The last night together: 19 January 1990

By Dr Kashinath Pandit

It was the 19th of January 1990. Days were cold and nights bitter though there was no snow on the ground. Around 9 PM, loud and thunderous slogans of Allah-o- Akbar, Pakistan ka matlab kya/ La ila ha ilallah, Islam zindabad, Pakistan zindabad raised collectively by a multitude of humans and relayed through deafening loudspeakers pierced the eardrum. These slogans were not new to Pandits in Kashmir. However, the odd hour, the tumultuous bang and intriguing spontaneity besides shrieking loudspeakers, all spoke threateningly that a storm was brewing in Kashmir.

Suddenly, telephone bells began ringing loud in the houses of most of the Pandits in Srinagar. Mobile phones had not been introduced yet. Each caller on the other end of the line asked his relative, friend or the acquaintance whether they were all right. This question carried more meaning underneath its simple words. The caller told his respondent to come out of his house in that dark and dreary night and see for himself what a strange but alarming scene was unfolding on the streets and squares (chowk) of the capital city of Srinagar.

Scenes on the streets, squares and open spaces in the city were to be seen to be believed. Masses of the Muslim population, young, old, children, and women came out of their homes in the dark night, crowded the streets, gesticulating furiously and yelling slogans like aazaadi (freedom), Pakistan zindabad, Islam zindabad, la Ila ilallah, aazadi ka matlab kya/La ila ha ilallah, Kashmir Banega Pakistan etc. Crowds of people carried from their homes rugs, carpets, mats and furnishing, whatever and spread it out on the streets and squares. They brought wood and lit bonfires to keep their bodies warm. Women and children, strongly clad in winter dress, were noisier. People sat, squatted, danced, shook fists made violent gesticulation as loudspeakers were fixed and microphones blurred a mix of Quranic verses, revolutionary songs, anti-India vitriolic and the supremacy of Islamic faith… Islamism, profuse admiration for Pakistan, stories of the heroes of early Arab conquests, the paradise created by Allah for the pure (momin) and hellfire for the kafir (unbelievers) etc. were the major themes of their outpouring. The crux of these surcharged utterances was that all symptoms of kufr (heresy), but-parasti ( idolatry) and dualism as with the Hindus had to be cleansed from darul salam (the place of peace) meaning Kashmir. Spirited stories of the heroes of early Islamic were recounted to convey Islam’s might of destroying non-believers. This rant continued till wee hours. The message for Kashmiri Pandits was that they were in the line of fire.

Like frightened pigeons, they huddled up in their nests and kept vigil throughout the night. Not a single soul came out of his house. The night-long tirade against non-Muslims snatched whatever remnant of peace of mind was left with them. For the first time in the history of Kashmir, this open and unabashed tirade was let loose against them on such a massive scale.

The administration collapsed. Law and order were thrown to winds. The police deserted their posts. The Hindus could not muster the courage to come out and see their close relatives. Their survival was hanging in balance.

Overnight their Muslim neighbours changed colour. Apparently, as if the Muslims had thrown off the mask they wore for centuries. In a few days, the entire atmosphere changed and the Pandits came to be recognized ‘the other.’

The government was knocked out by a single night of mod defiance and revolt. Next morning not a single policeman was visible anywhere. They had withdrawn to their barracks or hid in their homes. Administrative machinery collapsed, law and order crumbled.

From next morning viz. January 20, 1990, it was the rule of the mosque, the mullah and the Islamists. Loudspeakers fixed to mosque-tops blurred uninterruptedly cautioning the Pandits to leave Kashmir. The refrain of their slogans was: “Asih gatsih Kasheer Bhattav bag air battehnew san ) (We want our Kashmir without Pandit males but with their women folks). This shameful and shocking slogan will shame every decent Muslim.

Hate campaign carried forward through barbaric and inhuman violence, struck fear among entire Hindu community in Kashmir to the extent that anybody prepared to show even the slightest goodwill to them was faced with the threat to life. Al Safa, a local Urdu daily minced no words in telling the Pandits to leave Kashmir within hours if they wanted to save their lives and honour. Loudspeakers fixed to mosque tops blurred a profusion of warnings.

More anti-India demonstrations were staged. Demonstrators were mad with rage, hatred and revenge. Fear-stricken Hindus (Pandits) did not find any source to provide them with the safety of life. In its evening news bulletin, Radio Kashmir (a state-run organ) listed the names of the Kashmiri Pandits gunned down by the terrorists. The gruesome stories unnerved the community members. They did not reach the majority community for protection because the minds and hearts had gone through a metamorphic change. The dynamics of secretive militancy so rigidly drilled into the heads of the actors was of the level that the son returning after receiving training in PoK never disclosed to his parents and family members where he had been and on what mission. Indoctrination was of the level that even parents fear their sons. This is best explained in the television interview which Bitta Karate gave to the security officials after he was arrested and interrogated by security agencies. When asked how many Hindus he had gunned down, he said that he had lost the count after twenty-two.

