Hindu Human Rights in Kashmir: Excerpts from HAF's 2011 Report
The conflict in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir remained unresolved in 2011, despite the Indian government’s appointment of a three-member commission in October 2010 to “hold sustained dialogue” with all sections of the state’s population. The three-member commission, however, was unable to achieve any significant gains and only offered impractical proposals.
The commission was initially created following three months of unrest and riots during the summer of 2010 that left more than 100 people dead. According to media reports, the rioting youth had been paid to start the riots and create havoc in the state. , Moreover, the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) indicated, “[T]he entire protracted stone-pelting campaign was directly backed by Pakistan and by Pakistan-based terrorist formations, in a strategy to offset declining capacities for terrorist action.” SATP further noted that Masrat Alam, chief of the Muslim League and part of the separatist Tehrik-e-Hurriyat party, admitted to receiving four million Indian rupees to “fuel the protests and incite the stone-pelters.”
At the same time, a positive political development occured in January 2, 2011, when the chief spokesman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Ghani Bhat, publicly acknowledged that many of the state’s moderate separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq, Abdul Gani Lone, and Abdul Ahad Wani, had not been killed by “the [Indian] army or police but [by] their own people.” This assessment, that many Kashmiri leaders had been targeted and murdered by other hardline Kashmiri separatists, was in stark contast to what had been previously reported by the media and human rights organizations for several decades.
Instead of taking advantage of this revelation, however, the central government failed to implement meaningful policy changes, work with moderate factions, or deal effectively with extremists. As SATP critically noted, “Despite the sea [of] change in the ground situation that these tentative developments indicate (and they can easily be reversed at the cost of a few bullets), no constitutional political formation, and neither the State Government nor the Centre, appear to have significantly accommodated these changes within their current policy framework. Indeed, the unsettling nonsense that has been the essence of the political discourse, and of various ‘peace-making initiatives’ in J&K, and the relentless appeasement of the most extreme voices, remains the hallmark of all policy and pronouncements.”
Complicating matters further were attempts by outside parties to interfere in Jammu and Kashmir. For instance, the Wikileaks diplomatic cables show that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have supported or tried to influence Muslim elements in the Kashmir Valley. The Indian government reportedly expressed deep concern over Saudi funding of extremist groups in Kashmir. Similarly, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) recently named a special envoy to Kashmir. And there were reports that even Libya was involved in trying to influence politics and promote pro-Pakistan sentiments in the Kashmir region. Despite such external intrusions, however, a survey published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs and Kings College, London found that 98% of Kashmiris on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir did not wish to be a part of Pakistan; and 50% of the people in Pakistan occupied Kashmir did not wish to remain with Pakistan either.
Perhaps most troublesome were the efforts by Pakistan to disseminate propaganda on the Kashmir issue and attempts to manipulate U.S. policy makers. In particular, the arrest of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) executive director, Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, for engaging in illegal lobbying activities on behalf of Pakisan’s ISI demonstrated the extent of ISI activities in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, KAC, otherwise known as the Kashmir Center, was created by the ISI to specifically promote Pakistan’s agenda on Kashmir amongst U.S. government officials and policy makers. Similar centers were also set up by Pakistan in London and Belgium to disseminate anti-India and pro-Kashmiri separatist propaganda on the Kashmir issue.
Meanwhile, 21 years after Islamic extremists ethnically cleansed nearly 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus (known as Pandits) from their homeland in the Kashmir Valley using threats, intimidation, and murder, the central and state governments have failed to safely rehabilitate the Pandits back to their homes or adequately address their needs. Successive governments in both Srinagar and New Delhi have demonstrated neglect, apathy, and futility in resolving the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is estimated that the total Kashmiri Hindu Pandit population is now only 700,000 and scattered throughout the world, with many still living in refugee camps and only approximately 3,000 still living in the Valley. According to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Kashmiri Pandit culture is on “the verge of extinction and can prosper only in its native land of Kashmir Valley.”
