to the allegation that the BJP is trying to gain political mileage out of a human tragedy, Gupta says, “It’s a human problem, and we have done our best in the circumstances.” Does the BJP extend its help to the hun­dreds of Kashmiri Muslims who have migrated to Jammu? “Of course, there are many instances where we have helped Muslim migrants too,” coun­ters Gupta. “Anybody who speaks for India is entitled to help from us,” he adds.

Almost all the migrant camps, set up in built spaces, were filled to the brim. This is one of the camps in Jammu city in the early 1990s.

Jhiri, on the outskirts of Jammu, is the largest government-sponsored migrant camp housing over 950 fami­lies, many of them Kashmiri Sikhs. Their desperation to voice their woes brings people rushing out of their tents, even though darkness has already enveloped the camp. A nauseating smell of gamaxine and night soil hangs heavy in the air – the evening meal is eaten under the dim glow of petromax lanterns.  Several tents have television sets while there are cylinders in others. The heat is unbearable during the day but the rains are not welcome. The tents leak and many of them are damp inside. There are the usual complaints that government rations are sub-standard and inadequate, that the fans don’t work and the administration is not being helpful enough. “This might be hell, but the new Governor is keen to banish us to a worse hell,” claims VK Razdan, an electrical engineer who fled the Valley. “How could the Muf­ti’s subordinate, Girish Saxena, order government employees to return when there are massacres daily?”

Whether Jagmohan actually insti­gated the Hindus to leave the Valley is debatable. But when they were in the Valley Jagmohan was their saviour. Now, he too has been removed. “While Jagmohan was Governor, there was some hope. We thought that we would be able to return to the Valley in a few months,” explains Sanjay Nath, a government employee who is infuriated because the new Governor had declared that those who did not return is June would lose their jobs. The “kala kanoon (black rule)” was hastily withdrawn following the protest march organized by the mig­rants. But Saxena’s image remains tar­nished forever. “He was so cold and matter-of-fact when he came here: Jagmohan wept when he saw our plight. Whatever hopes we had of the Valley becoming peaceful again have been dashed overnight with the change of Governor.”

“The Kashmiri pandits will have to pick up guns if he is not accorded his true rights,” threatens Motilal Mattoo, a young government engineer, whose family paid Rs 5,000 for a truck ride to Jammu. “We have known only the kalam (pen) and the kitab (book), never the gun, and we are paying very dearly for our love for India. Maybe, the government will heed our de­mands if we say we are for Pakistan. The houseboat owners and the rick­shaw-pullers are getting Rs 30,000 each as relief,” Mattoo adds.

That last statement has as much truth in it as the allegation made by the Muslims in the Valley that Jagmo­han has given the migrant families land. “We never asked them to go away,” a JKLF leader insisted to this correspondent. “We are not against Kashmiri pandits; we are against those who stand in the way of our road to azaadi.”

Scene from a migrant camp during the initial phase of migration of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s. Photograph: Nitin Rai/Sunday Magazine

There is little doubt that panic gripped the Hindus of the Valley before they decided to flee to the hot dusty plains below, and beyond, to Kathua, Udhampur, Delhi, and even as far as Madras. Several Kashmiri pandits, especially those who held government posts, were served threatening notices. Many of them were even identified by the militants as their targets. But even then, most Hindus wouldn’t have quit the Valley only if there was some kind of an assurance from the administration.

But former Governor did nothing of the kind – he, in fact, instigated them to flee their homes. One reason for this, points out a senior journalist in Jammu, may have been that Jagmo­han was afraid that the Hindus would give the militants shelter out of fear or sympathy. There were some instances of Hindu families providing cover to militants in Chhanpora, the hotbed of terrorist activity. But more crucial, ex­plains the journalist, was the fact that Jagmohan sided with the Hindus and was reluctant to subject them to the harsh measures that he advocated for those left in the Valley. It suited him that they ran away.”

The future of the migrants is indeed grim. Few of them have the courage to return to their homes, for fear of being killed. And today, there is a distinct possibility that they would be. The militants are furious that the Kashmiri pandits have won the sympathy of the nation by spreading false stories about them. Life is definitely going to be difficult for the Kashmiri Pandits.

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