Why are Kashmiri Pandits demanding separate homeland despite being warmly welcomed by fellow Kashmiri Muslims? Separate homeland or staying away from Kashmir seems to be only options for Kashmir Pandits, according to T.N Bhan, who recounts his torturous journey in Kashmir during the Pakistani and Tribal Raids. Opinion Article represents the views of the author.
I was 18 years old young boy living in Srinagar when Pakistani Army along with Kabali’s (Pathan Raiders) from North West Frontier Province, launched a series of surprise attacks across Jammu and Kashmir on October 24, 1947.
The Pakistani invaders quickly overwhelmed the forces of Maharaja Hari Singh. Most of the Muslim units of J&K Army comprising of Mirpuri deserted and joined the invaders after killing their Hindu and Sikh Officers.
Muzaffarabad fell within a few hours of the attack and the invaders proceeded towards Baramulla, Sopore and Srinagar. At the Uri bridge, Brigadier Rajinder Singh lost his life putting up a valiant fight. He held the invaders for two days which gave time to the Maharajah to flee the valley and the Indian Army to intervene.
The Pakistani invaders entered Baramulla on October 26, 1947, and proceeded to indulge in rape, murder, loot and arson, especially targeting Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandit community.
By the morning of October 27th, some raiders had reached the outskirts of Srinagar. Hari Singh’s exit had totally broken the morale of the government and security establishment. Police stations were empty, anything could happen at any time.
Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference organized a voluntary force of young men known as “Salamati Fauj” in the city with specific direction to maintain communal harmony at all costs. This worked, Halka Committees became the police station.
I remember I also joined this force to patrol the streets to ensure nobody disturbed the communal harmony. Most of the Hindu leadership had left the valley for Jammu. As the Kashmiri Pandits trickled in from the countryside we began to hear the tales of atrocities, plunder, rape and murder of innocent Hindus and Sikhs by the Pakistani invaders.
Although Kashmir’s Pandits were leaderless as even our RSS leaders such as Bal Raj Madhok had left the city we the grassroots RSS workers began to organise ourselves to defend and protect the Pandit honour.
We decided to go out of Srinagar to visit other cities and villages and see for ourselves the condition of our Kashmiri Pandits brothers and sisters so that help could be arranged for the needy. I was accompanied by other Swyamsewaks (workers) such as Maharaj Krishan Mirza, Amar Nath Ganju, Manohar Nath Bhagati, Lakshmi Narain Kaul, Bhaskar Nath Ganjoo, Durga Nath Dhar, Trilokinath Dhar, Prithvinath Dhar, Naranjan Kaul, Brijnath Moza and others. These volunteers hailed from Sehyar, Rehbaba Sahib and Rishipeer.
We began our journey on 30th October 1947. Starting on foot in the early morning we first touched Shalteing about four miles down the road from Chhatabal Custom Post. Here we went inside the enclosed Chinar Grove and found two dead bodies of the Kabali-invaders who had been strafed by the Indian Air Force aircraft.
Onward we reached Pooshbugg a village near Pattan where the raiders had executed 14 Kashmiri Pandits as they were performing fire veneration “Hawan”. The fire was still smouldering. Luckily all fourteen had already been cremated by the Pandits of the neighbouring villages who had escaped the onslaught of these savages. All Pandit houses were looted. We tried to enter the town of Pattan but we were not allowed to enter. We could only guess the gruesome condition of Pandits in the town.
After Pattan, we continued our journey to Sangarhama-detour to Sopore. There is a thick willow grove on the right side of the main road. A Muslim boy told us that we should go and see what had happened there. Visiting the Grove was most horrendous and traumatizing experience as we saw pieces of Indian currency notes and human skeletons scattered in the area.
The boy told us that Sikh adults had killed their women and children here to ensure they did not fall in the hands of these heartless and treacherous Paksitani’s. Dazed we turned and left toward Sopore. We had walked about 200 yards we found a Kacha road to the left leading us to a Seer (Hindu Shrine). There we found a Mullah was teaching Quran to two Pandit women who were dressed in a Burka. As the Mullah saw us he took to his heels as we began chanting “Har Har Mahadev”, the women retracted and threw their Burkas. The shrine in Seer was reduced to a heap of rubble and two Muslim men were pulling out the nails from the burnt wooden planks.
The worse was still to come. We saw a couple of KP’s men and women coming towards us all in tears and crying. They told us that the local Muslims had invited two Pakistani Kabailies from Baramulla and all our brethren had been asked to assemble in the ground near a mosque where a calf was slaughtered in their presence.
