My Brushes with Terrorism in Kashmir

 



1989 was the worst year of the twentieth century for the Valley of Kashmir. The ethos of composite Kashmiri culture was torn to shreds by Islamic fundamentalists let loose by vested interests in the Valley supported by actors from across the border. It was in the weirdest winter of the century, which permeated the chill of terrorism to the marrow of Kashmiri psyche, that even ordinary Kashmiris surrendered their loyalties to killing ruffians. The District of Pulwama in Kashmir became the epicenter of anti-state and subversive activities, which were spreading to other districts like wild fire. People of the Valley were overwhelmed by surprise and suspense. Farooq Abdullah who was the Chief Minister of the state had already set free 100 militants accused of heinous crimes from various state jails in his usual erratic move aimed at religious appeasement. Terrorists were acting directly while both the central and state information collection machinery had collapsed due to paralysis in the administration. While the state administration was inactive and almost in hiding due to absence of (a) intelligence inputs and (b) connivance by various planted elements in it, the CM was basking sunrays on the beaches of Europe. The Central Govt. too abdicated its responsibility by looking the other side and called the armed revolt sponsored by terrorists as mere mischief by some miscreants. It took years for the Central Govt. to call them militants. It took many more years for the Centre to brand them as Islamic terrorists, indoctrinated, funded and trained by Pakistan; infiltrated into the Valley to subvert democratic institutions of the State and India. Messengers of death resorted to sabotage and subversion and large-scale destruction was caused in order to intimidate civil society of the Valley to surrender and into submission. Govt. and private properties were vandalized, destroyed and burnt for no cause but to extract support and cooperation of the people out of threat and dread. Govt. assets and properties of Kashmiri Hindus were vandalized and destroyed by terrorist tyrants to elicit support for their convoluted cause of religious fundamentalism. Court buildings and some school buildings were also razed in the District of Pulwama and some culverts, bridges and other common facility utilities were destroyed.

A temple in Shopian town was burnt to threaten the Hindus to run for their lives. Some days later, a headless human body with the tag of “informer” was dangled from a walnut tree in the same town to intimidate the town people further. Such exemplary, surreal examples were repeated in all parts of the Valley in order to whip up hysteria in Sunni Muslims of the Valley for their so called independence. Campaigns of baseless rumors and whispers were the tools of cheap propaganda to misinform and convince people of the Valley for insurrection against “infidel” India. At that point of time, I was still in active service of the state government, working as the CEO of an organization funded by the Govt. of India in the Pulwama district. I was supposed to be touring the villages of the District extensively and interacting with people. As a senior officer in the District, I was this time too as at other critical times, detailed on magisterial duties as a Zonal Magistrate to oversee and ensure maintenance of law and order in different zones of the district. In this capacity I had to visit different zones from time to time and liaise with security forces and people at large to keep up public morale and establish coordination between civil administration and security forces. Security forces in the District consisted of local police personnel deployed at police stations and some companies of CRP Forces deployed at some vital points to assist the local police. I could not use my departmental Gypsy which was painted with a GOI number. This would have been enough to invite easy detection and damage to me and the vehicle because all things of India were being detested and destroyed without any remorse or compunction at that point of time. I had therefore to arrange for a different vehicle from State Motor Garages, Srinagar for my use in the District. Fortunately I was able to get an Ambassador car allotted for this duty. It was azure blue in color and it had no other symbol written on its number plate except the number. It was a God sent gift as my identity would not be revealed by the vehicle, which appeared like a private car. A smart Muslim young man in his early thirties was its driver. He was competent, dashing and fast. He would drive me to my duties on all days irrespective of the calls of shut down by the terrorists or orders of curfew by the Govt. Those were the days when vehicles would remain off the road for weeks on, end either on the dictates of the terrorists or curfew orders of the Govt. I wondered as to how Mr. A (I will call my driver by this name in future as a measure of confidentiality) would drive me to my various points of duty in different parts of the District in the face of civil curfew without any hindrance from the agitating and volatile mobs, which were active throughout the Valley in those days. I could only fathom the reasons subsequently and only in hindsight. From Pulwama I had to travel to Shopian to Shadimarg to Sheikhpora to Kakapora to Pampore to Awantipora to Trall to Ratnipora and to other places in the zones regularly to smell, see, interact and report. Those were the days when roads and streets used to be regularly empty because all trade and transport activity had come to a grinding halt on the instructions of the terrorists. Like a few other foolish officers of my ilk I behaved more loyal than the king. While the entire police and civil administration had gone into hiding, it was only a few headless officers like me who still thought their duty was to stand up against the civil turmoil. Bomb blasts, kidnappings and killings were a routine affair that time. How far was I able to contribute in the war on terror I do not know? But I will state that I did not miss a day in my emergency duties those days, which I performed without a grudge.

