In 1994, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), visited Kashmir and submitted a 200-page report which had long paragraphs on the violation of rights of people in Kashmir by the government institutions. This report was submitted merely four years after the indigenous Hindu minority community of Kashmiri Pandits was subjected to crimes of genocide and mass expulsion. The report, surprisingly, does not have a single sentence on the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits, despite the (then) Government of India clearly mentioning to them, “The targeted killing of the members of Hindu minority community which has led to the exodus of over 300,000 members of the community results in a change in the demographic profile of the area and the blatant religious cleansing”. Besides no mention of atrocities committed against Hindus in this report, there have been more than 25 interventions by Kashmiri Pandits at the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva since 1990, and various petitions filed to seek justice even from the Supreme Court of India. All of these esteemed institutions nationally and internationally, however, failed to even acknowledge the crimes of genocide, and still continue to live in denial. The most recent petition filed in the Supreme Court of India, that the court dismissed, was as recent as 2018.
Nomenclature: Taking cues from Denial of Armenocide
It was about a hundred odd years ago when the indigenous ethnic Christian community of Armenians were subjected to genocide in Turkey, much before the word ‘genocide’ was even coined. Systematic mass murders and expulsion of over one and a half million Armenians happened between 1914-1923 by the then Ottoman government. Words and phrases like ‘crime against humanity’, ‘race extermination’, ‘massacres’ etc. were used while describing the genocide by those who advocated the rights of Armenians. However, there were numerous attempts to deny and dismiss the occurrence of this genocide for which words like “Armenian allegations”, “Armenian claims” or “Armenian lies” were used. In 1944, Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, coined the word ‘genocide’, derived from Greek word ‘genos’ meaning ‘tribe’ or ‘race’ and latin word ‘cide’ meaning ‘killing’. Turkey remained in denial even when the ‘International Association of Genocide Scholars’ (IAGS) said that there were evidences to reveal, “Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens – an unarmed Christian minority population.”
There are a significant number of similarities between the experiences of Armenians in Turkey and those of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir, India. Besides that, there is a great similarity in the way in which the Armenian genocide was denied for almost a century and how the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits has also been denied, dismissed and even questioned by many in India. After the word ‘genocide’ was coined, the Armenian genocide was referred to as – ‘Armenocide’. Therefore, it is about time to coin the word – ‘Kashmiri-Panditocide’ for the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in India. It is also high time to seek its due acknowledgement and justice. India despite constitutionally being an independent, secular, democratic nation-state has failed to establish or even introduce laws in India that punishes and prevents the crime of genocide in the country.
Uncanny Parallels between Patterns of Armenocide and Kashmiri-Panditocide
It has been over three decades since the genocide survivors of the Kashmiri Pandit community have been living in exile away from their homeland – Kashmir Valley. Historically, this ethnic community has been subjected to religious persecution and seven forced exoduses from Kashmir in the past 600-700 years, ever since the first Muslim invasion of Kashmir by Shah Mir who established Islamic rule in Kashmir and began the persecution of indigenous Hindus from 1300s onwards. However, the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in contemporary independent India’s history began in the late 1980s which included – burning down and looting of Hindu houses, selective targeting of eminent Kashmiri Pandits, systematic killings, massacres, rapes, abductions and brutal murders of Kashmiri Pandit women and children, and eventual expulsion of over half a million Kashmiri Pandits from their native valley in 1990, leaving behind only handful members of the community in Kashmir. This genocide was carried out by the Islamist terrorist organisations like the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which had garnered moral support from the masses of the majority Muslim community of Kashmir. In many cases of killings of Kashmiri Pandits, their own Muslim friends and neighbours aided the terrorists in their killing. This genocide was a part of jihad in Kashmir that was designed to make Kashmir into a ‘Nizam e Mustafa’ – an Islamic state, devoid of Hindus and Indian nationalists. By the mid of 1990, traces of minority Hindu community were wiped off, in a matter of just 4-5 months. This is almost identical to the root causes of the Armenocide.
The Armenians, who once had an indigenous Armenian Christian kingdom, had consequently become a minority. It was in the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire took over. The Ottoman rulers, like the majority of their subjects, were Muslims. The Ottomans allowed religious persecution of the Armenians and viewed them as ‘infidels’. These minority Christians were made to pay more taxes and were given very few political and legal rights. Despite the systematic persecution, the Armenians thrived as a community and emerged more educated and wealthier than the majority of Turkish Muslim neighbours. It is uncanny how similar these events are to the experiences of Kashmiri Pandits, who were viewed as ‘kaafirs’ (infidels) and ‘mukbirs’ (informers/agents of India). The ‘land to tiller’ policy was brought by the Jammu & Kashmir state government in 1976 to limit the control of Hindus on their own agricultural lands in Kashmir. In the late 1980s there was blatant systematic discrimination against the Hindus in Kashmir. This discrimination was seen openly in case of admissions in higher education institutions and government jobs. The Kashmiri Muslims were in countless cases allowed to skip the queue and meritorious Kashmiri Pandits were denied these opportunities.