A recent Indian media report profiled the lives of several traumatized Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, including Vinod Dhar, whose entire family of 23 members was massacred when he was only 14 years-old, leaving him as the lone survivor. Similarly, another Kashmiri Pandit refugee, living in poor conditions in a camp in Jammu, observed: “This is the Kashmir we had nurtured with our blood and look how they [Muslims] hated us. Wasn't what we experienced a genocide?"
The Indian Supreme Court further questioned the state government’s inefftiveness in helping the Kashmiri Pandits when it asked: “Tell us what have you (state government) done with your promise of providing 15,000 jobs? Have you given a single job? Or, for that matter, have you given them a single house.” The court also asked the state government to explain whether it had invalidated even a single house sale, since hundreds of Kashmniri Pandit houses had been auctioned and sold illegally between 1990 and 1997, after the Pandits fled the Valley.
As a result of the lack of support from the central Indian and Jammu and Kashmir state goverments, the Kashmiri Pandits have also appealed to the international community and the U.S. government for assistance. For example, in 2010, Kashmiri Pandit leaders met top Obama administration officials and legislators from both parties to plead their case. Moreover, on August 1, 2011, U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sponsored U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 387 (H. Res. 387), which recognizes the violations of religious freedom and human rights of the Kashmiri Pandits since 1989, and demands that the terrorist infrastructure in the region be dismantled. H. Res. 387 has been co-sponsored by Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Mike Honda (D-CA).
Kashmir, once known for its idyllic beauty, has historically been inhabited by Hindus and Buddhists, and had a majority Hindu population until the 14th century when Islamic invaders entered the region. Ancient Kashmir was renowned as a center for Hindu and Buddhist learning and was ruled by Hindu kings until 1339. The Muslim period stretched from about 1561 to 1819, at which time Sikhs gained control over the region. Sikh rule spanned from 1819 to 1846, followed by the Hindu Dogra reign from 1846 to 1947. Modern Kashmir has been claimed by both Pakistan and India since partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
The Princely State of Kashmir, which was ruled by the Dogra king Hari Singh at the time of partition, joined the Indian Union after Pakistan’s armed forces orchestrated an invasion of Kashmir using Pashtun “tribesmen” and regular military personnel. Following the Pakistani offensive, Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession formalizing Kashmir’s legal accession to India. The Instrument of Accession was the standard legal mechanism used by the Princely States of British India to join either India or Pakistan at the time of independence in 1947. The accession was also approved by the largest and most popular Kashmiri political party, the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, led by the charismatic Muslim leader, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.
Once Kashmir legally joined India, Indian forces were deployed to stop the advancing Pakistani military, leading to an all out war between the two countries.
India then sought the intervention of the United Nations (UN), and the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) was established to examine the situation. In April 1948, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 47 which required (1) the demilitarization of the region, and (2) a plebiscite to decide the future of the princely state. The Resolution, however, clearly required that Pakistan must first withdraw all its military personnel and “tribesmen” from the state as a necessary pre-condition to holding a plebiscite. According to the UNCIP’s findings in August 1948, Pakistan not only failed to abide by the Resolution, but actually increased its military presence in Kashmir. Despite Pakistan's military aggression and flagrant violation of Resolution 47, the Security Council failed to take appropriate action against the government of Pakistan.
After a ceasefire was agreed to in January 1949, Pakistan remained in control of approximately one-third of the state while the remaining two-thirds were incorporated into India under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The Indian Constitution, which came into effect on January 26, 1950, granted special status to Kashmir through Article 370. Article 370 is a special clause that made “Jammu and Kashmir a country within a country, with its own flag, emblem, constitution and Sadr-i-Riyasat (Prime Minister).” Moreover, it restricted the Indian Parliament’s legislative power over J&K to defense, foreign affairs, and communications. Thus, in order for the Parliament to apply other laws to J&K, it required the State’s concurrence. Perhaps, the worst consequence of Article 370 is its restriction on people moving from other parts of India to the state. Although there was considerable opposition to granting special status to the state, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru insisted on the inclusion of Article 370 to accommodate Kashmiri Muslims.
