By Saadut. Srinagar 21 Jan 1990.
Frosty winter days were menacingly uncertain as it had been almost a year now that popular resistance had been gradually spreading in Kashmir. Start of January bought with it news of expanding Indian forces across the valley; pouring in since the onset of winter and were gradually taking over everything. Since the incidents of 1989, the collapse of the civil administration in Kashmir had been complete, coupled with continuance of decades of political indifference. Even during the 1989 kidnap and release of Rubiya Syed, the role of state government was already relegated to the shadows; New Delhi gradually taking the reins here.
After gathering protests against Indian rule, curfews in Kashmir had become common place. The curfew of 17th January imposed in most places continued without any break, and was gradually enforced across. I used to be mostly home for winter holidays during that January owing to the uncertainty outside with sporadic curfews happening. From 17th January the change was more visible, milkman stopped to arrive, there were bigger paramilitary patrols walking past even in inner areas of old Srinagar. On 18th January the muezzin (who lived within the mosque complex) would call for prayers with hardly any people making it to the mosque in our locality due to restrictions. For all my life I had been watching Kashmiri Pandits walking at the break of dawn towards the Sharika Temple on Hari Parbat (Kohimaraan) from Pandit dwellings south and south east of the hill. And even in earlier curfew days these devout Pandits would not be stopped and on such days their morning presence would seem to me the only sign of human freedom. But 18th January, 1990 seemed different, the number of morning devotees walking towards the Sharika temple had diminished; from my window it seemed as if the paramilitaries had closed doors on them too. The few familiar faces who did make their morning spiritual rendezvous looked harried and almost ran in their pace.
On 19th January the curfew was stricter (we had some very brief relaxations on 18th evening) and the feeling was eerie, as if something was overbearing on those gray cloud laden, wintry skies. The muezzin again called to very thin attendance. During the day heard security forces had already started to round up some young men. ‘Nan’e Goor’ (Nana the milkman’s son) with a flatly uneven nose, a tall man with a strong build, lived just by the three way intersection, one road of which led up the water way shores of interior Srinagar (these waterways branch out of Dal lake). A big mosque was at one edge of the intersection where Muslim households thinned while from the opposite side major Pandit habitations expanded. While they had coexisted for ages like this, social limits were set by mutual respect. The milkman’s son was one of the random boys arrested by paramilitaries, and there was visible fear taking over these localities. Soon news of Jagmohan taking over as the governor of J&K was received and the first night of Jagmohans tenure curfew was sealed in totality. With overwhelming forces out in the streets, Dad even forbade us to peep out of windows. We were one of the few homes in our locality to have a landline telephone then, and calling up relatives portrayed the same situation everywhere. Srinagar (and most of Kashmir towns) had been choked. Next day found that many areas had been reporting house searches and arrests by paramilitary forces, except for Pandit dominates areas. On 19th curfew continued with some attempts by people to break it at various places in Srinagar, since they were already living by bare minimum, short of essential supplies. Ghulam Qadir who belonged to a north Kashmir village and worked in the police department, was known to my father whom he revered a lot. On 19th afternoon, he called Dad on telephone and among other things (inquired about the need for any essentials he could arrange for us) narrated about the movement of state road transport vehicles during the curfewed night of 19th January, ferrying many Pandit households out. This came as a shock to Dad, who had many Pandit friends living in these areas. He called up one of our close family friend living in civil lines, a prominent Pandit educationalist and was relieved that they were safe and did not intend to migrate.
20th January was no different from the previous day, same restrictions and same suffocation. Governor Jagmohans warning ”… I have promised you a clean administration. But if anybody creates a law and order problem, Meray Haathon say Aman ka patta Khisak jaye ga (the cards of peace I’m carrying will slip away from my hands)” had already set course to things in Kashmir. By evening I heard that a Kashmir university scholar who had been researching about ‘Gandhian ways and values’ had been shot at and killed by Indian paramilitaries; this was their tribute to his Gandhian quest.
By the following night of 20th January and wee hours of 21th January many areas of Srinagar had been cordoned off and house to house searches were taking place. Nether were Kashmiris used to such searches, nor were the paramilitaries known to follow any search protocol; from the congested areas of central city soon news came that not only had the paramilitaries randomly arrested hundreds of youth, they had also molesting scores of women folk. The news of arbitrary arrests and molestation of women infuriated people. Soon protestors broke these cordons, and started pouring from various city locations, proceeding towards the city centre. Since the majority of protests were originating from central and old city they were taking the old city bridges route when they reached the Gawkadal Bridge. Till the swelling protests had reached Gawkadal bridge there was no attempt by the security forces to stop these protests, but once they were crossing the bride and the protest head poured into Maisuma (GawKadal chowk), light machine guns and automatic weapons were unleashed by Indian paramilitaries upon the unsuspecting protestors without any warning. Soon there was utter chaos; those at the front of these protests were shots down while protestors on the bridge jumped into the river only to be chased by bullets of Indian paramilitaries there too. CRPF were clearly shooting to kill, firing from both sides of the bridge at this crowd. A young brave heart, Abdul Rauf Wani saw one CRPF personnel aiming his barrel at the protestors, and in trying to save other people put himself before the gun; the CRPF official emptied the whole magazine on him. 52 people were killed on the spot while more than 250 were critically injured (some succumbed in later days). It was reported that when local police came to take the bodies of dead and injured, the CRPF did not allow them for many hours. Among the dead and injured were children, women, and men of all ages.
