Kashmiri Pandits Exodus: The Timeline & How 'The Kashmir Files' Deviates From It

Agnihotri's rendition makes a few glaring deviations from the facts known about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

7 min read

"Kashmiri Pandits responsible for duress against Muslims should leave the Valley within two days," read a headline of a local Urdu newspaper, Al-Safa, on 14 April 1990.

Vivek Agnihotri's film, The Kashmir Files, explores the tragic history of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, positing itself as an account of the events that transpired in the Valley in the early 1990s.

Agnihotri's rendition of the exodus, which claims that it is "based on true stories," however, makes a few glaring deviations from the facts known about the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits.

For instance, it suggests that a threat asking Kashmiri Pandits to leave the Valley was issued in Al-Safa before the exodus, thereby contributing to the forced migration. The published threat, however, came nearly three months after one of the darkest nights in Jammu and Kashmir – 19 January 1990 – observed as the Exodus Day by the Kashmiri Hindu community.

A number of such errors mar Agnihotri's film, which has been called out for its communal bias. Here's a look at the actual timeline of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, and how The Kashmir Files departs from history at certain points.


The 1975 Indira-Sheikh Accord and the Early 1980s

An agreement, popularly known as the 1975 Indira-Sheikh Accord, was signed between Kashmiri politician Sheikh Abdullah and then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi. It laid down measures for the integration of Jammu and Kashmir to India, ensuring that it will continue to be governed under Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave the state an autonomous status as a constituent of India.

With the support of the Indian National Congress, National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah formed a government as chief minister in 1975.

Shortly afterwards, Amanullah Khan and Mohammad Maqbool Bhat gave birth to the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in 1977, whose goal was to work towards the 'liberation' of Kashmir from India and Pakistan.

In 1982, Sheikh Abdullah died, and his son, Dr Farooq, succeeded him as chief minister.

However, Farooq Abdullah's first stint as chief minister was short-lived; he was deseated after an Indira Gandhi-led political coup in 1984. Jammu and Kashmir Governor Jagmohan Malhotra, dictated by the Centre, orchestrated the replacement of Abdullah with his brother-in-law Ghulam Shah, who had rebelled against his family and pioneered another faction of the National Conference.

Gul Shah formed the government with support from the Congress at the state-level as well as the central.

The year 1984 also saw another crucial event that contributed significantly to the rise of separatist insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir: the hanging Maqbool Bhat, JKLF co-founder and a pioneer of the secessionist movement.

Jammu and Kashmir saw a pronounced rise in separatist violence following the execution of Bhat. Public anger with the prevailing regime also fuelled the growth of the JKLF, which was supported by Pakistan.

The Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are said to have provided weapons, training, and logistical support to the JKLF. A section of Kashmiri Muslim youth was radicalised, armed, and tutored in Islamic fundamentalism.

1986: Kashmir Riots & Farooq Abdullah Re-Installation

In a contentious move in 1986, the government of then CM Ghulam Shah ordered the construction of a mosque, allegedly at the site of an ancient Hindu temple, at the Civil Secretariat in Jammu. Citizens of Jammu took to the streets to protest the erection of the masjid on the secretariat premises.

Further, in the same year, the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government at the Centre unlocked the gates of the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi temple for Hindu worship. Ripples of the move were seen in Kashmir as well.

Consequently, riots broke out in Jammu and Kashmir. A large number of Hindu houses were attacked, shops looted, and temples vandalised in Vanpoh, Anantnag, and Sopore, among others.

Anantnag, the constituency of then Congress leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, bore the brunt of the violence. Several Hindu temples and houses were targeted in the city.

Following the communal riots, Governor Jagmohan dismissed the Gul Shah government; Farooq Abdullah was subsequently re-installed as chief minister.


1987-1990: J&K Elections Rigged, Militant Movement Rises

It is widely believed that the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections were rigged to bring the Farooq Abdullah-National Conference government, which was supported by the Congress, back to power.

The blatant electoral engineering, which disillusioned many Kashmiri youth, became a watershed event in Kashmir's political landscape and catalysed further insurgency.

ISI-sponsored Pro-Pakistan outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen, was founded in 1989. It marked a shift in the motivations behind the militancy in Kashmir – hitherto driven primarily be a separatist sentiment, it now took a more communal colour and moved towards jihad.

In the same year, the JKLF abducted medical intern Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of then Home Minister of the Janata Dal-led central government, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

In exchange for Rubaiya, five JKLF associates were freed from jails.


1988-1990: Prominent Hindu Leaders Are Killed

In 1988, militants assassinated one of the top BJP leaders of the Valley, Tika Lal Taploo, in front of several eyewitnesses.

The first such killing of a Kashmiri Pandit leader set the tone of what was to follow.