Subsequently, local elections were held in Indian Kashmir in 1951 where Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference won a resounding victory. And in 1956, the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly voted to approve the merger of Kashmir with India. The former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir has a total area of 85,807 sq. miles and is now divided between three countries. Pakistan occupies approximately 28,160 sq. miles, known as Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), or the supposed Azad (free) Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and the Northern Areas. PoK comprises eight administrative districts (Muzzafarabad, Mirpur, Neelum, Kotli, Poonch, Sudhanoti, Bhimber, and Bagh), with an area of 5,134 sq. miles and an estimated population of 3.5 million. The people of PoK are mostly Sunni Muslims, who speak a mix of Punjabi, Pahari, and Pushto. There are virtually no Hindus left in PoK. The Northern Areas have a Shia Muslim majority population, with significant numbers of Ismailis and Nurbakshis (a Sufi sect). Shia Sunni tensions have frequently run high here, and there have been periodic riots. In PoK, the Pakistani government has failed to provide basic rights and democratic representation to the Kashmiri people. Moreover, local Kashmiris are discriminated against, while Pakistanis are given preferential treatment.
China controls a total of 16,500 sq. miles, of which 2,000 sq. miles in the Shaksgam Valley was ceded to them by Pakistan in a 1963 boundary settlement (which India does not accept). The remaining 14,500 sq. miles, known as Aksai Chin was seized by China during the 1962 Indo-China war. Chinese occupied Kashmir is predominantly Buddhist.
And finally, the remaining territory forms the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is divided into three main parts: Kashmir Valley, Jammu, and Ladakh. The Kashmir Valley has six districts, with an area of 6,157 sq. miles and a population of just over four million. The main language is Kashmiri, with Gojari being spoken to a lesser extent. Most Valley Muslims are Sunni, with concentrations of Shias in certain areas. The Jammu region also includes six districts, with a total area of 10,151 sq. miles. In Jammu, Hindus comprise 65.23% of the population, Muslims 30.69%, and Sikhs 3.57%. Ladakh, which includes the districts of Leh and Kargil, has an area of 37,337 sq. miles. Buddhists enjoy a slight majority in Ladakh (45.87%), with a substantial Muslim population of 47%, and Hindus, Sikhs, and others at 6.2%.
Starting in 1989, Islamic terrorism gripped the Kashmir Valley, and a brutal campaign of violence and ethnic cleansing was directed against the state’s minority Hindu population. As a result, between 1989 and 1991, more than 300,000 Hindus were driven out of the Valley by Muslim extremists (some estimates put the figure at close to 400,000), who engaged in brutal ethno-religious cleansing. These Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits, now live in refugee camps throughout Delhi and Jammu. Although the violence initially targeted Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, Islamic militants subsequently expanded their operations to attack Hindu civilians throughout the state. It is estimated that since 1989, nearly 105 educational institutions run by Kashmiri Hindus were burned down or destroyed, 103 temples and religious sites demolished, 14,430 businesses and shops destroyed, and more than 20,000 Kashmiri Hindu homes destroyed, looted, or occupied. There has also been a concerted effort to erase other signs of Kashmir’s Hindu history. For instance, in March 2009, a bill was introduced in the Jammu and Kashmir Legistlative Assembly by a Muslim member, Peerzada Manzoor Hussain, to change the name of historic Anantnag town to Islamabad. Muslim politicians in the Kashmir Valley are reportedly already referring to Anantnag as Islamabad in official communication.
The Islamic extremists in Kashmir were recruited, trained, funded, and given refuge by Pakistan’s military and powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. According to former scholar and the current Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, the violence in Kashmir was, “rooted in the ideology of Pakistani Islamists, carefully nurtured for decades by the Pakistani military.” In fact, the founder and former head of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba affirmed that “killing Hindus” was the best solution to resolve the six-decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.
Terrorists operating in Kashmir also have ties with Al-Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, which continues to be the center of Islamist terror networks, fundamentalism, drug trafficking, illicit trade in small arms, and international terrorism. For a complete list of Pakistani militant groups operating in J&K, please see Appendix C.
