Exodus of Pandits: What I Saw
For all this failure no heads rolled
Kidnappers had released Mufti’s daughter in exchange for setting free some terrorists under detention. These very terrorists would later hijack an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar. At the other side the release of these terrorists had led to large-scale jubilation in Srinagar. Groups of young hooligans were going around forcing liquor shops, cinema halls, beauty parlors etc to shut down. Lawlessness prevailed in the town and in some other parts of the Kashmir valley.
As an annual routine the state government had shifted from Srinagar to Jammu for the winter months. I was then commanding the army’s corps, responsible for the Jammu region. I had gone to state headquarters for a courtesy call on the chief minister.
When I reached there, the CM was holding a conference with his officers. The PA to the CM informed him of my arrival. The CM came out of the conference room to meet me and suggested that I join in the conference and so I did.
The CM and his team of officers were discussing the breakdown of law and order in Srinagar and a few other places in the valley. I was taken aback at the complete helplessness and paralysis that had gripped those in the conference room. They appeared to be at a complete loss as to what to do to restore order.
Sometime later the situation in the valley deteriorated further, and when the first batch of Pandits evacuated from the valley arrived in Jammu there was palpable unrest in the town. This first batch of refugees from the valley were camped outside Nagrota Cantt.
I went across to the governor (Jagmohan – by this time there was governor’s rule in the state) and impressed upon him the compelling need to restore order in the valley. The army could be called and in the worst case temporarily hand over the valley to the army.
I told him of an earlier instance when, to restore order in Srinagar town, it was handed over to the army. I briefed him of the circumstances whereby the town of Srinagar was handed over to the army:
When the holy relic in the Hazratbal Mosque was found missing, a crowd of nearly half a million had assembled in Srinagar town and set fire to a police station, tehsil office and the chief minister’s hotel under construction. Fire brigade vehicles deployed to control this fire were also set upon. The rampaging mob damaged some other public properties.
The call was then made to the army for a fire brigade. We sent the Ordnance Depot fire brigade vehicles along with a fully armed infantry platoon. While the crowd stayed around no one ventured to get near the army fire-fighting vehicles.
Because of winter, the state government had moved to Jammu. The situation in Srinagar was completely beyond the control of the civil administration. That evening we received a letter from the state commissioner in which he handed over the town of Srinagar to the army.
I was then officiating GSO-2 in 31 Com Zone Sub Area. Since we had only one battalion in Srinagar, so two more battalions were moved from Baramulla to Srinagar and deployed in the town. Complete order was restored in the town of Srinagar. For the next three days the crowds kept gathering in Srinagar but there was no untoward incident, what-so-ever.
I further told the governor that if refugee camps were to be established then these should be set up in the valley itself and not outside the valley. Jagmohan listened to me with rapt attention but said nothing and subsequently did nothing, while that trickle of refugees soon became a torrent.
It is nearly 32 years that Pandits, in their very own country, were turned into refugees. Since then no government has made any effort to get them back into the Kashmir valley and restore to them their properties, businesses and jobs.
Some impractical ideas, such as, create separate colonies for them in the valley, without regard to their being able to lead a normal life, such as looking after their properties, businesses, jobs, schooling etc, all this while living in protected colonies.
The film, Kashmir Files shows in some detail the atrocities committed against the Pandits, but little of the administration’s collapse, police’s utter failure and Centre’s reluctance to intervene and take charge.
For all this failure no heads rolled. There was no dearth of police, state and central in the country and finally there was the army, an asset of last resort. There is also the view that Jagmohan was party to this exodus.
While the present government at the center is going all out to promote this picture, it seems to do little to create conditions in the valley for Pandits to go and resettle in their original homes, where children can go to shool, others take up their old businesses and jobs.
The sporadic killing of a few Pandits who have ventured back to their residences and of other non Kashmiris is going on to dissuade Pandits from coming back.
If we want the Pandits to resettle in the valley, then complete peace must prevail and for which we need to improve the administration machinery and gear up those tasked to restore law and order.
Lt General Harwant Singh has retired from the Indian Army. Views expressed here are personal.