A J&K Police survey found 209 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants since 1989, leading to the registration of 140 cases in police stations across the Valley. Years later, chargesheets had been filed in only 24 cases. The festering wound of Pandit migration has remained a reason why even genuine political demands of Kashmiri Muslims continue to be viewed through a communal prism.
In Sirnoo village of Pulwama, the once majestic mud-and-brick houses owned by Kashmiri Pandits are now crumbling. (October 2016 file picture by Sofi Ahsan)
When the Supreme Court last month rejected a petition seeking the reopening and investigation of the killings of several hundred Kashmiri Pandits by militants since the beginning of the insurgency in Kashmir, a chance was missed to dispense long-awaited justice to the victims. Such a probe could have worked towards ascertaining the facts, identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators of the violence against the Kashmiri Pandits, and help to begin a process of reconciliation in Kashmiri society.
The petition, filed by the Kashmiri Pandit organisation Roots in Kashmir, had sought the “transfer of all the FIRs/cases pertaining to murders of Kashmiri Pandits” out of Jammu & Kashmir, and their handling by “some other independent investigating agency like CBI or NIA… as till date, J&K Police has failed miserably to make any progress in hundreds of FIRs lying pending with them for more then 26 years”.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud dismissed the plea, saying that 27 years had passed since the Pandit exodus from the Valley, and evidence “is unlikely to be available”.
Reacting to the dismissal of the petition, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a well known Kashmiri human rights organisation, said in a statement that the “Supreme Court order is a complete departure from established law that ‘crime never dies’, and there exists no time limitation for justice under Indian and international law with regard to serious crimes such as murder”.
The “killings of Kashmiri Pandits, other minorities and all violence in Jammu and Kashmir have never been fairly and credibly investigated. Thus far, Jammu and Kashmir has faced widespread, systematic and systemic violence, largely at the hands of the Indian State,” the JKCCS statement said. “To date, despite the presence of evidence, virtually no prosecutions have been conducted against armed forces personnel in civilian courts.”
The JKCCS also said that the (SC) “order is based, it appears, on an absolutely unsubstantiated presumption that no evidence is likely to be available after the passage of time”.
According to the organisation, the SC “order exonerates the State and its agencies that have chosen to protect the perpetrators of crime and have not allowed fair and credible investigations, thereby creating deterrence to families approaching courts.
“The delay is not attributable to victim families, many of whom have consistently sought to use all available forums to struggle for justice. Some victim families have not pursued cases due to the real fear and danger that seeking justice involves. It is the State, of which the judiciary has been a part, which has ensured delay and denial of justice.”
A report compiled by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2008 on the basis of a survey of its own cases revealed that 1989 onwards, militants had killed 209 Kashmiri Pandits — 109 of them in 1990 alone. One hundred and forty cases were registered at police stations across the Valley, chargesheets had been filed in 24 cases, while in 115, the perpetrators were yet to be identified. Thirty one local militants had been booked in the 24 cases of killings of Pandits in which chargesheets had been filed, police said.
The investigation into the killing of retired judge Neel Kanth Ganju on November 1, 1989 at Hari Singh High Street in Srinagar, has been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Ganju had passed the death sentence on Maqbool Bhat, founder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.
According to J&K Police records, the first Kashmiri Pandit to be murdered was a woman named Prabhavati, from Nawagari, Chadoora, in Budgam district. Prabhavati, police records say, was killed at Hari Singh High Street on March 14, 1989. Her killers were never traced.
The police statistics on the killings of Kashmiri Pandits by militants include the Sangrampora, Wandhama and Nadimarg massacres. Seven Pandits were killed during the intervening night of March 21-22, 1997 at Sangrampora village in Budgam; 23 were killed in Wandhama on January 25, 1998; 24 were killed at Nadimarg village on March 24, 2003.
The perpetrators of the Wandhama massacre remain untraced, the police report said. Police, however, identified Pakistani militants Abu Haris and Abu Khalid as the perpetrators of the Sangrampora massacre. Both militants were killed in an encounter at Hewader on March 24, 1997. The Nadimarg killings had been carried out by Zai Mustafa alias Abdullah of Rawalakot, Pakistan, police said.
In Srinagar city, 82 persons belonging to the minority community were killed, the police report said. Twenty eight each were killed in Ganderbal and Pulwama, 17 in Kulgam, 16 each in Budgam and Anantnag, 11 in Baramulla, four each in Kupwara and Handwara, and three in Awantipora.
In March 2010, the government of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly that 219 Kashmiri Pandits had been killed by militants since 1989. The then Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla told the Assembly that a total 38,119 families, comprising 1,42,042 individuals, had migrated from the Valley due to the turmoil. The bulk of the migrating families — 24,202 — were Kashmiri Pandit, Bhalla said.
In 2011, Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS), a Kashmiri Pandit organisation based in Srinagar, said at least 399 Pandits had been killed since 1990 — 75% of them in the first year itself.
“The first list of a survey done by us suggests that 399 Pandits were killed. Our estimate is that the total number of them killed will be around 650 in the last 20 years,” KPSS president Sanjay Tickoo had said.
A senior leader of the ruling PDP told The Indian Express that a “comprehensive probe into all the killings of Kashmiri Pandits by militants during the 1990s would have helped to heal this festering wound in our society.
“And had such a probe been conducted in a free and fair manner, it would have helped begin true reconciliation within our society,” the leader added.
The unresolved issue of the migration of the Pandits, a minuscule but hugely important part of Kashmiri society, has remained a reason why even genuine political demands of the majority community continue to be viewed through a communal prism. A large number of Kashmiri Muslims feel there has been a consistent campaign to tarnish the image of the entire community without a proper investigation into the events of 27 years ago, which led to the mass migration of Pandit families from their homes. The general feeling in Kashmir is in favour of a credible investigation that would lead to the identification of the perpetrators and their prosecution, justice for victims, and ultimately bring closure.
The lack of enthusiasm from the central government to act along these lines is ironic because the Sangh Parivar has used the Pandit migration as a political tool to polarise Indian society at large, as well as to push a militaristic approach to the Kashmir issue. A fair probe and prosecution of the guilty would halt further politicisation of one of the tragic chapters of Kashmir’s recent history.