On Tuesday 19th January 2016, a round-table meeting was arranged at the Indian High Commission in London, by the Indo European Kashmiri Forum (IEKF), the Kashmiri Pandit Association Europe (KPAE) & the Hindu Council UK (HCUK) to commemorate the 26th year anniversary of the holocaust and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus from their homeland. Members of the Kashmiri Hindu community were joined by the Indian High Commission’s Minister of Coordination, First Secretary(Co-ordination), Bob Blackman MP, Dr Onkar Sahota-Member of the Greater London Authority, Councillor Mukesh Malhotra, Dr Gautam Sen-a former lecturer and well known writer & international political economist, Dr Gidhari Bhan-President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Umesh C Sharma & Satya Minhas-Co-Chairs of the Hindu Council UK and various leaders of Hindu Organisations in the UK.
Exactly 26 years ago, on January 19th, 1990, the biggest ever exodus of people happened since the partition of India. With the rise of insurgency and Islamic extremism in Kashmir, houses of minority Hindus were burned and temples were destroyed. Also, notices were pasted on the walls of Kashmiri Pandit houses telling them to leave the Kashmir valley or to die. The minority Hindus of Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits, fled the valley leaving behind their homes and homeland to save themselves from persecution at the behest of Islamic extremists/terrorists. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were displaced due to militancy in Kashmir valley. Every year since that day, Kashmiri Pandits commemorate 19th January as Kashmiri Pandit Holocaust/Exodus Day, with the dream of going back to their homes one day.
Terrorism in Kashmir valley started with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. Ethnic cleansing refers to an attempt to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the expulsion or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups. United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation, to remove from a given area, persons of another ethnic or religious group. The main purpose of terrorism in Kashmir was to create a valley homogenous in Islamic character. The minority Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the valley to create such homogeneity. Armed insurgency was a movement to secede the state of Jammu and Kashmir from India and Kashmiri Pandits were seen as living symbols representing India in Kashmir. They were seen as an obstacle in the path of the so-called Azaadi from India. The valley was cleansed of Kashmiri Pandits because they had a tilak on their forehead.
This 19th January 2016, Kashmiri Hindus will enter the 26th year of their exile. It has been 26 years and there are still no answers about the exodus, the killings, and the human rights violations, the justice and the safe return back to the Kashmir valley on their own terms.
Umesh Chander Sharma, Co-Chair of the Hindu Council UK opened the commemoration meeting by reciting Hindu Sholoks (prayer) for peace. These prayers were for Kashmiri Hindus who lost their lives in the insurgency and also for the recent Pathankot terror victims in India. Umesh Chander Sharma mentioned his experience of visiting the Kashmiri Pandit families who stayed behind and how they would like their Hindu brenthen outside of India to support them. He said “Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus are forgotten refugees who have been subjected to one of the worst cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing this century. Kashmir was once described: “as heaven on earth” – but for Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus, the original inhabitants of the valley, Kashmir has been anything but heaven in recent years. Persecuted by extremists and deserted by their own countrymen, our Kashmiri brothers and sisters have fled Kashmir and live in squalor elsewhere in the country. I am however, sure that the state as well as the central government will take substantial measures for the return of Kashmiri Pandits back to the valley soon”. He thanked everyone for attending this important meeting.
Krishna Bhan, President of Indo European Kashmiri Forum, gave a brief history of the 26 years of exile of Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus. She said “today, Kashmir is on the brink of being separated from India. It is the beginning of a comprehensive plan to bring about the total disintegration of India. Terrorist violence can not be justified on the ground of its political and ideological motivations. Terrorist violence in the Valley is not a struggle for Freedom at all. Ethnic Cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley is a clear testimony of this fact. There is no freedom that infringes upon the freedom of some one else. There is no equality which leads to inequality. The Indian Government needs to initiate a dialogue on the rehabilitation issue with the new government in Kashmir. With each passing year, Kashmiri Muslims get more and more used to the idea of a Valley without Hindus. An entire generation has grown up in an Islamicised environment without Hindu colleagues or Hindu school friends. Many young Kashmiris simply do not remember an era where Kashmiriyat â€“ the idea that all communities could live together in peace in Kashmir was the prevailing ideology. The IEKF, KPAE & HCUK have arranged this meeting to give the viewpoint of the Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu Community in order for the world community to become fully informed about the many different perspectives ranging from history of the conflict, analogies with recent events, geopolitical aspects, role of journalists and politicians and the relevance of this conflict to the rest of the world.
