30 Years in Exile: Remembering the Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits
Organiser   19-Jan-2019
 



In April 1990, Shyam Lal Shalla was an inspector of police posted near Handwara. One day he was returning home in a bus. At the next station, terrorists got on the bus and dragged him out. Shyam Lal was tortured for a number of days. On May 1, 1990, his body was found on the streets of Baramulla, chopped into pieces and huddled into a sack and thrown on the streets.
 
Yuv Raj Gupta left his home in Mirpur in 1947 after the Kaibali raids. He and his family members saved their lives from the raiders and the Pak army and travelled the distance on foot and settled near Jammu. But even after seven decades, they continue to live in a deplorable refugee camp on the outskirts of Jammu.
 
Bharat Bhushan and his family were driven out of Sialkot, Pakistan in 1947 during partition. They settled in a refugee camp near Jammu. Bharat Bhushan does not have the rights of an ordinary citizen of J&K. To this day he cannot vote in the assembly elections or find proper higher education or jobs for his grandchildren.
 
There are lakhs of such heart-wrenching stories of Human Rights violations that are a reality in Jammu & Kashmir but never deliberated in the media or in the political sphere. Every year December 10th is observed as the 'Human Rights Day' by the UN. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.
 
“The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” - www.UN.org
 
India was one of the first 49 countries to vote in favour of the declaration. It is indeed an irony that the Human Rights of those on its own territory, who have suffered immensely, have been neglected all these years!
 
The United Nations defines Human Rights as “Rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination”. A cursory glance at the cases above enunciates that the human rights of these sufferers have been violated. The neglect of the refugees in J&K is also in violation of several fundamental rights bestowed upon them by the Indian constitution.
 
No one chooses to be a refugee!
 
The origin of the refugee problem in J&K is a heart-wrenching history. Many Hindus and Sikh families, mostly from the Sialkot district of Pakistan, were forced to leave under threats from Islamic fundamentalists after the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was carved out of India. Though they were regarded as citizens of India in 1947 after they entered Jammu, they were not deemed to be Subjects of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
 
Section (6) of the J&K constitution categorically states that only those citizens of India will be deemed as permanent residents of J&K only if they were either State Subjects of Princely State of J&K or had lawfully acquired immovable property in the state until 1944. Refugees who came from West Pakistan did not fall in this category and hence, even to this day are not considered as permanent residents of the state. Consequently, they cannot own a property in J&K, cannot get jobs in the state government, cannot get admitted to state government run professional colleges nor can they vote in the J&K assembly elections. In other words, they have no basic rights of a citizen that the state subjects enjoy. Estimates say that there are over 1.5 lakh West Pakistan refugees living in border districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua in squalid camps even after 65 years.
 
Asian Centre for Human rights in its India Human Rights Report in 2010 details the abuse of Article 370 and how it has affected any lasting solutions to the refugee problem in J&K. The report also cites the International human rights law that unequivocally prohibits citizenship based on “jus sanguine” i.e. based on the nationality of their parents instead of where they are born. Ironically India is a signatory to such laws, yet everyone in the government and politicians considers it “politically incorrect” to raise the issue of State Subjectship of these minority Sikhs and Hindus.
 
One family torn apart by war is too many – UN
 
The tale of another category of refugees, those from POJK (Pakistan Occupied J&K) is as painful and tragic. There are 1.2 million “wounded souls” from POJK, who were subjected to genocide during the so-called “Tribal Attack” that was fully sponsored, aided and abetted by Pakistan Army during Oct-Nov of 1947. These raids destroyed not only the life and property of lakhs of Hindus & Sikhs but also destroyed the very fabric of human society and relationships. They belonged to those areas of J&K State which were part of the princely state but are now under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. Those who were displaced were not allowed to settle in the Kashmir Valley as the leaders of the valley wanted to preserve its ‘Kashmiriyat’!
 
Those displaced from POJK were categorised as 'Displaced Persons' by the government of J&K and not as refugees. The government's position has been that, since they have migrated from POJK, which is legally a part of India, they are technically not qualified to be categorised as 'refugees'. Hence, they cannot claim the benefits of refugees. The government of India did not even compensate them for the properties they had left behind. Even the petty ex-gratia amount was not given to all displaced persons. The displaced persons from POJK have no reservations in education or in the services. They do not get any rehabilitation grants or any economic concessions and they do not qualify for subsidised loans either.
 
