Kashmir and the Plight of the Kashmiri Pandits
On September 4, 2014, the Indo-European Forum on Kashmir had organised a Conference on ‘Kashmir and the Plight of the Kashmiri Pandits’ at the House of Commons in the UK. The conference took place a week before the Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall on September 11. The debate was organised by David Ward, MP (Liberal Democrat) with support from David Nuttall MP (Labour) and Andrew Stephenson MP (Conservative), following a national petition that gained thousands of signatures. David and over 20 MPs requested a debate on the motion:
"That this house believes that the ongoing Kashmir dispute is a threat to regional and global peace; further that the dispute is causing insecurity, instability and human rights violations; and further that the State of Jammu and Kashmir should be given the right to self-determination.”
For those of us that know the history of India, this is an outrageous statement to make.
The human rights abuses, unless they are pertaining to the Kashmiri Pandits, who have suffered genocide and persecution from Islamists, are baseless and ill founded. For the avoidance of any doubt, the State of Jammu & Kashmir in its entirety belongs to Indian under international law. The fact that a large portion of Kashmir is still under the control of Pakistan is a clear violation of law.
On October 26, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir executed the Instrument of Accession, a legal document agreeing to accede to the Dominion of India. In a letter sent to Maharaja Hari Singh on October 27, 1947, the then Governor-General of India Lord Mountbatten accepted the accession. Following Pakistan’s pre-emptive air strikes on 11 Indian airbases on December 3, 1971, and the ensuing conflict, India and Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement on July 2, 1972 where both the countries agreed to withdraw armed forces “to their side of the international border”. It was agreed that in Jammu & Kashmir “the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides”.
However, after the signing of the Shimla Agreement, the Pakistani spokesperson said, “we remain where we are until a final settlement is reached”. Many in India criticised this agreement which implied that India would give up more than 5000 square miles of territory while 3000 square miles of India’s territory in Kashmir would remain with Pakistan.
During the Conference on ‘Kashmir and the Plight of the Kashmiri Pandits’, speakers gave accounts of the origins of the abuse of Hindus in the valley. The extermination of the Hindu religion in Kashmir had been present long before the creation of Pakistan and started with the introduction of Islam in the 14th Century.Sikandar Butshikan, the second Sultan of the Shah Miri dynasty of Kashmir, was known as "Sikandar the Iconoclast" due to his cruel desecration and destruction of temples and holy places of Hindus and Buddhists. He banned dance, drama, music and iconography, forbade Hindus to pray, apply a tilak. He stopped Hindus and Buddhists from cremating their dead and imposed a hefty Jizya (tax for non Muslims). Sikandar also issued orders banning the residence of non-Muslims in Kashmir and insisted on all gold and silver images being broken and melted down into money. He ensured that Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam or were massacred if they refused to convert. Many Hindus, rather than abandoning their religion, poisoned themselves. Some fled from their native homes, while a few escaped banishment by becoming Muslims. After the huge massacre, forced conversion and emigration of Hindus, Sikandar ordered all the temples in Kashmir to be destroyed and all Kashmiri texts be burnt.
This Islamic rule of tyranny continued during Aurangzeb’s rule (1658-1707), where the Viceroy of Kashmir Iftikhar Khan set about converting non-Muslims by force. Kashmiri Pandits asked Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Sikh Guru, for help from their persecution. Guru Tegh Bahadur was later martyred in Delhi by Aurangzeb. After the fall of the Mughals and during the Afghan rule in India, atrocities continued to be committed against Hindus. Sadly after independence the atrocities against the Kashmiri Hindus still continued.
History unfortunately has a way of repeating itself and in 1989 things took a turn for the worst. Pakistan found the ground in Kashmir fertile and managed to infiltrate, brainwash and radicalize disillusioned Muslim youth. Muslims in the valley saw Kashmiri Pandits as agents of India and wanted them out.
Giving first hand accounts at the Conference, speakers stated that this sparked the beginning of another genocide for Hindus in the valley. Loudspeakers of mosques would “blare out”: “Kashmiri Pandits, leave the valley or be exterminated”. There was widespread massacre of Pandits by separatists where torturous tactics were used. Blood was drained from the bodies of Hindus as well as amputations and beheadings. Rapes of Hindu women were committed infront of family members and slogans such as “Without the Pandit, with his wife, We will make Pakistan” were frequently heard. There was a huge exodus of over 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits. Even today many Kashmiri Pandits continue to live in tents and in horrific conditions as refugees inside India.
After hearing the barbaric and terrifying accounts, what was shameful was that all this took place in front of everyone’s eyes and yet everyone remained silent. When human rights agencies were approached, the answer they gave was that human rights abuses only counted if it was the state against the people. Furthermore the biased and anti-Hindu broadsheets and mainstream media wouldn’t bother to report about the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits as it didn’t fit into their “secular agenda”.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was spoken about at the Conference where it was suggested that its presence has contributed to the nature of the conflict in Jammu & Kashmir. Every princely state signed the Article 370 but no one enforced it apart from Hyderabad and Jammu & Kashmir. Article 370 states that it is a “Temporary Provision” but it doesn’t state how long it should be applicable for. Under Article 370, “the Union of India has no power to declare Financial Emergency under Article 360 of the Indian Constitution.