Dr Girdhari Bhan, President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, talked about the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley and the atrocities that were inflicted upon them. He explained the lack of support from journalists, media, politicians, world governments and Human Rights bodies, who have all remained silent and continue to remain silent about the plight of the Hindus of Kashmir. Girdhari further stated “many of us were the victims of this historical tragedy, and we are the first hand witnesses, however, the bias and distortion of what actually happened has been appalling”. He also gave references to the examples of similar genocides, “whenever ethnic cleansing has occurred over the last few decades in various countries, the world has sat up and taken notice. The United Nations has got involved. The world press has treated it as a global story and Western governments have tried to find solutions. Except that in the case of the Kashmiri Pandits, nothing has happened. Nobody seems to care. The Kashmiri Pandits are decent, educated people who have always avoided the use of violence and who, in the face of grave provocation, have never resorted to attention-seeking terrorism. Instead, they have put their faith in the Indian democracy, hoping that politicians will one day recognise that injustice has been done to them and offer some hope of rehabilitation”.
Bob Blackman MP explained about the propaganda by the Kashmiri Muslims concerning Kashmir that has existed and continues to exist. Unfortunately, some misguided UK Members of Parliament believe the distorted anti-Hindu narrative and facts about the state of human rights in Kashmir. Bob Blackman MP said “Members of Parliament will raise issues from their constituents and it is important that members of the Hindu Community raise the Indian perspective of Kashmir and lobby, campaign and seek support from their constituent Member of Parliament. We should not reward genocide and allow Pakistan’s propaganda and terrorism to flourish. There is a need to engage in a long term programme with MPs about the truth and justice for Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus”. He further emphasised the need to record the holocaust of Kashmiri Hindus by establishing a Kashmiri Hindu Museum or Monument in the UK, where personal testimonies of Kashmiri Hindus who suffered should be recorded, as we have the records of genocides of other countries but not of Kashmir. Bob Blackman concluded by saying ‘When you are in exile, you have a right to return’.
Dr Gautam Sen a renowned political activist spoke about Article 370 and its implications. He said “if Article 370 is removed then it will lead to a civil war which is exactly what Pakistan wants in order to internationalise the Kashmir issue. India has encountered three wars with Pakistan and will never give up Kashmir. I strongly suggest that the government of India must support the exiled Kashmiri Hindus and provide them with funds to restore their homes and repair and build their desecrated temples in the valley and I urge the Indian community worldwide to financially support this initiative also”.
Sanjay Jagatia Director/Secretary General of the Hindu Council UK gave a detailed account of the forthcoming UK delegation visit to J&K State in June 2016, which will include members of the Kashmiri Pandit community, Hindu Community Leaders/Representatives, Religious Saints of India, UK & European Politicians and Human Rights Activists from UK & Europe. Sanjay said “the delegation will visit and record/document the reality of Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus living in camps in Srinagar, Jammu and other regions in India and see and listen to their firsthand accounts about their plight. The delegation will also meet the Indian Government officials in Delhi and lobby and campaign on behalf of the Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus. In addition, the delegation will also meet with leading Kashmiri Pandit individuals and community organisations in Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar during their visit and take part in a major peace yagna/holy ceremony at the Kheer Bhavani Temple”.
Satya Minhas, Co-Chair of the Hindu Council UK concluded the meeting and said “it is concerning that nothing has changed for the exiled Kashmiri Pandits in the last 26 years. None of those responsible for making Kashmiri Pandits homeless have been prosecuted in all these years and it is ironic that there has not been a single judicial enquiry about the exodus and killings of Kashmiri Pandits. There are few days sadder than the anniversaries of the exile of the Kashmiri Pandits. Over the last few days, there have been postings on the internet and some impassioned tweets, blogs, articles, protests, seminars, etc, but we all know with an air of tragic inevitability that when this anniversary passes, when bloggers have moved on to other subjects and something else is trending on social media, that the Kashmiri Pandits will be exactly where they have been for the last twenty six years………nowhere! – people with no homeland to call their own. We hope and pray that things change quickly for the rehabilitation of our Kashmiri brothers and sisters”.
