These days it has become fashionable for protestors in campuses like JNU, Aligarh Muslim University etc India to complain they want Azaadi or freedom from the Citizenship Amendment Act,(CAA), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) which has a legally elected overwhelming majority in the Centre, etc etc.
The slogan of “Azaadi” came came into prominence at JNU in 2016 when it was raised by Kanhaiya Kumar , the then president of the JNU Students Union. ( You may recall that he later stood for the elections for the Lok Sabha from Begusarai supported by the CPI and lost badly, but that is not the subject of this post). In 2019, azaadi as a slogan again came up in different campuses in India. However, many of the youth who are asking for Azaadi may not know the story of the Kashmiri Pandits where an entire community of people literally lost their Azaadi overnight on the night of January 19, 1990. Not 100s or 1000s but 100,000s of them fled their ancestral home leaving behind everything tormented by Islamist groups like the JKLF.
Today, 30 years have passed since that fateful night and the saddest part is that not one criminal has been punished. Not a single one. Actually, the problems faced by the Kashmiri Pandits goes back in time. According to reliable reports the problems in the Indian border State of Jammu & Kashmir ( now made an Union Territory) started when elections were rigged in 1987 reportedly by the Congress Government in the Centre headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, supported by Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference in the State. This alienated a lot of local Muslim population who supported the more militant Muslim United Front (MUF). They felt the local Kashmiri Pandits, who were Hindus unlike them, represented the Indian State. and accordingly could be soft targets.
In September 1989, a lawyer Tika Lal Taploo was the first Kashmiri Pandit to be openly killed. His killers were never punished and this emboldened the terrorists. They got so bold as to kill serving Indian Air Force officer Sqd Ldr Ravi Khanna and three other IAF personnel. Still they remained unpunished. How can one forget the 1990 murder of Kashmiri Pandit, Girija Tikkoo, who was just a Lab Asst in Jammu?
With these ” victories” behind them, they were ready for the ultimate goal, to push the Kashmiri Pandits out of their homeland. The hapless Pandits were infamously given three choices, “Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive” which means ” either Convert to Islam, Leave the Land, or Die!” These slogans were blared out of loudspeakers from mosques in the Kashmir Valley. Never in the history of Post Independence India had such a blatant aggression against one community taken place without any provocation.
Even thirty years later, the Kashmiri Pandits find themselves as refugees in their own country. Their tales of sorrow have been documented and need no repetition. Everyone has heard their stories though successive Governments have done little for them. We do hope , however that now that Article 370 has been repealed, the way forward may emerge. How the Kashmiri Pandit saga will end remains to be seen. Only time will tell if they ever go back to their homeland!!
The greatest irony, to my mind, is that political parties like the Congress and the Communist parties in India oppose the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act as they claim it discriminates against Muslims. They don’t spare a thought, ( they haven’t in for the last thirty years, in any case) for the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, who are refugees in their own country! It’s all very well for students in the exuberance of youth to ask for ” Azaadi” but their story is nothing compared to the sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits who have truly lost their Azaadi!!