Considering the Pakistani military/government’s preoccupation with promoting jihad in Kashmir and the explosion of Islamic fundamentalism, the future of Hindus in Kashmir remains tenuous.
Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir declined during 2011, with a total of 183 people killed in terrorist related violence. Out of that total, 34 were civilians, 30 were security force personnel, and 119 terrorists. This represents a decrease in the number of fatalities recorded in 2010 (375) and is significantly less than a decade ago: in 2001 there were 1067 civilian fatalities, 590 security personnel fatalities, and 2850 terrorist fatalities. The continued presence of security personnel in the state combined with a sustained campaign to curtail the movement of terrorists into the state has led to the drastic reduction in terrorism related fatalities. The demands by some to abrogate the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA), however, would deprive the security forces of the ability to effectively counter both cross-border terrorism as well as internal attempts at destabilizing the state and country, and likely result in a renewed increase in violence. Kashmiri Hindu Pandits have opposed any move to curtail the AFPSA, arguing that it is necessary to maintain security in the state.
Separatists Kashmiri politicians and leaders claim that more than 100,000 Kashmiri civilians have been killed by security forces since 1989. Carefully documented evidence and data, however, indicate the following: In the last 21 years, 43,460 people have been killed in the Kashmir insurgency. Of these, 21,323 were terrorists or “militants,” 13,226 were civilians killed by “militants,” 3,642 were civilians killed by security forces, and 5,369 policemen killed by “militants.” The 21,323 “militants” were killed in operations by security forces and include both Kashmiri and foreign “terrorists.” Of the 5,369 security forces killed, approximately 1,500 were Kashmiri policemen.
Human rights agencies have also accused Indian security forces of committing human rights abuses against Kashmiri Muslims in the state. In response, the Human Rights Cell of the Western Command of the Indian Armed Forces presented a detailed report of all allegations of human rights violations against the Army in Jammu and Kashmir during the last two decades. The report specifically shows that out of a total of 1,508 allegations of human rights violations received between 1990 and 2008, only 35 cases were found to be accurate, while the remaining 1,453 charges (97.70%) were "baseless and without an element of truth." It further mentions that strict action was taken in all cases where Army personnel were found to be guilty of human rights violations.
During the course of 2011, Hindus and other minorities continued to face challenges throuhghout Jammu and Kashmir, including economic/political discrimination, lack of religious freedom, and violent attacks. Moreover, the Kashmiri Pandits suffer from ongoing mental and emotional trauma as a result of their forced exodus in 1989. Those still living in the squalid refugee camps, for example, suffer high rates of dementia, insomnia, depression, and hypertension. Separatist leaders and ordinary Kashmiri Muslims, however, have shown little concern for the rights and needs of the Pandits, and remain largely silent when Islamic extremists carry out acts of terrorism.
Hindu Pilgrimage Sites/Temples
The basic right to worship freely without fear of persecution or attack is essential to the concept of religious freedom. Equally important is the right to access basic accommodations and facilities for pilgrims and devotees. Unfortunately, Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir have not enjoyed such religious freedom as they have frequently come under attack from Muslim fundamentalists, and many of their pilgrimage sites and temples continue to lack rudimentary facilities and accommodations.
Kashmir is home to numerous ancient Hindu pilgrimage sites and temples located throughout the state, which are visited by millions of devotees every year. The two most frequented sites are Vaishno Devi in Jammu and the Amarnath cave shrine in northern Kashmir.
Over 170 temples have been destroyed or damaged since the start of violence in 1989. Moreover, following the mass exodus of Hindus from the Kashmir Valley in 1989-1990, more than 100 religious sites have been illegally occupied by local Muslims. For instance, according to a recent fact-finding mission, the cremation site and temple land of Karihama-Gutingu in Kupwara district, Batpura, the Kapalmochan temples in Shopian district, and the Shiv temple at Thejiwara have all been illegally seized.
