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Home / Opinion / Columns /  Seeds of Kashmiri pandits’ exodus were sown in ’60s

I watched two movies last week: The Kashmir Files and ’83. One exposed the flaws in the Indian Constitution and political system, while the other portrayed Indian people’s determination. Let’s take a closer look at the first.

The Kashmir Files exposed the wounds that had been oozing. Stories about peace-loving Kashmiri Pandits being forced to leave their native land are unusual. Though some stories have indeed come out, the film prompted many to recognize the sad truths buried in time. I agree with Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, the film’s producer-director, that the actual situation was far worse than what the film depicts.

There have been sporadic signals since the 1960s. In February 1967, an armed Border Security Force guard in Srinagar’s Nawakadal region was attacked and killed, an incident which was ignored by authorities. Assembly elections were underway in Jammu and Kashmir at the time, which was won by the Congress, and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq was re-elected as chief minister. Indira Gandhi had become prime minister a year ago. As a Kashmiri herself, Gandhi was well aware of the situation in Kashmir. Perhaps a bloodbath could have been prevented if attempts to integrate Kashmir and Kashmiris into the mainstream had begun then. Said Farooq Abdullah, another former chief minister (CM) of the state: “My heart weeps at the Pandit exodus." It’s possible, but it’s also true that many terrible things happened during his reign. Like other CMs, he was unable to prevent such incidents.

The events of 13 October 1983, must also be remembered here. In Srinagar, India and the West Indies played a one-day international match on that day. India had won the World Cup only four months ago, and Kapil Dev was captain. In a cricket-crazed country like India, his squad should have gotten a warm welcome, but the reverse happened. The Indian cricketers were booed and abused by the crowd, while the West Indian players were applauded. While seeing ’83, I couldn’t help but feel terrible for the players who raised the flag of their country, and wondered why they were treated so badly in their own country. By then, separatists inspired by Pakistan had undoubtedly strengthened their position.

The match had to be called off due to a storm, but the whirlwind forming behind the grandeur of Kashmir’s valley was overlooked. Anti-Hindu riots erupted in the valley’s cities three years later, in 1986, and astute Kashmiri Pandits began packing their belongings. Those who moved elsewhere in the country used to warn about the growth of separatism in the form of communalism at the time. It was attempted to scare minorities by committing acts of violence in public places. Let’s not forget that Hindus and Sikhs have always been the minority in Kashmir. A recurrent complaint among them was that the administration did not listen to them. Even though the rulers of Srinagar were not separatists themselves, they did not take any serious action against the separatists on the streets. As a result, pro-Pakistan forces gained ground in the police.

On 8 December 1989, terrorists abducted Rubia Sayeed, the daughter of the country’s then home minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in broad daylight, exposing the system’s sad truth. In exchange for her release, Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s government released four feared terrorists. It was the final nail in the coffin for the system. This choice signalled the start of a series of horrible occurrences. If we had the will to resist Pakistan’s propaganda war and the nefarious goals of the Kashmiri authorities in the 1960s, the situation would not have turned out so badly. The migration of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits is a slap in the face of those who swore to uphold the Constitution. Such nations cannot continue to exist if they do not learn from their mistakes.

However, I’d like to respectfully warn that half-truths can be even more destructive than outright lies. The valley’s mosques were used to promote hatred towards Kashmiri Hindus during those days, but many Muslims also stood up for their neighbours. There were several Muslim drivers who, without regard for their own safety, safely transported their Hindu neighbours out of the valley. The rapprochement of such people continued in later years. Terrorists in the valley destroyed the homes of both Muslims and Hindus. Many of these people had to abandon homes. If a few more events like these had been included in The Kashmir Files, the overall image would have been more accurate.

Let’s not forget, though, that this is, after all, a movie. There is a distinction to be made between a film script and a history book.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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