While visiting different places in different zones I was hardly able to meet people as all of them were instructed to avoid and rebuff all attempts of the administration for interaction. Even Police Stations were found to be without uniformed men. The situation was grim and desperate. It seemed the blind end of the road had already been reached. But as an optimist as I was then, I hoped the boil would burst and start healing. However, occasionally I too would get scared of the widening vacuum in administrative and security measures. It seemed that every thing had collapsed and the Valley could burst into chaos and secede anytime.

It was on one such day of freezing chill when I had proceeded to Shopian that Mr. A got a message from his home at Srinagar that his father was dead. So he had to rush back to his home to perform the last rites. It was rumored that his father had been killed by security forces near his home at Fatehkadal, Srinagar. Having worked with him for a couple of months, I felt morally bound to pay my condolences to him. But that was not possible to do without going to his house where he was mourning the death of his father. The entire Valley was out of bonds for any civilian movement due to either civil shut down or Govt curfew. So to reach him was in itself an impossible task. Muslims in Kashmir pay final condolences to the departed on the coming Friday after death. It was a Friday, the date of which I do not remember now, when some bug struck me to try to visit Mr. A at his house and offer my condolences. There was a curfew break of three hours in the morning that day. Though it was a dangerous job to make it to Fatehkadal on foot from my residence at Bagati-Barzullah Srinagar, I took the foolish risk. It was dry but there was a nasty nip in the air that pierced into the bones. I started at 9 O’clock from my place on foot as the frost started melting from dry branches of bare trees. I trudged from my place via Rambagh to Silk Factory road to Jehangir Hotel to Shali Store Road to Karan nagar Road to HMS Hospital road to Nawabazar Road to Dudkul Road to Fatehkadal Bridge which took me nearly two hours. There was scarce movement on these roads and a ghostly silence pervaded all through. After crossing Fatehkadal Bridge I started enquiring about the location of the house of Mr. A. Within some time I was guided to the correct place on the left side of Habbakadal - Fatehkadal main road. It was exactly opposite the famous shrine of Narparistan which used to be a small compound enclosed by six feet high wall built of big Devri stones with three stones made into railing from the roadside. It was a highly revered shrine by both Hindus and Muslims of the town and in it a Muslim Saint had been buried some centuries back. On the niches of the railing an earthen lamp was lit every evening, believed to guide the pedestrians on the right path. Every one passing by the road would bow in obesence before the Saint who was believed to be lying in a state to bless the town’s people. In fact the Shrine was dedicated to the memory of the Saint who was believed to be kind and benevolent to all.