Finally, on behalf of the IEKF, KPAE & HCUK, Krishna Bhan handed over a memorandum to Mr A Rajan (Minister for Coordination) to be passed onto Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
â€¢ Photographs courtesy of Bhupendra Jethwa
Twenty six years ago on 19th January 1990, Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus were given 24 hours eviction notice by Islamic terrorists to leave their homes, with threats to convert, die or escape. People recall the horror of waking up to hear this command which put the fear of death into their hearts. In order to safeguard their lives they had no choice but to leave their homeland. Over half a million innocent people abandoned their homes and belongings and headed outside the Valley of Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus lost their most precious possession; – they lost their homeland, the place of their birth.
This day is recognized as the beginning of the process of ethnic cleansing in which Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus were massacred and hounded out of the Kashmir Valley. As a result, the rich cultural heritage of Kashmiri Pandits/ Hindus is in decline; Hindu places of worship in the Valley have been burnt down, vandalized and damaged. Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus are among the original inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley, with a recorded history of over 5,000 years. Over the millennia, the Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu community has been integral not only to the cultural and intellectual life of this region, but the administration and economic development as well.
Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus have been the target and victim of one of the most successful, though little-known, campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the World. Similar programmes of a far lesser magnitude in other parts of the World have attracted international attention, censure and action in support of the victim communities……..but this is an insidious campaign that has passed virtually unnoticed, and the World remains silent. Kashmir has been the highest learning centre of Sanaskrit and Persian languages as the Indo-Aryanic civilizations has originated and flourished here. Nilmatpurana and Pandit Kalhan’s Rajatarangini are the oldest books on Kashmir history.
Displaced Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus now live as refugees in camps in Jammu, in Udhampore and in Delhi. The rich cultural heritage of Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus is in decline; Hindu places of worship in the Valley have been burnt down, vandalized and damaged. There has been a complete lack of prosecution of terrorists and militants, including those who openly admitted to the killing of Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus. Such terrorists should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus have a rightful and natural claim in the territory of Kashmir and their resettlement in Kashmir is a genuine political issue.
About IEKF, KPAE and HCUK:
Indo-European Kashmir Forum (IEKF) is the voice of the displaced Kashmiri Hindus in India and in the Kashmir Valley. The Organization was founded in the late eighties with the support of the wider Indian communities. The Forum highlights the plight of Kashmiri Hindus who have become victims of terrorism. It also investigates violations of human rights of Kashmiri Hindus at the hands of terrorist organizations. IEKF continues to serve as the premier Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu organisation in UK and Europe with a fundamental purpose that lies in promoting Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu heritage and its way of living, culture and its philosophies. The organisation strives to be a propeller of social learning that caters to the spiritual, cultural, physical, humanitarian and educational needs of the community.
Kashmiri Pandit Association of Europe (KPAE) is a UK based sociocultural organisation, which was established in 1970s. It is one of the oldest Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu organisations in the world. The main aim of the organisation is to unite the entire Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu diaspora in UK and Europe and provide a platform for social and cultural meets for the community members. Since its inception, the endeavour has been to promote Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu cultural heritage in Europe, inspire social cohesion amongst Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus and where possible, provide charitable support for deserving causes within the Kashmiri Pandit/Hindu community.
Hindu Council UK (HCUK) is the largest umbrella body representing Hindu Organizations and Hindu Temples in the UK. Founded in 1994, HCUK gives the Hindu Community an effective voice on policy and legislative matters with the UK Government & Statutory Bodies and enhancing mutual understanding among the major faiths and those of no faith in the UK. HCUK acts as a resource centre and one of the main consultative & advisory bodies on the matters relating to the British Hindu community, culture and religion also advises and consults on matters relating to interfaith dialogue, community consultations and capacity building within the Hindu Community in the UK.
Sanjay Jagatia & Krishna Bhan
Hindu Council UK