Report on Pandit killings rekindles communal fissures in Valley

Report on Pandit killings rekindles communal fissures in Valley

Kashmiri Pandit groups have reacted sharply to media reports that the Jammu and Kashmiri Police has prepared a report saying that ‘only’ 209 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed in the Valley since 1989. The police, however, deny having prepared or published any such report.

Some recent media reports had claimed that the first such report by the J&K police said that 209 Kashmiri Pandits had been killed by militants since 1989. In only 24 of these cases had chargesheets been filed whereas in 115 cases the killers remain unknown. The 24 chargesheets resulted in 31 local militants being booked but the only conviction that has taken place is of three militants for gunning down rights activist HN Wanchoo on 5 December 1995.

“We have not prepared any such report and don’t know what these media reports are alluding to,” Kashmir IGP SM Sahay told Sakaal Times. The six pages long report is said to list more names of more than 1500 minorities, but most of them Sikhs and non-Pandit Hindus from Jammu.

“This is a grossly under-reported figure,” said Agnishekhar of Panun Kashmir. “I have myself made a presentation before Amnesty International in 1993 about 450 killings and AsiaWatch NGO has recorded 1,200,” he told Sakaal Times from Jammu. He demaded that this list of 209 be published so that families of those who have not been named can make there representations before the police.

“That it took them 18 years to even make such a report speaks of their callousness,” said Agnishekhar of Panun Kashmir. “It shows they never wanted to do it in the first place as they want to hide the truth about the ethnic cleansing and Islamic communalism.” He alleged that this comes at a time when the government is trying to force the Pandits to return to the Valley without a guarantee of peace. “It is part of an effort to hoodwink the nation and the world,” he told Sakaal Times.

Ajay Churjoo of another faction of Panun Kashmir said that the Relief Commissioner recognizes 750 killings and even in the 90’s the J&K government recognized 450 and granted ex-gratia compensation to more than 350. “Many killings were not even recorded. Instead of investigating them they are busy reducing the figure,” he said.

“Even if one goes by a layman’s account of Pandits killed in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989 the number would be higher than 1000 but it isn’t about mere numbers,”  said one of Kashmiri Pandit organization.

“The Panun Kashmir website itself lists around 300 names. I don’t know how they claim 1,200″ said Zahiruddin, editor of the Kashmiri paper Etalaat. “Even if one Pandit was killed it is bad enough. It is not about numbers,” he said, adding, “but some groups want to exaggerate the numbers and then compare it with the Holocaust. That does not make sense.” The website lists names and details of 363 Pandits killed between 1990 and 2003.

Khurram Parvez of the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society said that while the killing of even one Pandit was condemnable, his organization is investigation how many of the known Pandit killings were due to the religious identity of the victims and how many due to their political identities. “If a Kashmiri Pandit politician or intelligence agent was killed he is not killed because he was a Pandit,” said Parvez, adding, “And many are listed as unknown. If you don’t know their identity how do you know they were Pandits?” He alleged that the police was denying making such a report as the elections are approaching and the ruling Congress party does not want to alienate the small but powerful voting block of Pandits in the Valley who have traditionally been Congress voters.

The alleged report has rekindled communal fissures in the valley. Khurram’s colleague Parvez Imroz said, “A lot of people in the majority community (Muslims) who have sympathy for the plight of the Pandits are discomfited when Pandits get national media attention but not the killing of innocent Muslims. The recent discovery of a mass anonymous grave of over 900 Muslims has been largely ignored by the Delhi media,” he said.

Amongst the accused for Pandit killings are Yasin Malik and his organization, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. JKLF member Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karatay, called “Butcher of Pandits” by Pandit groups, was released in 2006 for want of evidence. He had already spent 16 years in jail. JKLF president Yasin Malik refused to comment. “There are no charges against me and I have nothing to say,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition in the J&K Assembly, Abdul Rahim Rather of the National Conference said the the reason for almost no conviction was a practical problem: “When militancy was at its peak in the valley nobody would dare to come out and be a wwitness. Militants would often be masked and kill in the night. You couldn’t identify them,” he said.

Agreeing with him, People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Mehbooba Mufti told Sakaal Times: “Conviction rates are low even for killings of Muslims as well. We can’t see violence against Pandits in isolation. And why forget the Sikhs of Chattisinghpora or the Hindus of Jammu who have been killed?”

She refused to comment on the Pandit groups’ demand for an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation or by a committee heahed by a Supreme Court judge. However, Mukul Sharma of Amnesty International supported such a demand, adding that one good option for an inquiry are the UN agencies who have been banned from doing so in Kashmir by the Indian government.

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