When I saw the house of Mr. A from the roadside I found that it had its entry from a side lane. It was a three storied house of three windows, made of stones, bricks, timber roofed with GI sheets, which was a standard house of a Kashmiri. The door of the house was wide open and people were going in and coming out from the house frantically. Because I did not know anybody I had but to enter the corridor of the house, which was abuzz with movement of people. There seemed to be a large room on the left side which was locked. Like others I climbed to the second floor where the door of a room was open. I entered the room but it was empty. I sat for a while but getting no clue of Mr. A who only knew me from the household, I grew restless. People continued to climb up and down to the third floor without minding me. So I decided to seek for Mr. A and stood up and climbed to the third floor of the house. As a typical Kashmiri house it comprised of a large sitting room which had entry from the centre with window sills on three sides of the room. It was full to the brim with people, but only men. As per custom I laced my shoes out of the hall and entered the room where there was no space for me except near the shoes. I had to share the space with others and sit. But before sitting, to my great horror I found that the large gathering was being addressed by a small statured man of fair complexion, with a Castro beard. He had a gun tucked under his jacket which looked like army fatigue. He must have been in the twenties. He was flanked by youth with guns tucked under a Feren made of woolen cloth. Only two of them seemed to be Kashmiris. I felt totally helpless and miserable because I was scared as the only Non Muslim in this gathering. It was more so as I had not been able to locate Mr. A yet who only knew me in such a volatile gathering. If somebody recognized me, I could become the easy God sent target for the terrorists to hit, to scare away the rest of my community as they were doing. The young man in the Castro beard was preaching and invoking the gathering to rise and fight "Indian imperialism" with all their resources and might. He spoke in Urdu and quoted his preaching with references from Islamic history which he claimed was full of brave sacrifices like the one made by the father of Mr. A. He was spitting fire and speaking revolt and sedition against secular India and "infidel" Non Muslims. By now it had been declared by the terrorist propaganda machine that the father of Mr. A (a man in sixties) had been killed by the security forces at point blank range for no cause. I shriveled to hear the venom the young man was orchestrating, prompting and provoking the gathering to rise in revolt against "infidel India which had subjugated Kashmiri Muslims for fifty years". I cursed myself and my foolhardy bravado to have opted for such a dangerous jaunt in the tense atmosphere that was prevailing that time in the Valley. It was at the same time that some members of my community had been done to death in most inhuman and barbaric ways by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists to scare us away from the Valley. As I was blanked by my stupid folly someone from behind touched me. I turned back and to my relief I found it was Mr. A, who was behind me. He was sagacious enough to sign me to come out of the room and accompanied me back down to a second floor room which was still empty. But for his wisdom one more figure could have been added to the “Pandits killed being an informer " list. Both of us sat down in the room. I offered my condolences on the unfortunate death of his father. But he admonished me as to what was the need for my indiscreet visit. I also offered him some cash which he declined. He seemed to have no pain for the death of his father because he had been fully indoctrinated by the propagandist machine that deaths of Kashmiri Muslims in the insurrection would lead them to heaven as a matter of faith. He seemed to have believed that his father had sacrificed himself to usher in a new regime of Nizam -i-Mustaffa in the Valley. He believed that he had achieved salvation for himself through this act of martyrdom for the benefit of Muslim fraternity. He thanked me profusely for my courtesy and wanted me to leave early, perhaps with a view to avoid my detection as the only Hindu in this gathering. Before seeing me off at the door of the house he revealed to me that it had been decided by the elements that were ruling faith of Muslims at that time to bury his father in the same compound where the great saint was buried, opposite his house. He was rightfully proud of it. When I left to trudge back to my residence I felt a great sense of relief for having escaped a tarumatic situation. On my way back I stopped at the bunker of security forces which was established on right corner of the bridge. I talked to the head of the company that was deployed for the bunker. I was not surprised to learn from him that the man was killed in crossfire between terrorists and security forces when terrorists had fired on the bunker. This fact was recorded in security forces reports also but was morphed into “firing to death at point blank range by the security forces” by the rumor mill of the terrorists.

I cannot vouch whether or not the body of the father of Mr. A was actually buried in the shrine compound along with the saint because I have not ventured to Kashmir since I was forced to leave in March 1990. But if it was actually done under the dictates of those religious fundamentalists who destroyed the atmosphere of coexistence and composite living propounded by Kashmiri saints and sages; should we call it canonization of an ordinary mortal or trivialization of a saint? Can we still have illusions that Kashmir is back to its composite ethos where all creeds enjoyed and maintained their beliefs without fear of rabid retribution from frenzied diehards? Can we have illusions of Kashmir being itself without the presence of its original inhabitants (Kashmiri Pandits)?

*P.N.Ganjoo was born in a modest Kashmiri family about 7 decades ago, lost his father early and was raised by his honest, hardworking mother. With her efforts he received his education in Srinagar and went on to serve in various Government Departments before retiring as a senior grade KAS officer.

Presently he is working on his varied interests besides being a consulting Director of a software services company.

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