In the case of both Armenians and Kashmiri Pandits, despite their persecution in their respective times and spaces, they continued to emerge as more educated and prosperous communities. Armenians were suspected to be more loyal to the Christian governments that shared borders with Turkey and not to the Ottoman caliphate. Similarly, Kashmiri Pandits were also seen as enemies by Islamists in Kashmir as they had always been loyal and patriotic to their nation, India, and not to the demand of making Kashmir an Islamic state. Hence, both Armenians and Kashmiri Pandits were subjected to genocides for fundamentally the same reason.
Following the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in the late 1980s and complete uprooting by early 1990, thousands of Hindu temples and shrines were desecrated, houses of Kashmiri Pandits were burnt down to ashes, agricultural lands of many were occupied by members of the Muslim community. These causes and effects have identical precedences in the way the Armenian genocide was carried out. Today, when after 100 years, the Armenian genocide is getting international recognition, Turkey has yet again shown the arrogance of an invader by converting the Hagia Sofia Church into Mosque. Parallelly, in Kashmir, many Hindu shrines have been renamed with Islamic names and synonyms. Hari Parbat which is a hill-top in Kashmir and a home to one of the most important Hindu shrines in Kashmir – ‘Sharika Devi Temple’, has been renamed locally to an Islamic name of ‘Koh-e-Maran’. There are many such examples of attempts to Islamise the valley. One of the districts that was home to a significant population of Kashmiri Pandits is Anantnag. This district is unofficially but locally referred to as Islamabad by majority Muslims, much like how in Turkey, Constantinople was later renamed to today’s Istanbul.
Blatant Denial of Genocide: Left, Right and Centre
What concerns the community for over the past three decades after getting uprooted from Kashmir, is that the crime of genocide against them has not even received recognition from the Indian state. The Relief and Rehabilitation Department that looks after the welfare of Kashmiri Pandits living in the camps and in exile elsewhere, recognises and officially registers the members of the genocide survivor community as ‘Migrants’, even today. The camps in which these families are temporarily kept are also officially termed as ‘Migrant Camps’. This is the biggest continuation of denial of the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits caused due to Islamist terrorism in Kashmir. It hurts the community to be tagged as ‘migrants’ on paper and their forced expulsion and uprooting from Kashmir being termed as mere ‘migration’ by the government of Jammu and Kashmir as all consecutive Central governments. Like the denial of the Armenian genocide by the state of Turkey, India continues to hide this crime of genocide.
Another popular example of denial of the Kashmiri-Panditocide is exhibited in the narrative of ‘Jagmohan caused migration’ theory that usually comes out from the Muslim community of Kashmir and their local political leaders. This narrative holds the then governor of the state, Jagmohan, responsible for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. The then state government run by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah slept over the killings of Hindus until things went out of hand. Farooq Abdullah ran away to London in the middle of intensification of Islamist terror, shrugging off all his responsibilities. The night of 19th January 1990, which is observed as the ‘Holocaust Day’ by Kashmiri Pandits, was when anti-Hindu and anti-India slogans were raised in an organised manner from the mosques across Kashmir valley, threatening Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley or get killed. Jagmohan had then taken over the state government as its governor only on the 19th of January, 1990 when things had already escalated to the ugly worst. However, in a recent webinar with a digital media channel – Epilogue News Network, Farooq Abdullah said, “It was Jagmohan who took them (Kashmiri Pandits) away saying that I am going to be hard on the Muslims”. Therefore, he continues to deny the genocide and its real cause, quite explicitly. Besides this, politically popular word – ‘Kashmiriyat’, was constructed to sell the idea of Kashmir’s version of religious tolerance, as a cover-up for religious persecution of the minority Hindu community and their genocide. This word is often thrown in discourses to overlook the Kashmiri-Panditocide as if things were always goody-goody for Kashmiri Pandits and as if they left their homeland on their own will because of some rumour. In many debates, even today many times Muslims from Kashmir present ‘Kashmiriyat’ as an idea devoid of nationalism for India, which was the primary reason that led to the forced expulsion and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits. For Kashmiri Pandits, ‘Kashmiriyat’ has proved on ground to be nothing more than a hoax and a word coined for denial and cover-up for their genocide.