The Union can declare emergency in the state only in case of War or External Aggression. No proclamation of emergency made on the grounds of internal disturbance or imminent danger thereof shall have effect in relation to the state unless (a) it is made at the request or with the concurrence of the government of the state; or (b) where it has not been so made, it is applied subsequently by the President to that state at the request or with the concurrence of the government of that state.”
Unfortunately for the Kashmiri Pandits, the Army were unable to act in their defence as both the local government and the President of Indiawould not authorise it.
Furthermore, The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988 is not applicable to the State of Jammu & Kashmir, whereby restrictions on carrying arms and ammunition into a religious institution, prohibition of the use of funds of religious institutions for certain activities, prohibition of using religion for propagating political ideas cease to apply. In addition, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, the Commissions of Inquiry Act, the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and 1951, also do not apply to the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
After the persecution and genocide committed against the Kashmiri Pandits, their humiliation continues with the refusal of their request to visit the holy pilgrimage sites in their land. Due to threats from terrorists, the Konsar Nag Yatra cannot be accessed through the traditional route through Kulgam. Given the dangerous security situation, in August 2014 the Kashmiri Pandits decided to inform the state authorities of their plans to go on a pilgrimage to Kaunsar Nag via Kulgam. The district commissioner of Kulgam gave them permission for the Yatra. However, Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani protested against this arguing that the presence of around 40 Hindu pilgrims could apparently “damage the ecology”. The militant leader later let it slip that the real reason for their protest was that “such yatras threaten the Muslim identity of Kashmir”. Unfortunately Omar Abdullah, then Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir pandered to the whims of the separatists and cancelled the permission, leaving the pilgrims hopes once again shattered. Abdullah has not yet revealed why permission for the Yatra was cancelled.
Speakers at the Conference stated that the Kaunsar Nag Yatra was objected to because there is no place for Pandits in the valley anymore. Their roots are slowly being erased, their temples are being destroyed and their homes have already been burnt. Government agencies are forcibly taking over the land and property owned by temples and Hindu religious places. For a long time the Kashmiri Pandits have been protesting for the passage of the Hindu Temples and Shrines Bill, which has been long pending in the state Assembly.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was made aware of David Ward’s debate and the Indian government has expressed their outrage stating that the debate was "a brazen interference" in India's internal affairs. Most of the British MPs at the debate agreed that Kashmir is an internal issue and will be decided by the people of India alone. Narendra Modi has placed special emphasis on the safe return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland in his manifesto and took a strong stance cancelling the talks with Pakistan after they had planned a meeting with the hardline Hurriyat separatist group in Kashmir.
Whilst the ill-informed and biased debate took place in the UK Parliament, Kashmir was grappled with its worst floods in more than a century and the Army had been working tirelessly to help those affected. Despite the Army’s attempts to save the people, they were prevented from distributing aid to some affected areas due to the pelting of stones by Islamic separatists.
There is a large Indian Army presence in Kashmir due to the continued violations of ceasefire by Pakistan. 21 soldiers were killed in Jammu & Kashmir in 2013, 13 in 2012 and 15 in 2011 in by terrorists. Several soldiers have already lost their lives this year also.
The very separatists who have pillaged, attacked, raped and harassed Hindu Pandits to the point of their exit and extermination from the valley were given a forum in the UK Parliament to spread their lies and hatred. By asking for their alleged right to self-determinate, they are trying to ensure that they can prevent Hindus from returning to the valley once and for all by creating their own “state” with the help of Pakistan.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Kashmir, who had lobbied some UK MPs for take up their stand on Kashmir, is heavily backed by the High Commissioner for Pakistan and the members of the Pakistani community.
Thankfully at the Westminster Hall debate, MPs overwhelming spoke out in support of India. Bob Blackman, MP, raised his concerns stating, “far from wanting secession, either to Pakistan or as a separate state, the vast majority of people in the state want it to remain part of India. I have a solution to the problem, which is that the Pakistani forces illegally occupying part of Kashmir should leave and unite Jammu and Kashmir as one state under the auspices of India, and then it should be decided what is to happen.” In addition, Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Barry Gardiner, MP, Gregory Barker, MP, Paul Uppal, MP and Virendra Sharma, MP also spoke out in defence of India.
We talk about human rights in Kashmir but forget to mention that in the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’, there is hardly a Hindu or a Sikh living. How a land can be free when it has been ethnically cleansed of its inhabitants on the basis of religion is despicable. As Bob Blackman, MP, mentioned, “it is ironic that despite Pakistan illegally occupying parts of Jammu and Kashmir, India is being unfairly targeted.”
Article 3 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir states that the “State of Jammu & Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India”. If anything, the UK Parliament should be debating, the grave genocide committed against the Kashmiri Pandits by the Islamist separatists and should be extending their help to India to ensure that the perpetrators of this genocide, together with Pakistan’s illegal occupation of India, are held accountable for their actions.
On December 11, MPs across party lines in Indian Parliament approved a resolution that directs the Centre and the Jammu & Kashmir government to take “immediate steps” for rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiri Pandits. Hope the resolution will be implemented in letter and spirit.
-- Prerna Lau Sian is a London based writer, broadcaster and barrister. She is the committee member of the Hindu Lawyers Association, UK. Twitter: @PrernaSian