A Kashmiri Journo Explains the History of Militancy in the Valley

What are the gory events that set the stage for the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and the Gawkadal Massacre? 

7 min read

On the night of 19 January 1990, all hell broke loose in Kashmir — a place many think of as ‘Heaven on Earth’. Several mosques in Srinagar played the Azaadi slogans, asking the Indian security forces to quit: ‘aey jabiro, aey zalimo, Kashmir hamara chhor dou’ . They didn’t. Those who were in barracks and bunkers and at the borders were brought down to kitchens and bedrooms by the deafening chants. It triggered the exodus of the minority Kashmiri Pandits — who had started to move out in smaller numbers months prior. They call it ‘Holocaust Day’.

The following day, CRPF machine guns left over 50 Kashmiri Muslim demonstrators dead and scores injured in a peaceful procession at Gawkadal. Kashmiri Muslims remember 21 January as ‘the beginning of the genocide’ — ‘the first massacre’.

These were turning points in Kashmir’s post-1947 political and cultural history that changed its socio-political landscape. But the metamorphosis didn’t happen overnight.

  • Jammu and Kashmir had its first taste of true democracy 30 years after India achieved Independence.
  • The Congress party at the Centre had rigged all elections until 1977.
  • On 2 December 1989, Mufti became the Home Minister in VP Singh’s government at the Centre. Soon he began planning Farooq’s exit with the appointment of his favourite, Jagmohan, as J&K’s Governor.
  • As the first lightning struck the Kashmiri Muslims at Gawkadal on 21 January, the JKLF militants shot dead four Indian Air Force officials at Rawalpora on 25 January.

First Fair Elections in 1977; Setback in 1984

Jammu and Kashmir had its first taste of true democracy 30 years after India achieved Independence. The Congress party at the Centre had rigged all elections until 1977 when Governor LK Jha presided over the first free and fair Lok Sabha and assembly elections, both swept in the Valley by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s National Conference (NC). Sheikh died in September 1982 and his son Farooq Abdullah got a landslide victory in the assembly elections of 1983.

The first setback to the Kashmiris’ growing faith in democracy occurred in July 1984 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, at the behest of her local party colleagues, engineered Farooq’s dismissal, with the defection of 12 of the NC’s MLAs.

She installed Ghulam Mohammad Shah as CM with the support of the Congress.


First Attacks on Kashmiri Pandits, Hindu Temples

The coalition didn’t last long. Marred by months of curfew, it was finally terminated months after Mrs Gandhi was assassinated by her security guards in October 1984. Ghulam Mohammad Shah stirred a controversy with the erection of a mosque on the premises of the Civil Secretariat in Jammu.

Soon after, a verdict on permission for puja at Babri Masjid led to communal riots in some states. Shah, as well as the real key-holder of power in J&K, the Pradesh Congress President Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, shut their eyes to a chain of attacks on temples and houses of Pandits in Anantnag.

Later, Mufti’s own colleagues alleged that the attacks, for the first time in Kashmir after 1947, had been ‘engineered by him’.

Then the Hindu Action Committee leader Bal Krishna Handoo said, “the large-scale arson, pillage, plunder and desecration of our temples was aimed at creating conditions for the mass exodus of the Hindus”. “If we quit Kashmir, we will be handing it on a platter to the Muslim groups who want to secede from India. But that is for the Central government to consider,” Handoo said.

“Does Rajiv Gandhi want Hindus to run away? Does he want a Punjab in Kashmir,” Farooq Abdullah had said in reaction. He said that the separatists had gained strength in the 20 months of his hibernation.


The Rajiv-Farooq-Mirwaiz ‘Handshake’

Three civilians got killed and over a hundred were injured in clashes, but Governor Jagmohan restored normalcy when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi withdrew support to Shah’s unpopular government and shifted Mufti to Delhi. He was inducted as Minister of Tourism. In J&K, Rajiv installed Farooq as CM with Congress support. Mirwaiz Farooq became part of this alliance. The troika addressed an effervescent rally at Iqbal Park in Srinagar.

But while ostensibly campaigning for the Congress in the assembly elections of March 1987, Mufti, at a rally in Anantnag, displayed his pen — signalling his supporters to vote for the Jamaat-e-Islami dominated Muslim United Front (MUF).

Even after the separatists began gaining ground with Mufti’s tacit support, I didn’t see a single shop shut in Srinagar or elsewhere on the day of the JKLF leader Maqbool Bhat’s execution in February 1984 or his death anniversary in 1985 and 1986. One odd call for shutdown came from Abdul Gani Lone, chairman of the Peoples Conference. Muffar Baig was his deputy and Bhat’s counsel.

The 1989 Lok Sabha elections exposed the decay.

In contrast to the massive participation in 1984, when NC’s Abdul Rashid Kabli defeated Chief Minister Shah’s son Muzaffar by a margin of nearly 3 lakh votes in Srinagar, nobody even filed a nomination paper this time. NC’s Mohammad Shafi Bhat was declared ‘elected uncontested’. The turnout was a dismal 3-5 percent in Anantnag and Baramulla.

Earlier that year I witnessed youths at a prayer congregation at the Eidgah grounds greeting ‘Double Farooq’ with hostile slogans.