Pieces of raw beef were forced down their throat and abuses were heaped. Their houses were looted, even the doors and window frames were pulled out. We spent the night with them, the bedding was the hay of rice.
Of course, we recited the bhajans (Hindu prayers) the whole night. On the dawn of next day, we began our journey towards Sopore. In this town, not much damage was done. The leader of Kashmir pandits was Jat Kak Zutshi father of Jeevan Zutshi of California. Mr Zutshi had worked with Muslim elders in the city to protect the KP’s. Unfortunately, Jat Kak had become a target of the raiders and he hid under the hay in the house of a Muslim friend on the condition that he converts to Islam. Jat Kak Zutshi’s family was my neighbour in Jamalatoo in Srinagar.
The next day we proceeded to Bomai Village which is a couple of miles from Sopore on way to Handwara. Here the first assassination of a Batta had taken place a few days before the Pakistani invasion. The Martyr was Pandit Sarwanand Kaul an honest and diligent Intelligence Officer in the State Government. He was kidnapped and butchered a couple of kilometres from his house. We comforted the family. We had lunch with them and assured them that the whole of the Indian nation was with them.
On reaching Handwara we witnessed six earthen mounds which belonged to one Kashmir Pandits family. It was a case of mass suicide committed by the family. Then we witnessed the same thing as we had seen earlier in Seer. Houses had been looted, KP residents were helter-skelter seeking shelter to save their lives. We stayed in Handwara for the night sleeping on the bran.
In the morning we started to dig the bodies but the Commander of the area prevented us and said that the Army would do it. It was a very tense night for us as firing from both sides was still going on. Taking the kuchha route to Baramulla via Langet we continued our journey.
At Langet we found two dead bodies who were cremated by us. Langet had special significance for me as it is close to Trihagram where my maternal uncle Mr Zindalal Raina of Rainawari residing near Hari Singh High School was assassinated in 1931 when Sheikh Abdullah as a Muslim Communalist had aroused the Hindu-Muslim strife in the valley.
We reached Baramulla in the evening and came across a young Kashmiri Pandit who was a lecturer of English in the Govt. College there. He offered us to stay overnight which we did. His house was also looted as mentioned earlier. He told us how his beautiful wife and other young KP ladies had been locked in a house and gang-raped by the Muslim invaders.
Next day he showed us the house from which these women had jumped to death from the fourth story. During the talk, he told us that one respectable couple in the town was dragged through the streets. We saw every KP house was looted and even the doors and windows were removed.
Streets were deserted Pandit houses were like skeletons and the inhabitants had either gone into hiding or were killed. Many had committed suicide by jumping into the Jhelum river. Crossing the bridge to the other side where market and Govt. offices were housed, we were shown a spot in the middle of the bridge from where young Hindu-Pandit, Sikh and Khatri ladies plunged to their death by drowning into the river.
Those who did not have a chance to kill themselves were herded into Tehsil compound and gang-raped. All Hindu shops were looted in totality. We finally went to the Christian School and found that even the Nuns were not spared. Many had been raped before being murdered.
Out of respect, we went to the spot where Maqbool Sherwani was hanged for misdirecting the invaders. At that point, the Army Commander advised us to return to Srinagar as Baramulla was still not safe for Hindus and Sikhs. It was clear that 30,000 Hindus men and women ( Pandit, Sikh and Khatri) had either lost their lives or were taken as sex slaves by the Pakistani invaders.
Returning to Srinagar was a traumatic experience as if living hell was waiting for us. All of us were arrested and imprisoned in the Halqa Committee, denied food and beaten mercilessly for several days.
By the skin of our teeth, we managed our freedom with the condition that we would be under surveillance and roll called twice a day. It was clear to us that one way or the other these National Conference Halqa Committee Goons were going to get rid of us. We tried our best to find a way to get out of Srinagar. My quest to find someone who could get us out led me to Mr Kashi Nath Fotedar who was an important Officer in the Indian Army in Badami Bagh.
He was of immense help to many elder Kashmir’s Pandits and children who he sent out in Army trucks. Another great Pandit was J. N. Dhar of IAF from Vicharnagh who was the only Kashmiri speaking Pilot at that time whom Nehru had deputed him to Srinagar. He too rendered great service to the community by flying out beleaguered KP’s in Airforce planes.
My escape from Srinagar was possible only on April 6, 1948. I along with Manohar Bagati, Lakshmi Narain Kaul and Amar Nath Ganjoo walked all the way to Pathankot on foot for 22 days. I finally settled at Saharanpur UP where I lived for 54 years.