In 1989, Neelkanth Ganjoo, the judge who had sentenced the JLKF's Maqbool Bhat to death, was killed in a market near the Srinagar High Court in broad daylight. Journalist-lawyer Prem Nath Bhat was shot dead near his house in Anantnag shortly after.

Hit lists of Kashmiri Pandit leaders were believed to be in circulation. Fear began to set in, in the homes and hearts of the Kashmiri Pandit community in the Valley.

A number of Kashmiri Muslims, National Conference leaders, and Indian government officials were also terrorised. Politician Mirwaiz Farooq of the All Jammu and Kashmir Awami Action Committee was shot dead by a militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen in 1990.


19 January 1990 & What Followed: The Darkest Night and the Exodus

The VP Singh-led Janata Dal government at the Centre re-appointed Jagmohan as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, triggering his political rival Farooq Abdullah's resignation from the post of chief minister.

The first day of the governor's rule, 19 January 1990, saw the darkest night in the history of the Kashmiri Pandit Exodus.

That night, the politically-disturbed Valley reverberated with war cries, communal calls, and threats to Pandits. "Ralive-Tsalive-Ya Galive" is a famous rallying call from the time, translating to "convert-leave Kashmir-or perish."

In a door-to-door mission, Hindu homes were attacked, families killed, and many women raped by militants.

With hastily packed belongings and terror in their hearts, Kashmiri Pandits who survived the night fled the Valley on 20 January morning and the weeks that followed, becoming refugees in their homeland.

As many as 75,343 Kashmiri Pandits are estimated to have fled in January 1990, with about 70,000 more following till March, as per the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti. As per the estimates, 650 Pandits were killed during this time.

The Kashmir Files mounts the claim that 5 lakh Pandits fled Kashmir, while 4,000 were killed during the exodus – figures higher than most accepted estimates.

Further, the film shows that Al-Safa carried a threat commanding Kashmiri Pandits to leave the Valley before the night of the exodus – 'Al-Safa, Pandit dafa,' a child holding the newspaper recites in the movie. Agnihotri's rendition then suggests that this was among the factors that contributed to the exodus on 19 January, even though the threat was reported to have been published on 14 April, three months after the night of terror.


January 1990: Kashmiri Muslims Killed in Gawkadal Massacre; IAF Bus Stop Attack

The disturbances within the social fabric of the Valley was met with some excesses from the Indian security forces.

On 21 January 1990, two days into the governor's rule, the paramilitary troops of the Central Police Reserve Force (CRPF) opened fire on a group of protesting civilians on the Gawkadal bridge in Srinagar, killing about 50 Kashmiri Muslims as per estimates.

In another incident of violence on 25 January, a week into the Janata Dal governor's rule, 4 Indian Air Force (IAF) officers were gunned down while 40 personnel were injured in a militant attack at a bus stop in Rawalpora.

Marking a significant deviation from the historical timeline, The Kashmir Files shows that the attack on IAF officers took place before the exodus, possibly towards the end of 1989. The film then incorrectly suggests that the firing took place when the Congress-National Conference government was in power.

2003: Nadimarg Massacre

One of the deadliest attacks on Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley took place in 2003, more than a decade after the peak of the exodus.

Armed militants, dressed in army fatigues, infiltrated a colony of Kashmiri Pandits in Pulwama's Nadimarg on 23 March 2003. Twenty-four Hindus, including two children, were lined up outside their houses and shot dead by terrorists who belonged to the outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba

At the time of the carnage, People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mufti Sayeed was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, while an Atal Bihar Vajpayee-led BJP government was at the Centre.

As per the chronology of The Kashmir Files, the massacre takes place in the early 1990s. Further, a character resembling Yasin Malik, a top commander of the JKLF, is shown to have mounted the attack. However, terror organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba is believed to have perpetrated the killings.

What Did the Governments Do?

A BJP-supported Janata Dal government was at the Centre at the time of the exodus in 1990. A governor of this administration was ruling in Jammu and Kashmir.

Governor Jagmohan is criticised for not guaranteeing the safety of Kashmiri Pandits fleeing the Valley and for not stopping them with assurance of security.

Kashmiri journalist Gowhar Geelani notes in his work, Insulting Facts With Fiction to Suit One's Narrative, that on the request of some Kashmiri Muslims, senior Indian administrator Wajahat Habibullah, posted in Anantnag in 1990 as Special Commissioner, had appealed to Jagmohan to dissuade the Pandits from leaving the Valley.

Instead, the notorious governor said that if the Pandits decided to leave, refugee camps had been set up for them and the departing civil servants would be continued to be paid their salaries. He announced that if they chose to stay back, he would not be able to guarantee their safety.

No police commission, special investigation team (SIT), or judicial panel was constituted to probe the genocide-triggered exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

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