A tale of two ethnic cleansings in Kashmir

January 19 marks the 25th anniversary of the Azaadi (independence) uprising in the Kashmir Valley, leading to the ethnic cleansing of around 400,000 Kashmir Pandits. For some, this day heralded the rejection of Indian rule by protesting Kashmiris, followed by the bloody suppression of Kashmiri human rights by Indian forces (portrayed in the film ‘Haider’). For the Pandits, it heralded a reign of Muslim terror.

Rahul Pandita has written a heartbreaking first- person account of the Pandit tragedy in ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’. He shows that ethnic cleansing was not the work of a few Islamic militants, as claimed by optimists. On January 19, Pandita’s Muslim neighbours chanted the Islamic battle cry “Naara-e-taqbeer, Allah-o-Akbar”, made famous as heralding Muslim attacks by the TV film ‘Tamas’. Pandita’s mother swore to kill her daughter and then herself if the house was invaded. The long night passed without an invasion, but many fearful Pandits quickly left.

Soon after, local Muslim boys gathered outside Pandita’s home, and discussed how they would share the houses of departing Pandits and rape their girls. One Muslim boy laughingly said to another, “Go inside and piss: like a dog you need to mark your territory.” Pandita’s terrified father decided to flee.

Official figures say only 219 Pandits were killed in the valley. But the threat of violence was so great, and the chances of curbing it so remote, that lakhs of Pandits fled. Most are now rotting in refugee camps in Jammu.

Recently, an ex-general — also a Pandit — told me the Indian media had underplayed the tragedy of his tribe. I agreed, but added that the media has also ignored the earlier mass expulsion of Muslims from Jammu. This surprised the ex-general: I’ve never heard of that, he declared.

He is not alone. Although our media pride themselves on free and bold speech, they maintain a conspiracy of silence on some issues relating to the supposed “national interest.” This includes the mass killing and expulsion of lakhs of Muslims from Jammu in 1947. That story should be recalled on this sombre anniversary.

Today, Jammu is a Hindu-majority area. But in 1947, it had a Muslim majority. The communal riots of 1947 fell most heavily on Jammu’s Muslims; lakhs fled into what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That turned Jammu’s Muslim majority into a Hindu majority. In sheer scale, this far exceeded the ethnic cleansing of Pandits five decades later.

The jagir of Poonch was a semi-autonomous part of J&K till World War II. Subsequently, the maharaja took direct control and imposed high taxes, with special levies on Muslims. This sparked an anti-tax protest in early 1947, which the maharaja put down with armed force.

Poonch had 50,000 ex-soldiers of the British Indian Army, many of whom still had guns. The maharaja felt threatened by this, and in July ordered all holders of arms to deposit these in police stations. But many arms deposited by Muslim ex-soldiers were then handed out by the maharaja’s police to Hindu and Sikh families, raising communal fears. Muslims responded by purchasing fresh weapons from arms bazaars in neighbouring NWFP province. Sardar Ibrahim Khan, a prominent Poonch politician, organized an armed Muslim force that soon staged a revolt.

The official Indian version holds that the Indo-Pak imbroglio over Kashmir began with the invasion of the valley by Muslim tribesmen in October 1947, obliging the maharaja to accede to India. But many academics, including Christopher Snedden in his book ‘Kashmir: The Unwritten History’, argue that the Poonch revolt was the first step in upending the maharaja’s rule, for purely local reasons unrelated to Indo-Pak claims.

Meanwhile, the bloody partition riots in neighbouring Punjab spilled over into Jammu. Snedden cites estimates of between 70,000 and 237,000 Muslims killed. Historians Arjun Appaduri and Arien Mack in their book ‘India’s World’ give a hair-raising estimate of 200,000 killed and 500,000 displaced in Jammu. Tens of thousands of Hindus were killed and expelled from what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but Muslims were by far the biggest victims.

The ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the valley was more one-sided than that of Jammu Muslims in 1947. Yet in sheer numbers and horrors, the Jammu episode was much worse. We have forgotten what happened then because it is politically and morally inconvenient.

The tragedies of J&K constitute a long, horrific tale of death and inhumanity. It has many villains and no heroes. Both sides have been guilty of ethnic cleansing. Both claim to be victims, forgetting they have also been perpetrators. On the 25th anniversary of the Azaadi uprising, the Hindu-Muslim divide is deeper, and ethnic amnesia more selective, than ever before. Some stories do not have happy endings.

2 thoughts on “A tale of two ethnic cleansings in Kashmir”

  1. Hi,
    How can you compare a happening of 1947 in Jammu. (45 years Before 1992) to violence rise in Kashmir.
    Well i’m sure you are not aware about the linguistic demographics of the Jammu provice back in 1947, let me tell you it was an area with a significant Punjabi speaking population and throughout history has been much closer to punjab in cultural and ethnical ties in comparison to Kashmir valley.
    All this made Jammu all the more susceptible to the Punjab Riots of 1947 and you are doing a discourtesy to hindus when you look at Jammu in isolation which borders Sialkot, Lialpur (Faisalabad now), and not very far from Lahore in all of these places Muslims enjoyed a narrow majority but still since it was on Pakistan’s side Hindu’s were killed en-masse and driven out. So my point is that since media did not mention the plight of these hindus fleeing from pakistan they chose not to mention about What happened in the Indian side.
    As Jammu was seen as an extension of happenings in Punjab on Indian side just like killings in and around NWFP (of hindus) were seen as an extension of punjab on Pakistan side.
    Learned people like you should look into THE WHOLE CONTEXT of a happening before drawing parallels between two events happening in a different era of time wherein media had different Roles and responsibilities and was not as powerful in 1947.
    What liberal people would take away from this article is that you sir are sounding like a muslim apologist which is not bad (as it is your opinion), but is undignified when you tar the hindu community without keeping the life and times back then in view.
    Now when you come 45 years later to the Kashmir of 1992 media was much stronger and much more vocal and hence it did what it did there was no intended bias towards or against any happening what i think you are not aware is that Jammu and Kashmir today might seem to be one entity but historically and culturally Jammu has been closer to the province of punjab in British India than to Kashmir Valley so it was but-natural that happenning of punjab were bound to spill over to Jammu what Muslims did in West Punjab Hindus too did in all the places they had control over (East Punjab and Jammu).
    That does not mean that people today (1992) should be allowed to get away by doing what they did as two wrongs dont make a right sir.
    (I would apologise if any insolence is sensed as it is not at all intended)

  2. Anandh Pachaiappan

    Hello Sir,

    I have respect for you as an economic writer. In my opinion, you are a “pathetic” political writer. In all your political snippets, you have shown your inclination towards Congress and what congress believes in. Unfortunately you have very little idea about un-bias. Your article will be enjoyable as long as you don’t touch anything political.

    What happened in 1947 maybe true, what is also true is large number of Hindus were killed in present Pakistan during the same time. What happened at that time was “blood”y partition. What has happened after 1989 is “pure” terrorism. One cannot the truth, if they are wearing mask created by congress. Please throw the mask out and see what is happening.

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