Kashmir has been shook by the ghastly Gawkadal massacre of 21st January by Indian forces. At home we all sat in silence, frozen to disbelief. While I still comprehended this mournful stillness, Dad murmured ‘yemavv hasa dyut naar saarsie !’ (They ‘India’ has set everything on fire here). The very next day on 22nd January 1990, the beastly act of Indian forces was to repeat once again, this time at Alamgari Bazaar. People had again come out to protest the previous day’s incidents and Indian forces had again fired indiscriminately on peaceful demonstrators, killing 10 and injuring scores of others. The anger and helplessness of people was overwhelming.
The gun of Indian forces was being unleashed in full force on civilians in Kashmir. Just two days after the Alamgari Bazaar massacre, on 25th January, 1990, Indian forces (BSF) again shot at protestors in Handwara, killing 25 people and injuring dozens of others. This time also protestors had been allowed to pass and converge into the main chowk where they had been unsuspectingly been fired upon with the clear aim to kill.
Jagmohan had started his tenure on an unrelenting bloody note in Kashmir. Was the joining of Jagmohan as governor of J&K, the ferrying of Pandits on the 19th January night, starting of massive house to house searches in Muslim habitations on 20th January (amid curfews), Gawkadal massacre on 21st January, Alamgari Bazaar massacre on 22nd January and Handwara massacre on 25th January mere coincidences? Surely Jagmohan did not leave New Delhi for Kashmir, one Friday (of 19th January) on a ‘one suit packed short notice’ and get down to work ‘just by instinct’. In the aftermath of the Rubiya Syed kidnapping (8th December 1989) and the release of militants (13th December 1989), India had realized the limited reach of the anarchic state political apparatus in Kashmir. Remember it was not the state government that had primarily dealt with the Rubiya Syed kidnapping but New Delhi (senior IB officials including Ved Marwah (then Director General NSG) had come to Kashmir to deal with the situation even before CM Dr Farooq had, who was then out of Kashmir). Hence planning for Kashmir management was already a priority for New Delhi, with the local government out of frame for them. The decision on Jagmohan would have been deliberated upon and discussed by New Delhi; even Jagmohan would have some time before he chalked out his plan of action for Kashmir. Decisions of such magnitude don’t happen in flight of moments and the Governor would have already been working to a charted course here and that course was visible right after he joined office here.
Pandits migrated due to fear factor that was growing among them, but the culpability of Jagmohan in this migration is not any less. Many Pandit gentlemen claim that ‘slogans heard from mosques on 19th January night forced them to flee’, but slogans were being chanted for almost a year now in Kashmir (and 19th was a curfewed night). Why did the migration happen on 19th only then? There was no other incident proceeding to the night of 19th January that would provide the impetus to this mass migration (prominent Pandits and Muslims were killed by militants on dates far from this date), on the contrary there was full curfew in place. The coincidence of this date with other incidents of January 1990 is too astounding and visible. Some people also claim ‘religious persecution’ was the reason that Pandits migrated from Kashmir, but nothing can be far from the truth than this. Had religious persecution been the cause, then thousands of other Pandit families and almost all of Sikh families would not have chosen to stay back and thousands of Muslim families would also not have migrated. Pandits, like other minorities, lived as a closely knit unit and their internal social network was very strong in Kashmir. The collapse of state authority in Kashmir exposed them to fears which were adequately exploited by everybody. With the tactic understanding of the new state machinery, passages of exodus were encouraged and facilitated. This was clearly done with the idea that popular resistance in Kashmir would be erased within months by military might and then the return of Pandits would be made possible. Arranging for transport during curfews and hurriedly gathering belongings to out of Kashmir destinations clearly proved that these migrations were planned for short durations only. One Pandit writer notes in his book (neighbor Mr Kaul, at the bus stop said) “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.
This is not to say that some Pandits were not threatened by some militants, but there were more Muslim households in Kashmir who were threatened and targeted during the same time And those of minorities who chose to stay in Kashmir (Pandits and Sikhs) continued living in their old places, facing the unfolding conflict in Kashmir just as their Muslim neighbors did.
I remember after hearing about the start of Pandit migrations, how a number of renowned citizens of Srinagar sought appointment with Governor Jagmohan for stopping the migrations, for seeking security assurances for Pandits and how the appointment was denied after hearing the reasons for which they sought it. In a recent LitFest that I attended, a renowned Kashmir Pandit couple went on record about how senior government functionaries called them up in early 1990’s asking them to migrate; they bluntly refused and continued living in Kashmir. The renowned Pandit family was also clear about the role Governor Jagmohan played in migration of Pandits from Kashmir. Jagmohans intentions became clear later, when in an interview to Current, May 1990, he stated, “Every Muslim in Kashmir is a militant today. All of them are for secession from India. I am scuttling Srinagar Doordarshan’s programmes because everyone there is a militant… The bullet is the only solution for Kashmir. Unless the militants are fully wiped out, normalcy can’t return to the Valley.”
The January 1990 happenings of Kashmir and their glaring coincidences are questions of Kashmiris that have never been answered by India, not because India does not have answers but because these answers are not convenient for India. How did all these incidents fall into place, with quick sucession, only after 19th January? How did all state enforced massacres in Kashmir unfold after 19th January only (and in continuity after that date)? Why did the state refuse to provide security to Pandit dwellings (understanding well that for the concentration of Pandit dwellings it was easy for the state to provide them security)? How did the arrangements of movement with the tactic support of govt machinery happen to Pandits in Srinagar and major towns on a curfewed night (rural Pandits migrated on their own)? Why did the massacres enforced by security forces seem to be a part of plan enacted right after 19th January, a go ahead for such measure clearly would have come from the top? Why did enforced disappearances by the state happen after January 1990 and why was only the majority community target for such war crimes?
Surely Kashmiris know the answers for these questions, but India keeps living in denial mode as it continues to be a state and a perpetuator in this conflict.
But for how long will truth be denied by India?
Saadut A Kashmiri Blogger