In tandem with military efforts to neutralise the terrorists what is required in Kashmir are confidence building measures by the Muslim majority

The cold-blooded killing of three Hindus and a Sikh within a span of two days (5-7October) is a grim and unmistakable reminder of the inherent character of the separatist movement in Kashmir: it is a fundamentalist, xenophobic campaign of violence fuelled by hatred towards Hindus and Sikhs that seeks to eradicate all non-Muslims from the valley. The recent carnage was an attempt to stall any new efforts to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits and to ensure that the ethnic cleansing that was effected so successfully in the early 1990s is maintained.

Public memory is short and it is important to remind Indians repeatedly of the ruthless ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits that took place three decades ago.

The targeting of Hindus began in late 1989. The first to be killed was Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, a prominent leader of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandit community (like Makhan Lal Bindroo): he was gunned down in broad daylight outside his home.

Four months later, on 4January1990, Aftab, a local Urdu newspaper in Srinagar ran a press release issued by the Pakistan based terrorist outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, proclaiming jihad and asking all Hindus to leave the valley. Walls were plastered with posters asking Hindus to leave Kashmir, Hindu homes are dotted red and Hindu women are forced to sport marks on their foreheads (tilak); masked men with Kalashnikovs roamed the streets forcing people to reset their watches and clocks to Pakistan Standard Time. The scene was reminiscent of Nazi Germany only the yellow arm bands damning the Jews were missing.

A reign of terror gripped the valley, the local government abdicated its responsibility and the predominantly Muslim Kashmiri society, 7 million strong, feigned helplessness against a few hundred terrorists and abandoned the minority Hindu community to its fate.

With each passing day of January 1990, the tension mounted. Then on 19January1990, dubbed as the Kristallnacht of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandit community, the pressure reached its zenith. As dusk approached and Hindu families, women and children included, cowered inside their homes, behind the false security of their doors, outside the spine-chilling exhortations to leave the valley become louder and shriller. The muezzin’s routine calls to the Islamic faithful from mosque tops was replaced by three taped slogans that resonated throughout the cold January night asking Hindus to convert and follow the Shariat if they wanted to stay in Kashmir or to go leaving their wives and daughters behind.

Grabbing just what they could carry, Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley leaving behind their ancestral homes.

This was an ethnic cleansing that was marginalized by the international community especially the Hinduphobic Western media in deference to what it termed as Muslim self-determination in Kashmir. Domestically too this atrocity was downplayed by certain influential sections of our media who callously popularized the abominable canard that the Kashmiri Pandits had left Kashmir voluntarily at the behest of the then Governor Jagmohan.

All in all, according to IDMC (internal displacement monitoring centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council) 350,621 Kashmiri Pandits or 90% of the Kashmiri Pandits who were living in the valley fled Kashmir. The majority of them still continue to live in refugee camps as of today.

However, in recent years, availing the Prime Minister’s special package about 3,800 Kashmiri Hindu migrants have returned to take up jobs in the valley and more are expected to do so in the coming years. Does this resurgence of terrorist activity against the Hindus and Sikhs mean that the government’s hard-line policy has failed and the government’s proclamation of growing normalcy is a chimera as the Opposition claims?

Not exactly. An informed and authoritative assessment from Lt-Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, a former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps indicates otherwise. He writes: “Often when a campaign starts flagging, the need to select soft targets with low investment risk becomes necessary and minorities are among the softest of targets just as another variety of people—soldiers and policemen on leave.”

So, what we are witnessing in Kashmir today could very well be a sign of desperation on the part of the terrorists in the face of aggressive and sustained activity by our security personnel over the last two years. Therefore, the need of the hour is to ratchet up the pressure so that the insurgency crumbles and implodes beyond recovery. There is no need to fall back on a political solution which has failed to yield any results for over 50 years.

While it is easy to blame militants, it cannot absolve the broader Kashmiri civil society of their responsibility. The safety of minorities in a community is guaranteed to a great extent by civil society. It would be unrealistic and naive to believe that the government can provide iron-clad security to each and every one of its citizens round the clock, especially in a terrorist infested region like Kashmir. The continued killing of Kashmiri Hindus could not have occurred without the tacit compliance of Kashmir’s majority Muslim community and so, despite their protestations, they must share the brunt of this charge.

The plight of the Kashmiri Hindus is the direct result of the intentional failure of the Muslim majority civil society. Specifically, by avoiding to take a firm and categorical stand on the killing of Hindus, the majority Kashmiri Muslim community, be it the broader civil society or the political leadership, has let down the Hindu and Sikh minorities and emboldened the terrorists.

Generic statements that condemn all killings (rather than mentioning the killing of Hindus by name) are expedient pronunciations that are politically correct but fail to excoriate the terrorists for communal targeting as this statement by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq the leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference demonstrates: “APHC strongly condemns all killings, which are acts of pure violence against fellow humans and humanity and extends its heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the bereaved family of Mr Bindroo and others who have been pushed to perpetual grief at the loss of their dear ones,”

And others like Mehbooba Mufti the PDP leader exploit these killings to berate the government for its policies instead of unequivocally denouncing the actions of the terrorists: “With the recent spate of civilian killings in Kashmir GOIs fake narrative of normalcy lies in tatters. An utterly desensitised govt that has devalued human lives & pushed J&K into further peril & chaos by its ruthless policies of collective punishment all in the garb of security.”

Such statements are not true condemnations but evasive strategies that appear to indirectly condone the slayings.

Only Omar Abdullah was honest, forthright and forthcoming in his remarks and exhorted the Muslim majority to reach out to the minorities: “On my part, I am making a heartfelt appeal to all those who will be thinking of leaving the valley out of fear. Please don’t… It is imperative that all of us belonging to the majority community reach out to those who today fear for their lives.”

At the individual level as well, the common Kashmiri Muslim has failed to empathize with his minority brethren for their loss. After the current killings one Sikh leader lamented: “Our grievance (with the Muslim community) is that when we took the procession for cremation and protested outside the (civil) secretariat, they didn’t join us…”

In tandem with military efforts to neutralise the terrorists what is required in Kashmir are confidence building measures by the Muslim majority. The majority needs to introspect deeply and denounce the targeted killings of Hindus and Sikhs in absolute parlance without temporizing caveats. They need to exhibit their sincere sympathy for their minority brethren in times of distress. Only then will Kashmiriyat have true meaning.