Author: LALIT KOUL
History tells us that Kashmir’s Hindus have been persecuted and killed by Muslim rulers through the ages. But no matter how terrible their subjugation, Kashmir’s Hindus have survived
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance wanted to know more about my community’s forced displacement from the Valley of Kashmir and asked me, “How did your ethnic cleansing in Kashmir come about?”
I struggled for an answer. I thought and then said, “Gradually and then suddenly.”
Yes. That is how we were ethnically cleansed from our Valley, our home, our holy land, our homeland — Kashmir. The ghastly night of January 19, 1990, was ‘sudden’, but years before that night were the period of ‘gradual’ ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Islamist Jihadis. It did not all happen on the intervening night between January 19 and 20, 1990. It started centuries ago.
Our first experience of this barbaric ethnic cleansing came about during the period of 1389-1413 under the rule of Mir Hamdani and Sultan Sikandar, also known as Sikandar But-Shikan. The two of them made it a state policy to unleash their terrible reign of terror on Kashmiri Hindus with the sole objective of eradicating the Kashmiri Hindus from their ancestral lands. Even back then, we were given only three choices: Convert to Islam, die or escape. Without succumbing to the pressure of conversion, hundreds of our ancestors poisoned themselves and their womenfolk. Seven mounds of the sacred thread (janeu) of murdered Kashmiri Hindus were burnt by Sikandar But-Shikan. More than a lakh of our ancestors were brutally murdered and burnt at one spot near Rainawari. The spot is now known as Batta Mazaar (Kashmiri Hindu cemetery).
Such was the situation that we had to cremate our revered dead ones in our own courtyards and keep the ashes hidden in our houses until we got an opportunity to immerse the ashes in river Vitasta. During this phase, a time came when only 11 Kashmiri Hindu families were left in the Valley, after most were either killed or hounded out of their homeland.
The second encounter of Kashmiri Hindus with mass exodus was engineered during the period of 1506-1585 under the rule of the Chak dynasty. Even after going through sustained persecution at the hands of Islamist zealots and rulers, Kashmiri Hindus attained new heights in the field of education and cultural revival. Since they believed in mutual understanding, cohesiveness and peace, they once again became soft targets and were subjected to horrendous atrocities. During this time, the Chak rulers ordered one thousand cows, holy to Kashmiri Hindus, be slaughtered every day to create a vicious environment and force Kashmiri Hindus to convert to Islam. Chak rulers also imposed a punitive tax (Jazia) specifically on Kashmiri Hindus to harass and subjugate them into conversion. We had to even pay punitive tax for performing our religious rituals. Once again, to escape the forced conversions and day-to-day persecution, thousands of the victims escaped from the valley and settled in other parts of India. This ethnic cleansing was systematically engineered to change the cultural and ethnic landscape of Kashmir and convert it into an Islamic state.
Towards the end of the 16th century, Mughals invaded Kashmir and ruled it for the next 200 years. While Akbar reversed some of the previous State policies of systemic persecution of Kashmiri Hindus, his progeny was not that tolerant and benevolent. Jehangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb were as ruthless in their policies and actions against Kashmiri Hindus as the Hamdanis and the Chaks. While Akbar launched rehabilitation schemes for Kashmiri Hindus and abolished the Jazia on them, his descendants engaged in another round of systemic State-approved ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus. Several Hindu temples and shrines were demolished or desecrated during Shahjahan’s and Aurangzeb’s merciless rule. Aurangzeb reinstituted the punitive tax on Kashmiri Hindus. He also established a State policy to liquidate Kashmiri Hindu scholars. For Islam to successfully spread across India, he said, elimination of Hindu scholars was necessary. It was during this period that the Sikh Guru, Teg Bahadur, was executed by Aurangzeb while he stood against the persecution of Kashmiri Hindus and fought for their fundamental rights. This state-sponsored persecution at the hands of Islamic zealots resulted in third major wave of ethnic cleansing and forced exodus of our community from our homeland.
In 1753, Fazal, son of Faquirullah ruled Kashmir Valley. Under his tyrannical rule, Kashmiri Hindus were once again terrorised and persecuted. On his orders, one of his lieutenants beheaded a Kashmiri Hindu, Kailash Dhar, in broad daylight in the open courts of then Governor Amir Khan Jawansher and then dumped the body in river Vitasta (also known as Jhelum). Following this barbaric killing, Fazal’s lieutenants went on rampage and killed hundreds of Kashmiri Hindus. This created a wave of fresh terror in the hearts of our community and many more escaped from the Valley at the first possible opportunity. This marked the fourth major exodus of our community from the land of our genesis.
The concluding part of this article will appear tomorrow.