( Kashmiri Pandits, 1895.)
The 26 passengers of ‘Ganga’. an Indian Airliner coming to Delhi from Srinagar, did not know that their flight is going to be hijacked midair by two men armed with a pistol and a hand grenade on that fateful morning of 30th of January, 1971. After claiming the plane, the hijackers diverted it towards Lahore and after landing there, they put forward their demands that they be granted asylum in Pakistan, that the Government of India release thirty-six political prisoners belonging to the Kashmiri National Liberation Front and further, that, the families of the two hijackers should not be harmed by the Indian authorities.
These hijackers declared themselves Kashmiri freedom fighters under the leadership of Maqbool Bhat. Later, they released all the passengers and burnt down the plane.
Maqbool Bhat was escalating as sort of a hero among the Kashmiris. He was involved in an ambush in which a CID officer was killed and in that case, he had already been awarded death sentence by the Government. But dramatically, he dug a tunnel in Srinagar prison and escaped to Pakistan. Operating from Pakistan, Bhat orchestrated the hijack of Ganga. Pakistani authorities kept him under arrest till 1974 and then he was released.
He sneaked into India afterwards…only to be arrested again. The murder case added with the kidnapping case was reopened and Bhat was awarded death sentence. Bhat applied for clemency. But his efforts for clemency were marred by an incident which took place on February 3, 1984. An Indian Diplomat named Ravindra Mhatre was kidnapped in Birmingham, UK. A ransom money of 1 million dollars and release of Maqbool Bhat was demanded, and two days later, he was killed. A baffled Indian Government rejected the clemency of Bhat and he was hanged in the Tihar jail on 11th February..
Bhat’s claim for clemency was based on allegation of unfair trial. In Pakistan, there was a conspiracy theory regarding the kidnapping of Ganga. This theory stated that Ganga was kidnapped and destroyed by RAW agents who wanted to malign the face of Pakistan and curb the rise of Maqbool Bhat. The main argument in support of this theory was that Ganga was one of the oldest aircrafts of India, which had already been retired from active service. It was reintroduced only days before the kidnapping. Destroying an already retired plane for massive future gains was not a bad business for India.
These theories made Kashmiris believe that Bhat was tried unfairly and was hanged in cold blood for a crime which he had not done. Bhat morphed into a hero….he was declared a Shaheed and 11th February was decided to be held as day of Shahaadat.
Meanwhile, another development of events was taking place in Afghanistan. In 1979, the USSR moved into Afghanistan. Pakistan, supported by America, engaged in training and motivating the Mujahidins using Islamic propaganda…to liberate Afganistan and rescue their Muslim brothers. In 1989, the USSR withdrew their troops . Now the Mujahideen were jobless. They had to rescue someone…but there was none to rescue. Then Pakistan suggested them Kashmir. And this was the start of militancy in Kashmir.
In 1987, Farooq Abdullah won the elections. But the Separatist organizations claimed that these elections were rigged in favour of Farooq. The tension in valley was soaring. The candidate of opposition, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, was imprisioned. Feeling cheated, he later rose to militancy and became the head of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, assuming the name Syyed Salahuddin.
The valley was in anger. On 13th February, militants killed the Director of Srinagar Doordarshan because they thought that he was relaying pro-India stuff. By the end of February, about 4,00,000 Kashmiris took to streets demanding a plebiscite. On March 1, the number of protestors rose to One million. 40 were killed in police firing. In fact whole valley was on fire. It had started ……the insurgency.
So what fuelled this insurgency so intensely? Was it the demand of a separate nation….or was it the willingness to merge with Pakistan. In fact, it was neither. The fuel of the agitation was religious fanaticism. The highly motivated and heavily armed militants which infiltrated the valley in late 80’s painted the struggle for separation in religious colours. Suddenly, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front no more the flagbearer of the movement….the onus shifted to Muslim United Front. Slowly and very cleverly a program for ethnic cleansing of Kashmir was executed. Kashmiri Pandits were being targeted. They were being killed, raped and looted. Threatening pamphlets asking them to leave the valley were being stuck on their doors. This led to an exodus during which the 2,00,000 strong Kashmiri Pandit population left the land of their forefathers to take shelter in mainland India as refugees. Today, only 8,000 of them remain in the valley, amid constant fear.
However, the Kashmiri leaders deny that they had any hands in this ouster. They blame it to Pakistani militants. But let us look at what Omar Abdullah, the CM of J&K has got to say on this issue.
“It’s so easy to say that we will lay down our lives to bring Kashmiri Pandits back to the Valley and I appreciate the sentiment as I am sure the Kashmiri Pandits reading it will. Pity that sentiment was missing when our mosques were being used to drive these people out.”
“None of us was willing to stand up and be counted when it mattered. None of us grabbed the mikes (microphones) in the mosques and said ‘this is wrong and the Kashmiri Pandits had every right to continue living in the valley.”
“Our educated, well-to-do relatives and neighbours were spewing venom 24-hours a day and we were mute spectators either mute in agreement or mute in abject fear but mute nonetheless.”
“And talking about mosques — what a great symbol of mass uprising they proved to be. While I can’t claim to have lived through it I have enough friends who did and they tell me about the early 90’s where attendance was taken in mosques to force people to pray.”
(From Omar Abdullah’s official blog)
Now in Indian Army, more than 95% of them are Hindus. When they cracked the whip down, they did not think twice about the ethics taught to them in the Military Academies. The road to the valley ran through the refugee camps of the Pandits who had lost their every asset….be it money, be it dignity or be it soul. Vengeance was in the air…..
More next time…