Which Kashmir File do we figure in, ask families of Valley’s early victims of militancy
Srinagar: The wounds have retreated deep into memory over three decades and more but every now and then comes along an event, a stray remark or even a headline to rip open the scars for the families of the early victims of militancy in Kashmir.
They have struggled to reclaim their lives since the late 1980s when turmoil tightened its grip over their homeland, killing thousands of people, political leaders and innocent standers-by, Pandits and Muslims. But scratch the surface and the memories resurface.
Thirty-three years on, Haji Bashir Ahmed Wani remembers with affection but also anguish his brother Yousuf Wani, a National Conference leader popularly known as ‘Yusuf Halwai’ who became the Valley’s first victim of militancy on August 21, 1989 when he was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Srinagar.
“For what did my brother die?” Wani asked as the spotlight shines yet again on the Valley and its polarised politics, this time because of ‘The Kashmir Files’ film.
Wani, who is also with the NC and has survived three militant attacks and lived to tell many a tale after four bullets pierced his right jaw, said his brother had moved out of the house that fateful day to help a family being threatened by militants.
“The Kashmir Files should have begun with him as he sacrificed his life for the people of this country,” the 75-year-old told PTI.
Reliving the trauma of seeing his brother shot dead, he said the atmosphere created by the film, which saw unprecedented scenes of audiences across the country shouting slogans in theatres, has increased the gulf between communities rather than bridging it.
Discourse on Kashmir, a volatile, emotive issue through the decades, should not centre around a film but this time it has, he said. The wounds are not about one community alone, said the families.
“The makers of the movie have walked laughing to the bank whereas an ordinary Kashmiri Pandit is still be suffering in Jammu’s migrant camps,” said Wani.
“We have always lived in brotherhood. If our Pandit brothers and sisters have suffered, we too have had irreparable loss.”
As Kashmir hurtled towards violence in those unforgettable months, the kidnapping of the then union Home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed in December 1989 was the turning point that sent the Valley spiraling into an abyss of violence. Five militants were released in exchange.
Yousuf Halwai’ was not the only one mercilessly killed.
As many as 16 prominent politicians and well known personalities were similarly killed from late 1989 onwards till the mid 1990s. These included legislator Nazir Ahmed Viloora from Wachi, who was shot dead along with his father Ghulam Qadir, Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Mushir-ul Haq and his personal assistant Abdul Gani Zargar as well as Doordarshan director Lassa Kaul and H L Khera, who headed the state run HMT unit.
As another Ramzan comes by in the month of April, Haq’s family looks back at the years that changed Kashmir and upended many thousand lives.
“Thirty-two years is a long time. Prof Haq was kidnapped and assassinated during the month of Ramzan, which had fallen in the month of April that year. This year again it has fallen in April. The family shall not have to relive the tragedy twice this year as they have been doing since then,” said his son-in-law Furqan Qamar who teaches at Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia.
Haq was kidnapped along with Zargar from Kashmir University campus on April 06, 1990 by militants of the banned Jammu Kashmir Students Liberation Front, the student wing of the JKLF. Five days later, his bullet-riddled body was found in a canal near the airport.
Qamar has not seen ‘The Kashmir Files’ but said it has no mention of people such as Haq or his secretary Zargar or Khera who also fell to the bullets of militants.
“Those who suffered included both Hindus and Muslims of that time,” Qamar said, adding that a lot could have been done to rehabilitate those who had to leave their homes and the families of those who lost their lives.
Ghulam Nabi Shaheen, who was the provincial president of the NC, survived the attack on his life but lost his leg in a foiled blast in mid 1990s.
Reading out the list of 16 of those killed, he asked, “What wrong did we (Muslims) do? What wrong did Kashmiri Pandits commit? The youths were brainwashed wrongly in the name of Islam. Making anyone homeless, be it a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, Islam…no religion advocates this. It is a wrong depiction of jihad.”
His residence in Srinagar is still guarded by paramilitary forces.
As Kashmir Valley became a conflict zone, the stories are many, each lived memory a building block of Kashmir’s contemporary history.
Ali Mohammed Watali was the first police officer targeted by the first batch of Pakistan-trained militants. They rained bullets at him at his home Srinagar’s Rajbagh locality.
Watali has refused to speak to media, but has detailed the deadly attack he survived on September 17, 1988, the first time militants registered their presence in the Valley, in his book “Kashmir Intifada”.
“…Had the militants known that none of the shouting policemen had any arms and ammunition, they would have massacred each one of them and would have succeeded in killing me and my family,” Watali writes.
On December 13, 1990, 95-year-old Maulana Mohammed Sayeed Masoodi, the second signatory after Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir with India, was killed at his home in Ganderbal as he was reciting the Quran.
His is one more instance of forgetting the warriors, said his grandson Manzoor Masoodi, who has been awarded by the army for promoting peace.
As militancy raised its head, nearly 80,000 families from the Valley migrated to safer places. According to government figures, 64,827 Kashmiri Pandit families have registered themselves as migrants.
As many as 14,091 civilians and 5,356 security force personnel have lost their lives since the advent of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s till 2020, estimates the annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for 2020-21.
While there is no exact number of Kashmiri Pandits killed during militancy, officials put the number at a little over 200.
According to Titu Ganjoo, legal advisor of Panun Kashmir, a group which advocates a separate homeland for displaced Kashmiri Pandits, “Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide and therefore, they are the first to be killed. Leaders in targeted groups are the next to be murdered. That is exactly how it unravelled in Kashmir.”
PDP spokesperson Mohit Bhan added that given that there is no closure to Kashmiri Pandits’ killings and exodus, the pain and sufferings of the Kashmiri Muslim community over the last three decades has taken a back seat.
“Close to 11,000 and counting have been massacred… the majority are Kashmiri Muslims who belong to various political, social and pro-establishment groups.
“Until all these killings are not measured with the same yardstick as of Kashmiri Pandits and in an unbiased manner, no effort towards reconciliation or rehabilitation will see light of the day,” he said.