By Deepika Bhan
New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) January 19 every year is observed as the mass exodus day by the minority Kashmiri Pandit community as it harks back to numerous tales of horror and tragedy that engulfed lakhs of families on that night in 1990.
As the state administration and the police network went numb and acted docile before the terror onslaught, the minorities had to bear the brunt. Kashmiri Hindus, being very small in number, became the easy target.
Some true accounts of that night
“It was around 10 p.m. in the cold dead night of January 19, 1990. There was no electricity. Darkness ruled outside. Inside the house the lone flickering kerosene lamp had three pair of eyes glued to it as the simmering coals in the ‘Kangri’ (firepot) kept each of them warm.
“The silence was ruptured by a lone stone that shattered the window pane and jolted the three out of the moment with something eerie brewing from that pelting.
“Voices emanating from nowhere were getting louder by every second. All at once loud speakers started blazing as if in an orchestrated manner.
“In the beginning, we three were confused but soon it became very clear. Slogans against India and Kashmiri Pandits were being spouted. Loud speakers from mosques were asking the majority Muslim community to come on to the streets. We three — me, my husband and my mother-in-law were horrified. There was nothing we could do.
“‘We want Kashmir without Hindu males but with Hindu females’, ‘Indian dogs go back’, ‘Infidels and kafirs go back or face death’, ‘we want Nizam-e-Mustafa’ here, screamed the men as the sound echoed all over the valley.
“Thousands of protestors were on the roads. All of a sudden tin sheeted roofs of houses were being beaten all around. It was as if some kind of death dance was being conducted.
“There was no police and the state administration had abandoned us. I was petrified with the thought that we could be attacked. This continued way past midnight. We were resigned to our fate. Around 2 a.m., sirens brought a glimmer of hope. Army and BSF columns were spreading out on the streets. Tears filled our eyes as life seemed to have got a second chance. By the time it was dawn, things had changed forever for us minority Kashmiri Pandits. Many started fleeing…”
This is not an excerpt from a novel or film script. It is a true account of Maharaj Krishen Dhar, a resident of Srinagar’s Chota Bazar area and former Principal of a local public school, who was an eyewitness to the horror of that fateful night.
Almost all relatives of Dhar fled the valley in the following days, but he tried to stay put in his ancestral home.
In April 1990, he was asked to leave the valley by his Muslim neighbors saying they can’t guarantee the safety of the family any further. Dhar had no option but to flee his own home, leaving all his property and belongings behind.
“Some of those very neighbors later looted our house and set it on fire. I lost everything,” he said.
Rakesh Bhatt, who used to live in the Chanapora area of Srinagar city says: “I get goose bumps when I remember that night. My parents had left for Jammu because of the Darbar move and I had my elder sister with me. I was just 19 years old then. We were so scared of the slogans and the stone pelting that I hid my sister in the attic. We just wanted to run away to our parents but could not summon the courage to do it, to go out as I feared for my sister. Finally two days after the mass exodus on January 19, I somehow managed to flee with my sister from my own house and from my own neighbors.”
Santosh Dullo remembers those days when she found a ‘threat notice’ pasted on the entrance of her house. Few days later the uncle of her husband was shot dead near the house, perhaps mistaking him to be Santosh Dullo’s husband U.K. Dullo, a doctor who was a Professor in the Srinagar Women’s college. The Dullo family had no choice but to flee.
Jawahar Lal Bhan, an engineer in the Irrigation Department of the J&K government was busy constructing a new house for his family in Baghat-Barzulla area of Srinagar. He got a rude shock when a colleague told him that he was in the terrorists’ hit-list and he should leave. The Bhan family fled the valley after handing over the keys of his new house to his colleague. He never got the house back which he was forced to sell for peanuts.
Lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits were forced to live in tents and camps in Jammu and Delhi after being forced to flee from the valley.
The National Human Rights Commission in 1999 held the systematic ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits by terrorists as an act of genocide. A community which took pride in Kashmiri identity was suddenly reduced to the status of refugee in their own country and continues to be so.
By Deepika Bhan