By Deepika Bhan
Why is it difficult to get justice? This is a question that haunts the minuscule community of Kashmiri Pandits. Each year January 19 is the reminder of the tragedy that the community faced over three decades ago, when terrorism first struck Kashmir. It is also a reminder of the bitter fact that the nations justice dispensing institutions and the political setup has failed a community.
It was on the intervening night of January 19-20, 1990, that the first mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits started from Kashmir.
The day represents the pain of each of the around 7,00,000 community members, who faced the tyranny of terrorism in the valley.
It also represents the agony of the community that has been waiting for justice for the ethnic cleansing, or for the murders of hundreds of its members, besides the kidnapping, abduction, torture of thousands for the rape or gang rapes of unaccounted number of women and for the desecration, demolition of hundreds of temples, also the looting and burning down of properties of the community and for the encroachments of the properties and for the racial, motivated and targetted harassment of the community and for the denial of the constitutional rights.
For the community, the day also is a reminder of the travesty that justice has not been served.
It is also a reminder of the fact that the institutions that should have delivered justice have failed the community. The successive governments, the judiciary and even the human rights champions have not helped the community to get justice.
But above all, it was the majority in the valley who failed to stand by the community.
Failure of Institutions
In 1999, the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) in its full commission’s judgment, headed by former Chief Justice of India M.N. Venkatachaliah, held the systematic ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits by terrorists as an act of genocide’.
This should have prompted the government of the day to constitute an Inquiry Commission to probe the genocide or ethnic cleansing. But nothing of the sort has happened till date.
For 30 years, the Kashmiri Pandits have been demanding the appointment of a high-level commission of inquiry, but no government at the Centre or state has done anything on this.
The Supreme Court on July 24, 2017 rejected a plea seeking investigation into the killing of hundreds of Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s and early 2000s by saying that “more than 27 years have passed by since then. No fruitful purpose would emerge, as evidence is unlikely to be available at this late juncture.”
This order came as a shock to the community, which has now come to believe that justice may never come. A whole community was targetted on the sole basis of its religion and ethnicity, and there has been no hue and cry about this. No human and civil rights body has ever taken up the case.
The question that the community is asking today is why their persecution has not hit the headlines or become an agitational movement or a political weapon.
The BJP has been showcasing their plight during the elections and the top leadership of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi also claims to be one belonging to the community. But beyond this political gimmick, there is nothing substantial when it comes to taking up and addressing the plight of the community, and giving them their right.
Majority in Kashmir went silent
If the institutions failed the community, the majority in the Kashmir Valley never openly stood against the targetted terror onslaught. The majority went silent or just looked the other way even as heinous crimes were being committed against the community. Instead, concerted efforts have been made to show that the exodus never happened, people abandoned their houses and lands of their own will.
Hardly any FIRs have been registered in Kashmir for the hundreds of the murders, rapes, kidnappings, arson and loot incidents that took place against the community members since 1989 onwards. Even in those few FIRs which were registered, cases have seen no movement at all.
None of the political leaders in the state, whether it be Abdullah’s, the Mufti’s or others have ever taken up the cause of Kashmir’s minuscule minority, the Kashmiri Pandits. They never ever tried to help the community in addressing the wounds that they suffered.
The Kashmiriyat in the valley failed against the terror onslaught as the majority was swayed by the fanaticism, unleashed by Pakistan-sponsored groups, whether terrorists or separatists.
Exodus threatens survival
Thirty-one years since the January 19 holocaust day, the community today is finding itself at the threshhold of becoming extinct. Getting cut off from its roots, the community is witnessing a gradual fading of its ethnicity and population. After the exodus, the community got scattered all over the world, and as decades rolled by, its culture, language, rituals, temples are slowly withering away. The community is demanding the granting of the indigenous status so as to protect its 5,000 year old historical link to Kashmir, as written in Rajtarangini.
Politics of ‘ellusive’ justice
The struggle to get justice for the crimes committed against them seems to be never ending for the community, which feels that the lack of electoral strength is the chief cause of their getting neglected. In the present democratic set up, it is the ability to exhibit a community’s strength that helps to get the required attention and importance. Lack of the same often gets small groups/communities off the radar. And that is what the Kashmiri Pandits have been experiencing.
Not having been able to collectively rise and lobby for justice is what is seeing the community failing to get justice.
Even after the abrogation of Article 370, the BJP-led government at the Centre has not formulated any plan to resettle them back in the valley.
Over three decades and counting, the Kashmiri Pandits continue to be denied justice. And January 19 is not just the holocaust day for the community; it is a reminder of the failure of the democratic institutions of the country to secure its own people. Facing persecution and failing to get justice in a democratic setup in independent India which has dedicated institutions to take cognizance, is what baffles the community and has added to the tragedy.
Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits: Unending wait for justice
By Deepika Bhan