Post 1990, Kashmir has been home to rise in local Islamist terrorism, curfews, terrorist attacks, violent anti-India protests, Pakistan sponsored gun-culture, encounters, widespread Islamic extremism, religious intolerance, massive casualties of defence forces and civilians, and many controversies. Kashmir has been in unrest ever since the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits. Due to this unrest, while talking about the atrocities against Kashmiri Pandits, many use phrases like “Kashmiri Muslims have also suffered”, to avoid recognising the Hindu genocide. Many voices from the valley even go to an extreme extent of justifying the Hindu genocide and its root cause. Similarly, in the case of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, there were phrases such as “tragedy of both sides” and “events of 1915” which were used simply to run away from acknowledging the Armenian genocide. Besides these phrases in debates and discourses, the Indian state and many public figures and politicians, authors etc. in the past have even dined with the Chief of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, who has confessed to the killing of Kashmiri Pandits and 4 unarmed Indian Air Force officials. Not just Malik, many media houses and universities have also hosted separatists and Islamists like Sayed Ali Shah Geelani who are responsible for mobilising mass support for jihad and Kashmir’s secession from India to become an Islamic state. This behaviour of many from the mainstream Indian media, academicians and political leadership, is nothing but a blatant denial of genocide. In a secular democracy, do we dine with perpetrators and conspirators of genocide and engage with them in political discourses? Or do we make sure that they pay for their crimes?
Another sign of denial of this genocide is talking about it in the past tense. There are people who express their ‘sympathies’ for the ‘events that happened’ with Kashmiri Pandits, shying away from recognising the genocide and its root cause. We must not forget that there were two massacres after the mass forced exodus of 1990. The Wandhama massacre happened in 1998, which killed 26 Kashmiri Pandits in one night in Ganderbal district. This attack was carried out by the Hizbul Mujahideen and was planned to coincide with “Shab e Qadr”, the holiest night in the month of Ramzan. The victims of this massacre included 4 children and 9 women. After a few years, in 2003 another massacre shook Nadimarg, a small town in Pulwama district. In this massacre, 24 Kashmiri Pandits were lined up and shot dead with automatic weapons. The oldest victim was a 65 years old man and the youngest, a mere 2 years old boy. This attack included 11 Kashmiri Pandit women victims. The Nadimarg massacre was condemned by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and by the US Ambassador to India Robert D. Blackwill who said: “Washington looks forward to the terrorists being brought to justice swiftly”. As of August 2020, not even a single person has been convicted in the cases of executing or conspiring these two massacres or in the case of the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits for over three decades. Farooq Ahmed Dar aka Bitta Karate, JKLF terrorist who confessed in an interview to have killed more than 20 Kashmiri Pandits including his friend Satish Tickoo, is not even convicted in the case of these killings. Seventeen years after the Nadimarg massacre, a Kashmiri Pandit, Ajay Pandita Bharti, planned his return to the valley thinking that the situation for Kashmiri Pandits was better in 2020. He was serving in the town of Wanpoo in district Anantnag as a sarpanch after winning the elections. On the 8th of June, 2020, Bharti was shot dead by terrorists in broad daylight. Hizbul Mujahideen was found to be behind the attack as per media reports. This killing was followed by fresh threats to Kashmiri Pandits going viral on social media, causing panic in the handful number of Kashmiri Pandits living and working in the valley and consequently, another mini exodus. This is another exhibition of the continuation of this genocide in Kashmir, even in 2020. Denying that this killing was a part of the Kashmiri-Panditocide is also clearly evident in the silence of those who are aware of such an atrocity and choose deliberately to remain mute over it, for it doesn’t fit into their political affiliations and propaganda. Therefore, silence has become a popular contemporary form of denial of this genocide, and must not be ignored. This silence most commonly comes from those who are ideological opponents of the current government of India run by the BJP. This section of people comprises mostly of communists, Muslim appeasers and the hypocrites who want to sail in all boats of the Indian polity. This section is compulsively outspoken when it comes to the rights of Muslims and absolutely silent on the issues that concern Hindus in India. They even go to an extent of namecalling people who talk about the Kashmiri-Panditocide at the hands of Islamist terror, as Islamophobes. Such is the extent of their denial and shameless silence over a continuing genocide.
