Some massacres are more equal than the other. On the 15th anniversary of a discounted genocide, and the brutal displacement of more than 300,000 Indians, the voices of copyright conscience stay schtum. One pogrom doesn’t justify the other, but selective mourning only discredits the liberal cause.
On each anniversary of the 2001 Gujarat riots, Ahmedabad becomes the destination of a secular pilgrimage. But none of the mourners have ever taken the bus to Wandhama. In this forgotten town, there are no forlorn photographs on ruined, fire-scarred walls; no macabre ghost stories to tell on television; and no candles burn in the memory of those who perished there on January 25, 1983, during Shab-e-Qadr, the holiest night of the month of Ramzan. This week, 30 years ago, 23 Kashmiri pundits—four children, nine women and 10 men—were gunned down with Kalashnikovs by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), funded and trained by Pakistan. This was an omen of darker times to come. Seven years later, on January 4, 1990, the HuM—created by Jamaat-e-Islami to wage jihad against India and make Kashmir a part of Pakistan—issued a warning through the Urdu press, demanding that all Hindus leave Kashmir. As the government of the flamboyant, pleasure-loving chief minister Farooq Abdullah cowered in Srinagar, Kalashnikov-wielding jihadis went on the rampage against pundits. Loudspeakers in mosques throughout Kashmir played the slogans: ‘Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa (What do we want here? The rule of Shariah)’, and ‘Asi gachchi Pakistan, batao roas te batanev san (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men)’. At that time Chandra Shekhar was the prime minister, who was propped up by a Kashmiri pundit, Rajiv Gandhi. During this time, all Kashmiris were forced by Pak-sponsored terrorists to re-set their watches to Pakistan Standard Time.
For the 300,000-odd Kashmiri pundits—or 90 per cent of their population, largely living in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi—it is still Pakistan Standard Time; the hour of horror has never ended. None from Amnesty International or Asia Watch has bothered to visit the squalid camps. One hundred and five Hindu-owned educational institutions were destroyed, 103 Hindu religious institutions—temples and ashrams—were burnt down, 14, 430 shops and businesses owned by pundits were looted and occupied, more than 1,100 of them were raped and murdered, and 20,000 pundit homes were set on fire. According to historian Kaia Leather’s Kashmiri Separatists: Origins, Competing Ideologies and Prospects for Resolution of the Conflict, around 400,000 Kashmiri Pundits fled their homeland—where they had lived for more than five centuries—and ethnic violence killed more than 30,000. Another historian Rebecca Knuth noted that secessionist groups raped, tortured and killed thousands of Kashmiri pundits. From 1983 until January 19, 1990, the ethnic cleansing of Indian citizens continued in Kashmir.
In Jaipur, where the Congress party speaks of preserving its secular agenda and votebanks, there is no mention of this bloodied little dot on the map of India’s most-troubled state. Because Kashmiri pundits are not a votebank, neither for the Congress party nor for Omar Abdullah, who has been asking them to return home, promising their safety or security. How a chief minister, who cannot guard a sarpanch from fundamentalist bullets, will protect Kashmiri pundits is a conundrum that taunts history as a grim joke.
India, traditionally, is a communally tolerant society. Today there is anger, both among the public and the Indian Army at Pakistani brutality. Our politicians may have papered over the rage with sanctimonious speeches on peace. The ghosts of war, however, dictate the relationship between the neighbours. But the ghosts of peace remain to be exorcised. As long as a holocaust perpetrated on Indian soil by Pakistan remains unaddressed, the ability of the Indian state to protect its citizens will continue to be mocked. And no Chintan Shivir is going to change that.