If 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms can be reopened, why not Kashmiri Pandit killings?

There cannot be a bigger pain than the exodus of the bereaved community out of their homeland.

 |  5-minute read |   11-01-2018
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There is still hope, but only for some.

In the past six months, two verdicts from the apex court on two separate pleas seeking fresh probe - into the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and the killings of Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s and early 2000s - have drawn massive comparisons.

On January 10, the Supreme Court decided to set up a fresh special investigation team (SIT) to look into the 186 anti-Sikh riot cases in 1984, investigations into which were closed earlier. The apex court has also asked the Centre to suggest names for the proposed three-member panel, which will be headed by a former high court judge.

The 1984 riots, which broke out after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had claimed the lives of an estimated 8,000 people in Delhi and around the country.

But then, if riots dating back to 1980s can be reinvestigated through an SIT, why is it declared “too late” for fresh investigations into the killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s?

In July 2017, the apex court rejected a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking fresh probe into the killing of Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir.

kashmiripandits_0_0_011118010005.jpgThe Supreme Court in July 2017 dismissed a PIL filed by the Roots in Kashmir, an NGO. (Credit: PTI photo)

Dismissing the PIL filed by an NGO “Roots in Kashmir”, the apex court said it would be difficult to probe as evidence “is unlikely to be available”. "Almost 27 years have gone by… Where will the evidence will come from? Such a plea should have been moved long time ago," the Supreme Court had observed.

The petitioners had moved the court saying that they need a "sense of justice" in the case. "The community has legitimate expectations. The successive governments have repeatedly made fake promises that the Pandits could return (to homeland). No one is protecting them," they prayed.

The dismissal of the case buried all hopes for justice for the survivors of the systematic bloodbath. Apart from the outraged Pandit community, even a human rights group - largely run by Kashmiri Muslims - had sharply reacted to the court decision.

The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in a statement had said: "The Supreme Court order is a complete departure from established law that ‘crime never dies’, and there exists no time limitation for justice under Indian and international law with regard to serious crimes such as murder."

The rights group observed that “killings of Kashmiri Pandits, other minorities and all violence in Jammu and Kashmir have never been fairly and credibly investigated”, adding, “Thus far, Jammu and Kashmir has faced widespread, systemic violence, largely at the hands of the Indian state.”

Three decades on, the killings of Pandits, continue to be an unsolved mystery. For the all-resourceful government, it took around two decades to just consolidate contradictory figures of the killings.

As per a first comprehensive report compiled by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2008, from 1989 onwards, 209 Kashmiri Pandits were killed. As many as 109 killed in 1990 alone.

According to this report in The Indian Express, while 140 cases were registered at police stations across Kashmir, chargesheets had been filed in only 24 cases. In 115 cases, the perpetrators are yet to be identified.

Even the first reported killing of a Kashmiri Pandit remains unsolved. According to the police, the first Pandit to be killed was a woman named Prabhavati from Budgam. She was killed in Srinagar on March 14, 1989, by unidentified gunmen, whose identity could never be established.

Of all the districts of Kashmir province, the summer capital of Srinagar, as per the police records, had witnessed the largest number of killings  - 82 - within two years of the onset of the armed insurgency.

Apart from individual target killings, in some instances, the minority community people were massacred. These include the Sangrampora massacre in which seven persons were killed during on the night of March 21-22 in 1997 in Budgam, 23 were killed in Wandhama on January 25, 1998 and 24  murdered in Nadimarg on March 24, 2003. According to the police, the perpetrators of the Wandhama massacre remain untraced.

There are slight contradictions even in the official figures pertaining to the killings. In March 2010, the then government told the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly that 219 Kashmiri Pandits had been killed by militants since 1989, , and not 209,  as previously reported by the police. But a year later in 2011, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS), a Srinagar-based organisation, said at least 399 Pandits had been killed.

There cannot be a bigger pain than the exodus of the bereaved community out of their homeland.

And this wound has been festering in the absence of a fair probe, something which could clear the air and lead to the severest punishment for the perpetrators. It could equally contribute in reconciliatory efforts aimed at harmonious return of the Pandits to their homeland.

If investigations into the 186 anti-Sikh riot cases were closed without investigation, probe into killings of Pandits never took off.

For the Sikh community, it has been an unfortunate case of justice delayed (even as the latest Supreme Court decision revived fresh hopes), but for the Pandits,  it remains yet another grievous instance of justice denied.

Also read: Why India won't remember the day Kashmiri Pandits were left to die


Majid Hyderi Majid Hyderi @majidhyderi

The writer is a journalist based in Kashmir.

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