Reports of killing of Hindus, invariably Kashmiri Pandits, begin to trickle in; there are explosions; inflammatory speeches are made from the pulpits of mosques, using public address systems meant for calling the faithful to prayers. A terrifying fear psychosis begins to take grip of Kashmiri Pandits.
Walls are plastered with posters and handbills, summarily ordering all Kashmiris to strictly follow the Islamic dress code, prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks and imposing a ban on video parlours and cinemas. The masked men with Kalashnikovs force people to re-set their watches and clocks to Pakistan Standard Time.
Shops, business establishments and homes of Kashmiri Pandits, the original inhabitants of the Kashmir valley with a recorded cultural and civilisational history dating back 5,000 years, are marked out. Notices are pasted on doors of Pandit houses, peremptorily asking the occupants to leave Kashmir within 24 hours or face death and worse. Some are more lucid: "Be one with us, run, or die!"
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Srinagar, January 19, 1990. Jagmohan arrives to take charge as governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah, whose pathetic, whimpering, snivelling government has all but ceased to exist and has gone into hiding, resigns and goes into a sulk. Curfew is imposed as a first measure to restore some semblance of law and order. But it fails to have a deterrent effect.
Throughout the day, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists use public address systems at mosques to exhort people to defy curfew and take to the streets. Masked men, firing from their Kalashnikovs, march up and down, terrorising cowering Pandits who, by then, have locked themselves in their homes.
As evening falls, the exhortations become louder and shriller. Three taped slogans are repeatedly played the whole night from mosques: 'Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai' (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-O-Akbar); 'Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa' (What do we want here? Rule of Shariah); 'Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batao roas te Batanev san' (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men).
In the preceding months, 300 Hindu men and women, nearly all of them Kashmiri Pandits, had been slaughtered ever since the brutal murder of Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, noted lawyer and BJP national executive member, by the JKLF in Srinagar on September 14, 1989. Soon after that, Justice N K Ganju of the Srinagar high court was shot dead. Pandit Sarwanand Premi, 80-year-old poet, and his son were kidnapped, tortured, their eyes gouged out, and hanged to death. A Kashmiri Pandit nurse working at the Soura Medical College Hospital in Srinagar was gang-raped and then beaten to death. Another woman was abducted, raped and sliced into bits and pieces at a sawmill.
In villages and towns across the Kashmir valley, terrorist hit lists have been floating about. All the names are of Kashmiri Pandits. With no government worth its name, the administration having collapsed and disappeared, the police nowhere to be seen, despondency sets in. As the night of January 19, 1990, wears itself out, despondency gives way to desperation.
And tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits across the valley take a painful decision: to flee their homeland to save their lives from rabid jihadis. Thus takes place a 20th century Exodus.
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Srinagar, January 19, 2005. There are no Kashmiri Pandits in Srinagar, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the Kashmir valley; they don't live here anymore. You can find them in squalid refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. As many as 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits have fled their home and hearth and been reduced to living the lives of refugees in their own country.
Two-thirds of them are camping in Jammu. The rest are in Delhi and in other Indian cities. Many of them, once prosperous and proud of their rich heritage, now live in grovelling poverty, dependent on government dole and charity. In these 15 years, an entire generation of exiled Kashmiri Pandits has grown up, without seeing the land from where their parents fled to escape the brutalities of Islamic terrorism, a land they dare not return to, although that land still remains a part of their country.
A large number of them are suffering from a variety of stress and depression related diseases. A group of doctors who surveyed the mental and physical health of the Kashmiri Pandits living in refugee camps, found high incidence of 'economic distress, stress induced diabetes, partial lunacy, hypertension and mental retardation.' Statistics reflect high death rate and low birth rate among the Kashmiri Pandit refugees.
And thereby hangs a tragic tale that has been all but wiped out from public memory.
An entire people have been uprooted from the land of their ancestors and left to fend for themselves as a weak-kneed Indian state shamelessly panders to Islamic terrorists and separatists who claim they are the final arbiters of Jammu and Kashmir's destiny. A part of India's cultural heritage has been destroyed; a chapter of India's civilisational history has been erased.
Had this tragedy occurred elsewhere in Hindu majority India, and had the victims been Muslims, we would have described it as 'ethnic cleansing' and 'genocide.' We would have made films with horror-inducing titles. We would have filed cases in the Supreme Court of India. Our media would have marshalled remarkable rage in reporting the smallest detail.