Were Kashmiri Pandits cowards to have left Kashmir in 1990?

Are Kashmiri Pandits cowards? Could Kashmiri Pandits have stayed back in Kashmir and fought? The circumstances of our exodus from Kashmir still shake our souls. It is tough to describe that eerie environment- totally devoid of trust, rendered hostile by deafening slogans of hate and religious propaganda, every mosque blaring hatred and fear over loudspeakers, and frenzied mobs wading through the city all night. Loud-speakers, otherwise meant for getting the call prayers heard, were blaring blood curdling slogans all night.

“Yahan kya chalega- Nizam E Mustafa” (What will rule Kashmir – Rule of Allah)
“Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Allah-o-Akbar kahna hai” (Only those who believe in Allah (only Muslims) can live in Kashmir)
“La ilah Illalah- Pakistan banega Insalaah” (Praise to God! Kashmir will be Pakistan)
Pakistan se rishta kya, La ilah illalah” (Our relation with Pakistan, Islam!)
“Indian dogs – Go Back”
“Aes gacche’ Pakistan, Batav ros’ te’ batnev saan” (we want Kashmir- without Pandit men, but with Pandit women)
“Battav Ya Raliv, Chaliv nate’ Galiv” (Pandits- either join us/convert, leave or die)

Kashmiri Pandit Refugee Camp at Muthi, outside Jammu – 1991 (Photo credit-Vijay Koul)

It was a time of chaos and madness. One had to live that trauma to know it. Kashmiri Pandits chose to leave the valley! The decades that followed have been no less traumatic, though. In her recent post, Anupama Handoo revisited one of the agonizing experiences KPs faced post exodus, though less talked openly about.

“We Kashmiri Pandits often get accused of being cowards. We are often asked as to why did we leave the land of our ancestors, and our homes, jobs, property and temples. Indeed, if 27 years on, we are still mourning our loss, we should have put up a fight. When the option of “raliv, galiv ya chaliv” (convert, die or flee) was given to us why didn’t we choose to die and defend our rights?”

Through much of 90s’, Kashmiri Pandits were mocked, ridiculed, taunted for our decision to leave the valley. “Why did you leave?”, “KPs are cowards! You should have armed yourself and fought back”. We were derisively labelled “lolle” in Jammu, ‘bhagode’ by many others. Every ultra right-winger had a volley of valorous advice for us. And sometimes, you were faced with the clueless asking rather innocently, “I visited Kashmir for vacation in 1985. It was so nice. Why did you leave?”, “We went to Vaishno Devi this summer. We didn’t see any terrorist?”

Off late, with a better understanding of the nature of Jihad in the valley, terror names like LeT, LeM, HuJI and IM becoming common vocabulary and ISI terror getting closer home everywhere, derision has thinned and there is wider support. But the question often lingers!

Were the KPs, a minuscule minority that didn’t have any ghetto anywhere in Kashmir to fortify in, didn’t have any group outside valley voicing for them – nor any political support, really cowards?

Ghalib was once bemused by the “What if” question

Huee muddat ke Ghalib marr gaya, par yaad aata hai; woh har ikk baat pe kehna, ki yoon hota to kya hota.

What if KP’s had never left in 1990?

We can keep wondering. We might have shrunk further to experience the life Hindus in Pakistan live today.  The world would have got an advance sense of what Yezidis came to face much later. “Batav ros – batnev saan”. 97% majority would have become 99.5%, without any exodus. Or we would have disappeared in endless Wandhamas and Sangramporas. One can keep wondering. Speculation can be a realm of dark wilderness!

Or maybe not! We could have chosen self-preservation, opted for ‘raliv’ instead of ‘chhaliv/galiv’, chanted “Pakistan zindabad” & “Hum bhi chahte, Azadi” and converted to save our homes! Who would have noticed anyways, if a 3% or so minority subsumed into the 97% majority, which itself had come to be so over centuries of conversion, often under similar conditions? History of this land bears evidence to many such demographic calamities under adverse conditions.

But, we did not.

And it takes some courage to sacrifice everything that you have- past and present and put your future at stake, to get up & leave on an unknown journey just to uphold your values, beliefs and identity. What we lacked in physical strength of numbers, we had in steely strength of individual character, that made us stand by our dharma. Home, hearth, land, orchards, jobs were important. But we were not ready to mortgage honour, chant “Pakistan Zindabad” or sing allegiance of Nizam-e-Mustafa for them. And neither did we later – when we were left abandoned and alone in refugee camps in hostile environment and other vultures swooped down.

Today, in exile- as we march towards a cultural extinction, we are destined to be the next Parsis. Had we not left, we would have been the first Yezidis!

Irrespective of what you may think of KP exodus, one thing is clear though – Had Kashmiri Pandits capitulated and chanted “Azadi”, India would have lost Kashmir there and then. Mull over it.

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