(The recent civilian killings in Kashmir have rattled the Union Territory and set off a flurry of speculations. The Quint has published diverse opinions on the subject to present a broad view of the situation to its readers. You can read other views here.)
In 1989, when the tragic Kashmiri Pandit exodus started after a string of targeted killings and pronounced ultimatums by terrorist organisations, I was all but four years old. I have very vague memories of my parents embracing our Pandit neighbours and bidding them a tearful goodbye as they left their homes.
Our next-door neighbours, an old couple, Raghunath Matoo Ji and his wife, were an integral part of our lives as children. Their own children and grandchildren were all settled in different cities across the country and would visit them once a year. For the rest of the year, we were one big family. I used to spend hours at their home, being pampered and treated to the most scrumptious snacks while “Bobu Ji” proudly demonstrated his gramophone and told me about the fascinating world of astrology as we sat in his den, which had a small window with a majestic weeping willow outside.
A New, Artificial, Incomplete Kashmir
Years later, when I was a student at the Burn Hall school, I would go to the quaint little house of Mr Dina Nath Wali at Jawahar Nagar every evening for my tutorials. The hour and a half spent there every evening was consumed mostly in anecdotes, folklores and ‘Naseehat’ — sparsely interrupted by academic lessons. He was an exceptional man.
For those older than me, they have richer memories of living in a syncretic Kashmir, where Muslims and Pandits were inexplicably conjoined in their celebrations and sorrows alike, in gossip, in the mischief of children playing in the alleys, and in the evening discussions by community elders at the local grocery store.
That was all lost in 1989 — to an exodus that altered the very identity of our society — tearing it apart and synthesising a new artificial Kashmir that was socially incomplete and restless. For decades we have wondered if the exodus of 1989 could have been prevented — both by the administration and the society. Did we do enough? Could we have done more? Could the path of history have been any different had we decided to stand up unequivocally?
Another Collective Tragedy?
These are questions that should echo in our minds, in our sense of bereavement and in our collective apprehensions as we witnessed multiple targeted killings of minorities this past week. These are questions that my generation of Kashmiris has grown up with and questions that have become footnotes in the history of the violent turmoil that has consumed thousands of innocent lives.
When I went to the house of Makhan Lal Bindroo, a popular chemist who was killed by terrorists at his shop in the heart of Srinagar recently, I was struck by a muffled, collective and palpable feeling of anxiety. Of absolute shock and helplessness. As his family bade goodbye to him, I wondered if we were at the threshold of another collective tragedy.
A few days later, terrorists barged into a government school at Sangam, Eidgah, and executed the Principal of the School, Supinder Kaur, and a teacher, Deepak Chand. Targeted, ruthless killings. Same pattern. Same design.
As I visited Supinder Kaur’s home that same day and sat with her family, I was overcome by the same sense of anguish, anger and helplessness. I had no words of consolation to offer. These are inconsolable tragedies perpetrated by demons who have devoured our peace, our past and now threaten to inflict the same wounds on our future generations.
It's Time to Drop the Cloak of Ambiguity
In another senseless, barbaric act of terror, a golgappa vendor from Bihar was shot dead in Lal Bazar, to send a message to the thousands of non-local tradesmen, labourers and workers who live in Srinagar. What was his fault? What ideological battle depends on snuffing the life out of a poor street vendor who lives thousands of miles away from his wife and children to feed them and earn a basic living?
It has been a tough week in Srinagar. As we wonder how this could happen in the heart of the city and what could have been done on an operational level to prevent this, we need to understand that the most effective deterrent will have to come from the majority community. The social sanctity that ambiguity provides to such barbarism will have to end. Our condemnations will have to be unequivocal, regardless of our political views and ideologies.
I have refused to call these assassins “unknown gunmen”, the generic cloak of ambiguity that relegates these tragedies to the realm of statistics.
I have appealed to the local media fraternity and to society at large to come out in the open and call out these elements — term them as terrorists who believe in killing unarmed innocent civilians to further their nefarious designs. An admittedly tough stand to take in an atmosphere where our police continue to protect only two political families adequately — the Muftis and the Abdullahs — while the rest of us are dispensable commodities. This is a stand that we will have to take. We will have to stick our necks out and stand as shields to give our minority communities — Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Sikhs — a sense of safety and belonging.
This is not the time for conspiracy theories and nuanced condemnations laced with political overtures. This is not the time to sound ‘balanced’ and subtle. This is the time to call a spade a spade — for history won’t forgive us if we fail to stand up for our people.
(Junaid Azim Mattu is the Mayor of Srinagar and the President of Youth Jammu Kashmir Apni Party. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)