This was the last night which the five-thousand-year-old indigenous population of Shaivite civilization of Kashmiri Pandits spent together in their homeland. They had somehow braved the cataclysm of eight centuries of Muslim autocratic rule but, alas, the decimation of this ancient and indigenous community happened under the benevolence of “secular democratic” India. Now, ours is a homeless community dispersed over all the four corners of the world.


Muslim United Front floated by Kashmir Jamat-i-Islami alleged that National Conference had undertaken a massive rigging in the assembly elections of1986. Its candidates were manhandled and incarcerated by NC goons. As a reaction, the MUF pledged to avenge NC’s denial of rightgs and oppression. It conceived the plan of raising Kashmir armed insurgency, something for which Pakistan and its ISI were looking for.

Between July and December 1989, while the NC-Congress coalition government was in place in J&K, there were no fewer than 1600 big or small incidents of terrorism, firing, bomb blasting etc. in Kashmir Valley. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth, sympathizers of MUF and activists of Jamaat-i-Islami took Srinagar-Sopor-Kowari and Muzaffarabad route landing in the terrorist training camps established by Pakistan’s top intelligence agency ISI and run by the retired Generals of the Pakistani army. Many of them sneaked back in Kashmir with arms, ammunition and Islamic ideology. Farooq and his party NC was fully informed about their activities. The State police had arrested many of them but in July 1989, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah issued orders of their release from the jail despite the fact that a case of keeping illegal arms and sedition against the state was pending in a Srinagar court of law.

The seventy-odd activists released from the jail on Farooq’s orders in July 1989 belonged to J&K Liberation Front, an anti-India armed organization formed in PoK with the guidance and support of ISI and reinforced by the PoK Diaspora in London under the control of Amanullah Khan originally of Astore. In Kashmir, Jthe KLF armed men found full freedom to indulge in their subversive activities and State government was complacent. Intermittent firing and bomb- blasting became a routine in Srinagar.

On 13 September 1989, JKLF murderers gunned down Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, the BJP Chief of Kashmir province in the broad daylight outside his residence in Srinagar. This sent a shock to the entire Hindu community. On 4 November 1989 JKLF gunmen gunned down Justice Nila Kanth Ganjoo, the judge who had given death punishment to the founder of JKLF, Muhammad Maqbul Bhat for the murder of a Bank officer and a CID inspector. In December, Pandit Avtar Krishen Raina, Deputy Director, Food Supplies was gunned down in his office in Srinagar because he had questioned his subordinates how a truckload of good grains was diverted to the militants.

Indications were clear that the Hindus were in the throes of destruction. Up to 19 January 1990. The exodus day, as many as 20 innocent Hindus were murdered in cold blood. Sensing that situation was getting worse in Kashmir, the Central government then headed by V.P. Singh with Mufti Saeed as Home Minister, sent Shri Jagmohan as the new Governor of J&K. As this announcement was made, Dr Farooq Abdullah resigned in protest saying that Jagmohan was not acceptable to him The crisis was deepening in Srinagar and Farooq took a flight to London to join his wife and whiled away his time in playing golf and going to clubs. The ministers of the dissolved council of ministers rushed to Jammu and occupied government quarters to which they were no more entitled after resigning. The former ministers became key to establishing contacts with the militant leadership whose representatives kept meeting them clandestinely but regularly.
The government had been toppled, law and order derailed. In April Mirwaiz Molavi Muhammad Farooq was gunned down in his home by two or three JKLF gunmen accusing him of having a soft corner for the Government of India. The mobs of Kashmiri Muslims brought out a huge crowd of protestors over the killing of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq. Near Gaw Kadal, some miscreants among the militants fired some shots at the security forces moving in armoured vehicles. As a result of return fire by the security forces, dozens of protesting civilians got killed or injured.

The killing of innocent Hindus of Kashmir was accelerated by the JKLF barbarians after 19 January and in the next, three or four months about 500 of them were selectively killed. Details of these killings have been preserved.

This forced the devastated Hindu community to leave their homeland and seek shelter at a safer place. Interestingly, while the government resigned and the administration collapsed and the Pandits were forced to flee their homes and hearths, not a single soldier of Indian army was seen on the streets of Srinagar or elsewhere. Had the government ordered the city to be taken over by the army on the night of 19 January 1990, the unfortunate Hindus of Kashmir valley would have been saved the exodus and destruction of their properties. In April 1990, Rubiya Saeed, the daughter of Mufti Muhammad intervened, the Home Minister of India at that time was kidnapped by allegedly by the militants and released after three days. It is said that Saifuddin Soz, the Congress leader, negotiated a deal with Pakistani authorities and managed the safe release of Mufti’s daughter. What were the terms of the deal with the militant organizations has had a mystery so far?

By the end of summer in 1990, nearly four lakh Kashmiri Hindus had left their homes and hearths, lands, orchards, shops, business, services, livestock and everything. In penury, they eked out a living in the burning cauldron of Jammu some to be consumed by sunstrokes, some by the reptiles and some by drowning in the canal. The Kashmir radicalized political leadership spread the canard that the Pundits had not fled but were enticed by Governor Jagmohan to leave Kashmir so that ” he would wreak vengeance on the Muslim population.” Such are the vagaries of human nature.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of the Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar’

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