It is indeed an irony that while the world took up the demand for Human Rights for the modern world which emerged after WWII to take up the cause of the genocide of the Jews, the violations of the human rights of the J&K refugees who suffered shortly after have been neglected all these decades.
 
Where do I live?
 
If external factors lead to the displacement of West-Pak and POJK refugees, the plight of 2.5 lakh 'Chhamb refugees' and other displaced persons during wars with Pakistan is largely self-inflicted. Nearly 5000 families were displaced in 1971 from Chhamb under Shimla Agreement, as under this agreement additional area of Chhamb was given to Pakistan. Along with them a large number of people migrated from villages on the border and Line of Control during wars in 1965 and 1971. Many of them were advised to vacate their lands by the Indian army to enable it to lay mines on the border. Even if they go back, they cannot obviously enter the mined areas. More than 16,000 acres of their lands have been occupied by the army.
 
Most of these refugees were farmers and were settled along the border from Akhnoor to Kathua. They were not provided full quota of land as prescribed by the State Revenue Authority and in proportion to the land they had lost in Chhamb. The monetary compensation paid to them was so meagre that they could not even build a decent shelter that could provide an honourable living for them and their families. These were the same people who helped the Indian army during the 1947 raids by Pakistan Army and the Kabalies. Such is the treatment meted out to these brave, patriotic souls who gave away their lands and homes to enable India win the wars against Pakistan!!!
And the world remained silent!
 
Since late 1989 J&K has been in the grip of a vicious movement of Pakistan sponsored extremist terrorism. This conflict of a sub-conventional war has inflicted enormous suffering on the people of the state over the last 2 decades. Among the worst victims of this conflict are the Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), who have been the victims of one of the most successful campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the world. Pogroms of far lesser magnitude in other parts of the world have attracted international attention, censure and action in support of the victims but this insidious campaign has passed unnoticed and on which the world remains silent!
 
‘49.13% of children suffer from diabetes and 48.15 % from anaemia. 45% of children suffer from malnutrition and 57% from nutrition-related diseases. Almost 42.86% and 57.14% suffered from skin infections and relapsing fever respectively. Almost half the households do not have a bath or shower in their dwelling; as a result, skin disorders like eczema, bacterial diarrhoeas, water borne hepatitis etc. are common’ - No, this isn’t the condition of slums but statistics mentioned in the CRY report on the conditions in the refugee camps of the migrant Kashmiri Pandits.
 
More than 2 lakh KP’s still live in abysmal conditions in Jammu with families of 5 to 6 people often huddled into a small room. It is evident to anyone that such conditions will take a severe toll on their physical and mental health. Given the governments' utter disregard for Kashmiri Hindus, they are also confronted with the spectre of cultural extinction. The national and international human rights organisations who often raise the human rights issues in favour of the separatists have not taken any notice of the tragedy these people have suffered.
 
The condition of these refugees and the continued neglect of the governments is a clear violation of Article 15 of the constitution which prohibits any kind of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 has been rendered useless in the case of the refugees of J&K. The National Human Rights Commission has been a paper tiger when it comes to handling genuine cases of HR abuses of these refugees.
 
Poul Hartling, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees had said “A lasting solution, the possibility to begin a new life, is the only dignified solution for the refugee himself”. Any solution to ameliorate the plight of the refugees must be lasting and acceptable to the refugees themselves. It is only then that we can claim that the Human Rights of these refugees have been duly restored to them, else ritualistic observance of 'Human Rights Day' on December 10th of every year means zilch to these refugees.
 
The cold-blooded killing of Shyam Lal Shalla left his wife, son and aged parents shattered. His son was seven then. In his thirties now, he still wonders if they are entitled to what the world calls as Human Rights. Yuvraj Gupta and Bharat Bhushan who are in the autumn of their lives, cry tears of blood when they see their grandchildren play around the refugee camps without a certain future and proper education. 'Human Rights' is an alien phrase for them and so is its import!