Release of JKLF Militants for Rubaiya Sayeed

On 2 December 1989, Mufti became the Home Minister in VP Singh’s government at the Centre. Soon he began planning Farooq’s exit with the appointment of his favourite, Jagmohan, as J&K’s Governor.

The biggest turning point came when the JKLF militants kidnapped Mufti’s daughter Rubaiya and got five top commanders released in exchange for her.

As the word spread that the JKLF had brought the Government of India to its knees and the five commanders were being set free in downtown, I too walked to the spectacle at Bohrikadal Chowk.

My friend Tariq Bhat narrated to me how the youths of his neighbourhood had begun to see Azaadi around the corner. “They told an India Today reporter that next time you will be here on visa,” he said. Despite the surging crowds, two carbine-wielding constables of J&K Police in uniform were smartly in control of the situation at their positions. By then Farooq had given in to the pressure from the Centre and placed responsibility of the consequences of the militants’ release on the Centre.

The militants’ release that evening turned the Valley into an unprecedented euphoria and a sense of victory against India. There was jubilation in Srinagar and other towns.


A Trail of Blasts, Targeted Killings in 1988-89

The militants chose the Central Telegraph Office and Srinagar Club as the first targets of their attacks on 1 August 1988. Earlier, on 10 June, 3 civilians were killed and 20 were injured when the police opened fire on protesters demonstrating against the 20 percent hike on the power tariff. On 18 August, curfew was clamped when the Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq’s death in an air crash caused mayhem. Divisional Commissioner Shafi Pandit maintained that the curfew was imposed when some miscreants attacked the houses, temples and shops of the Pandits in Anantnag and Baramulla.

On 18 September, JKLF’s first militant, Aijaz Dar, got killed in an attack on the residence of the then DIG Kashmir Ali Mohammad Watali. It was followed by a series of blasts, clashes and shutdown on 27 October, the day of the Indian Army’s first landing in Kashmir in 1947.

The year 1989 began with massive demonstrations against Salman Rushie’s Satanic Verses. The first death in the police firing occurred on 13 February. Detained separatist Shabir Shah’s father died in police action in Anantnag on 4 April, when two civilians got killed and 17 sustained injuries. On 12 May, 5 tourists were injured in an attack on their bus. Two people got killed when a mob attacked a Police station.

On the eve of Eid-ul-Azha on 13 July, 3 policemen and a prominent trader’s son were killed in the first major encounter in Bohrikadal area.

A Wave of Terror Among Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims

However, the targeted killings began with the assassination of the NC worker Mohammad Yousuf Halwai in Kalashpora Fatehkadal on 21 August and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh leader Tika Lal Taploo near his home in Habbakadal on 13 September. Taploo’s funeral was attended by senior BJP leaders, Kidar Nath Sahani and LK Advani, but it spread a wave of terror among the Pandits.

A local Pandit woman, Sheela Tikoo, was gunned down on the Habbakadal bridge on 1 November 1989. Retired judge Neel Kanth Ganjoo, who had sentenced Maqbool Bhat to death in a murder case, was shot dead outside J&K High Court in Srinagar on 4 November. Advocate Prem Nath Bhat was gunned down in Anantnag on 27 December.

Days after the release of the JKLF militants, ‘Air Marshal’ Noor Khan of Allah Tigers and Asiya Andrabi of Dukhtaraan-e-Millat got all the 18 cinema theatres and wine shops closed down with the deadline of 31 December, 1989.

Pandits ML Bhan and Tej Kishen Razdan were among the four IB officers shot dead in January and February 1990. On one occasion, even the IB staff did not attend the wreath-laying ceremony of their colleague at Gupkar Road, which was thought to be safe.

As the first lightning struck the Kashmiri Muslims at Gawkadal on 21 January, the JKLF militants shot dead four Indian Air Force officials at Rawalpora on 25 January.

On the same day, the Border Security Force (BSF) killed 26 civilian Muslim demonstrators in the ‘second massacre’, at Handwara.


Protests, Threats & Death Warrants

Murmurs of protests among the Muslims grew louder with the brutal killings of the SKIMS nurse Sarla Bhat in April 1990, a Pandit lecturer and his wife in Zainakadal, a chemist and his wife at Wakora, Ganderbal. But threats from militants kept pouring in. It was finally on 31 March 1992, that a 5,000-strong demonstration of the local Muslims came out on the streets to protest the brutal killing of Sohan Lal Braru, his wife Bimla and daughter Archana, who had also been allegedly raped, at Naisarak in Gawkadal area. However, threats and ‘death warrants’ silenced the helpless populations.

Even after the chain of incidents and selective killings from September 1989 to January 1990, a large number of Pandits chose to stay back.

In the middle of March 1990, a full-page statement from Hizbul Mujahideen was delivered by a stranger at the offices of vernacular dailies. Its caption asked ‘anti-movement Pandits’ to immediately leave Kashmir. I saw the editor of Al-Safa News, Mohammad Shaban Vakil, who was later shot dead in April 1991, turning pale and beseeching the courier: “If we publish it as it is, newspapers will be banned and printing presses seized”. Vakil was asked to act as advised through a footnote. By the time District Magistrate Ghulam Abbas seized the printing presses and banned the publications next day, most of the Pandits had left in panic. With the militants and the soldiers wielding guns, the common Kashmiris — Pandits as well as Muslims—were completely helpless and sandwiched in between.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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