The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the early ’90s from Kashmir has been a subject of conflicting narratives. Some blame Jagmohan, the then Governor, while others blame Kashmiri Muslims. The latest intervention in this debate is in the form of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s movie Shikara, the love story of a Kashmiri Pandit couple set against the backdrop of atrocities on the Pandit community. However, the movie reveals not the truth but simply carries on the narrative of Kashmiri Muslims being responsible for the exodus of Pandits from the valley. Blaming a community which has itself suffered a lot and communalising every issue has been a favourite business in India. If it was really communalism and radical Islam that expelled the Pandits, why are Sikhs and some Kashmiri Pandits still living in harmony with Muslims in the valley?
In the movie, Kashmiri Muslims are shown as hypocrites who planned to drive out the Pandits and then occupy their houses. The Muslims have been shown as looters and have been directly accused of killing Pandits. An example of exaggeration and fabrication in the movie is when slogans like Ay Zalimo Ay Jabiro Kashmir Humara Chhod Do, Jis Kashmir Ko Khoon Se Seencha Wo Kashmir Humara Hai, Aayeen Hindustan Ka Manzoor Nahi Manzoor Nahi are raised against the Pandit Community rather than the state. This is nothing new for people like Vidhu Vinod Chopra who himself belongs to the Pandit community. They have been doing this since the ’80s, way before the start of insurgency in Kashmir. From writing to the Maharaja in 1932 to threatening mass migration, they have always had the thought of leaving Kashmir in their minds.
The movie shows Kashmiri Pandits being harassed, tortured or their property being vandalised by Kashmiri Muslims. But a prominent Kashmiri Pandit, Vijay Bakaya, former Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, was quoted by Pradeep Magazine as saying: “Our community should not forget that those thousands who came out on the streets did not attack or vandalise a single Pandit house.”
Several other Kashmiri Pandits have testified that there were no incidents of burning and looting of houses or misbehaviour with women by Muslim neighbours. There are countless incidents, rather, of Muslim neighbours pleading with their Pandit brethren to not leave their homes.
Another propaganda portrayed in the movie is the killing of Pandits by militants, but not showing any killing of Muslims by the state or by the militants themselves. The first killing of a government employee by militants was of a Muslim officer. The first civilian killed by militants was a Muslim political leader. The first militancy-related abduction was of a Muslim political leader’s daughter. While this is a fact that Pandits were killed as well, it is also a fact that such killings were political and not communal in motivation.
Journalist Aunradha Bhasin shares the same view when she writes: “Many of them [Kashmiri Pandits] were shot dead for their affiliations with the intelligence agencies or for their role in government decision making.” The intelligence agency RAW itself credited three Pandit officials for revival of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in the valley.
Another distortion of the truth in the latter part of the movie is the desecration of temples. The temple space of a Pandit house is shown as having been being replaced by milk cans of a Kashmiri Muslim. After the migration of Pandits, stories of large-scale destruction and desecration of temples by Kashmiri Muslims was reported by some media houses. Right-wing Hindu organisations in India created a hue and cry about the issue. The BJP issued a list of temples that it said had been burnt, damaged or desecrated. India Today did a survey and visited 23 temples mentioned in the list. They found these temples to be entirely safe. India Today quoted Mohan Pai, pujari of Ganpatyar Temple, one of the allegedly destroyed temples, as asserting, “Puja has continued uninterrupted in this 200-year-old Hanuman Temple.” In Dialgam, a small village in district Anantnag, priest Maheshwer Nath opened the temple doors and showed it to be undamaged He said, “Gita ki kasam, this temple has never been touched.”
Journalist Harinder Baweja in her story ‘Damaging Lies’ for India Today, wrote: “The BJP and its leaders have either been mislead on the issue or were deliberately using tactic of the Big Lie (if you repeat a gross untruth often enough, people begin to believe you) in order to score political points.”
This propaganda was necessary for the right-wing Hindu organisations and political parties to please their vote bank and to add fuel to the ongoing controversy over the Babri Masjid. The reality was quite different from their narrative. Muslims protected the temples rather than destroying them. There are plenty of examples of Muslims acting as caretakers of the temples after the Pandit migration. Setting a shining example of religious tolerance, Muslims helped the Pandit community to renovate, rebuild and even donated land for the temples. A recent example of this was in 2019 when in south Kashmir’s militancy stronghold Pulwama district, Muslims helped a sole Pandit family to restore a 80-year-old temple in the area.
The Role of the State
The role of the state in the migration of Pandit community is altogether missing from the movie. The day Jagmohan Malhotra began his second term as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, on January 19, 1990, the exodus of Pandits began. Immediately on assuming office he made his intentions clear by saying that all Kashmiri Muslims were militants and militancy had to be totally wiped out to bring back normalcy in the valley. Muslims in Kashmir believed that he had been sent back to Kashmir to silence their voice, which was evident by his televised threat on January 20, 1990, in which he said, ‘Behave or I will teach you a lesson’. The next day, 50 unarmed Kashmiri Muslims were killed by government forces at Gaw Kadal in Srinagar. While on the one side the state was slaughtering Muslims, on the other side it was engineering the Pandit exodus by arranging vehicles and special aircraft to take them out of the valley. The Jagmohan administration did nothing to stop Pandits from leaving Kashmir. Rather, Pandits were convinced that they would have to move out only temporarily and that they will return soon, once the uprising was dealt with. A migrant Pandit, K.L. Koul, writes: “Pandits were told that the government had plans of killing about one lakh Kashmiri Muslims in order to overcome the uprising against India. They were assured that once the proposed massacre was completed and the movement curbed, they would be sent back to the valley.”
The Pandits never expected that their own government will betray them so much. They were exploited by some self-styled Pandit leaders. A Kashmiri pandit later said about Jagmohan’s plans: “There can be no dispute about the fact that the Kashmiri Pandit community was made a scapegoat by Jagmohan, some self styled leaders of our community, and other vested interests… [T]he plan was to make the K.P.’s [Kashmir Pandits] migrate from the valley so that the mass uprising against the occupation could be painted as a communal flare-up… Some self styled leaders of Pandit community […] begged the Pandits to migrate from the valley. We were told that our migration was very vital for preserving and protecting ‘Dharam’ and the unity and integrity of India. We were told that our migration would pave the way for realising the dream of Akhand Bharat [undivided India]… We were made to believe that our migration was very important for Hinduism and for keeping India together… We were fooled and we were more than willing to become fools.”
Surely, what happened with the Kashmiri Pandits was wrong but this was not because of the Muslim community; rather, they were made scapegoats and were fooled by their self-styled leaders. So, instead of playing the victim card and blaming Muslims, they should raise their voice against the state who is the real one to blame.