Inaction: Contradiction to Promises, Hopes and The Genocide Convention
Currently, the ruling party at the centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has voiced the issue of Kashmiri Pandits on various political and media forums. The return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir had also found space in their election manifesto in the past. However, since the past 6 years of the BJP being in power, the government of India has shown least interest in delivering justice to the victims and survivors of the genocide. The Modi government has not initiated any dialogue with ‘Panun Kashmir’ – the frontline organisation of Kashmiri Pandits that advocates the community’s geopolitical aspirations. These aspirations of the persecuted community are enshrined in ‘Margdarshan Resolution 1991’, demanding a separate, secure and centrally administered homeland within Kashmir for preserving the ethnic identity of the community. However, in March 2019, while Govt. of India put a ban on the JKLF led by Yasin Malik, the home ministry said in a statement, “Malik was the mastermind behind the purging of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley and is responsible for their genocide”. This was the first time when in an official statement, a government agency recognised the crime of genocide. But even now, the Government of India still – on paper – continues to recognise the genocide survivors as ‘migrants’, which fundamentally shows the Indian-states’s denial of the genocide.
Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word ‘genocide’ in 1944, had also initiated ‘The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide’ which was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9th December 1948 as ‘General Assembly Resolution 260’. This resolution defines the crime of genocide in legal terms and was put in force on the 12th of January, 1951. As a result, by 2019, governments and parliaments of 32 countries, including the United States, Russia and Germany, had recognised the events of mass murders and expulsions of Armenians by the then Ottoman government in Turkey, as a ‘genocide’. It must be noted that India signed the same Genocide Convention on the 29th of November, 1949 and ratified to it on the 27th of August 1959. Nations that ratified to this Genocide Convention are liable to establish laws internally to punish and prevent the crime of genocide in war and in peacetime. However, even to this day, all Indian governments including today’s, have shown no will to set up anti-genocide laws in India. Even the current political dispensation of the BJP at the centre, despite being vocal about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits in their political campaigns, has done nothing concrete to bring the anti-genocide laws in India. How can we even acknowledge a crime, let alone punish the criminals, if the laws for those crimes do not even exist? Can we legally punish a thief for theft if ‘theft’ as a crime does not even appear in our laws? We can’t, no matter how much we wish we could.
Today when we look at the composition of the Kashmiri society, it is converted into a Muslim only getto with only a handful of Hindu presence, living in constant subjugation of majoritarianism. Kashmir’s aboriginal ethnic community of Kashmiri Pandits live in exile, away from Kashmir. Thousands of families were initially kept in tent-settlements in scorching heat and deserted outskirts of Jammu and adjoining district of Udhampur, in Jammu & Kashmir. These camps had extreme inhumane conditions with scarcity of sufficient water supply, squeezed spaces and lack of basic hygiene and sanitation for over a decade. Many of the genocide survivor families continue to stay in the recently constructed, concrete camps, while others live in exile away from Jammu and Kashmir in other parts of the country and some as diaspora abroad.
Reversal of Genocide: Beginning of the End of Denial
Post the much anticipated nullification of Article 370, abrogation of Article 35A and Reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J&K, on 5th August 2020, into UT of Jammu Kashmir and UT of Ladakh, the Panun Kashmir proposed a bill which deals with reversal of this genocide and its prevention in the future. This proposed bill is titled ‘Panun Kashmir Genocide And Atrocities Prevention Bill 2020’ and is drafted in sync with the existing laws of the country. The proposed genocide bill is available in the public domain on a website – www.pkrehinge.com. It has been submitted to the members of parliament in the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha including concerned officials in the government of India for their due consideration. As mentioned earlier, India has ratified to the UN’s Genocide Convention and therefore it has a long due liability to establish anti-genocide laws in India, especially when Kashmiri-Panditocide is already in its 31st year. Kashmiri Pandits are hopeful that this bill, once passed in the Parliament and enacted, will bring the perpetrators to justice and open ways for the reversal of their genocide.
Few years after the uprooting of minority Hindu community of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland, Gregory Stanton, the founding president of Genocide Watch, presented a briefing paper called ‘The 8 Stages of Genocide’ at the United States Department of State in 1996. These stages include: Classification, Symbolisation, Dehumanisation, Organisation, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination, and finally Denial of Genocide. However, in 2012, Stanton added two additional stages, namely – Discrimination and Persecution, to his model, which resulted in a model of ‘10 Stages of Genocide’. When we study the case of Kashmiri-Panditocide, we find that it has gone through all the 10 stages of genocide, including its current stage of ‘denial of genocide’.
It is for the government and the people of India to note that the justice for Kashmiri Pandits does not merely lie in their geographical relocation and rehabilitation back into Kashmir valley. This is in no way, a case of migration or natural displacement. This is a case of genocide. Hence, before any return policy is formulated for the community, what remains a pre-requisite for the government is the enactment of the proposed genocide bill; acknowledgement and subsequently, the reversal of the Kashmiri-Panditocide.