Similarly, pilgrims traveling to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath shrine have been attacked by Islamic extremists in the past. Additionally, in 2008, Kashmiri Muslims tried to prevent planned improvements to Amarnath shrine necessary to accommodate pilgrims and enhance basic facilities. In response to the unrest, the state government set up a shrine board exclusively for administering, managing, and regulating Hindu shrines and other places of worship in the Valley. The Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, an organization representing the Hindu Pandits still remaining in the Valley, expressed doubts about the move and questioned whether the government and separatist leaders are sincere in protecting and preserving the Valley’s Hindu temples. Moreover, it is unclear whether the creation of the shrine board will allow the Hindu Pandit community to exercise independent control over their own religious institutions.
Attacks on Civilians/Security Forces
One of the specific strategies of Pakistan’s ISI sponsored insurgency included plans to complete a “communal cleansing” of Kashmir by attacking non-Muslim indigenous Kashmiris in order to change the demographics and create a minority free Kashmir. Between 1988 and 2003, for instance, approximately 1,490 Hindus were killed in Kashmir, although Kashmiri Pandit groups estimate that the numbers are much higher. Moreover, there were several subsequent attacks and massacres of Hindus throughout the state. Although Hindus were the initial targets of the ISI’s strategy of communal cleansing, Muslim civilians have suffered the highest number of casualities in terrorist related violence.
Violence has generally declined since the start of the insurgency, but still threatens the safety and security of the state’s residents. As noted above, there were a total 183 fatalities from terrorist related violence in 2011. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, some of the significant incidents in 2011 included the following:
- February 8, 2011: Army and police shot dead three top Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) militants, including a “divisional commander, in a confrontation inside a 60 foot deep gorge at Manjoosh village in Ramban District. The slain militants were identified as Abdul Rashid Naik alias Qari Zubair, Nasir Ahmed Naik, and Mushtaq Ahmed. Qari Zubair was a “divisional commander” of HM’s Pir Panjal Regiment, Nasir was a “district commander,” and Mushtaq was a “battalion commander” of the outfit.
- July 15, 2011: Indian secutiry forces killed five terrorists from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), including “divisional commander” Abu Saqib, “district commander” Abu Hamaad, and “deputy district commander” Omair, in a day-long gun battle in Kupwara District. A soldier was also killed in the incident, while five other soldiers, including a captain, were injured in the encounter.
- July 30-31, 2011: Two Indian Army personnel were killed and three others injured as troops foiled a major infiltration bid by heavily armed militants in Kupwara District on July 30. One of the injured soldiers succumbed to his injuries and died on July 31.
- August 20, 2011: At least 12 terrorists and a 26-year-old Army officer were killed in a fierce gunfight on the Line of Control (LoC) in Bandipora District on August 20. Defence spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said it was the eighth infiltration attempt from across the LoC in 2011 and the largest to date.
- September 27, 2011: Five terrorists and three soldiers, including an Army officer, were killed in an overnight gun battle in Kupwara District.
- October 1-2, 2011: Four terrorists were killed as the Army foiled an infiltration bid near the LoC in Kupwara District in North Kashmir. The militants were killed in a gunbattle that lasted for more than 36 hours.
Despite significant populations in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the State, Hindus and Buddhists remain politically marginalized and severely underrepresented in government positions. Muslim politicians and political parties, particularly from the Kashmir Valley, have continuously dominated the state government, ignoring the economic and political interests of Jammu and Ladakh and Hindus and Buddhists, respectively.
The political disenfranchisement of Hindus and Buddhists can be traced back to the assembly elections of 1951, when Sheikh Adbullah allocated 43 seats in the 75 member Legislative Assembly for the Kashmir Valley, 30 for Jammu, and only two for Ladakh. This was in sharp contrast to the demographic realities of the state, wherein Jammu and Ladakh accounted for more than 50% of the population and 90% of the land. The allocation effectively placed political power in the hands of Muslims from the Valley. Similarly, in 2002, when the Legislative Assembly grew to 87 members, 46 seats were set aside for the Kashmir Valley, while only 37 seats were created for Jammu and four for Ladakh. None of the 87 members in the Assembly are representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community.
In addition, redistricting and the creation of new Muslim majority constituencies in Jammu and Ladakh have resulted in further dilution of Hindu and Buddhist votes. Buddhists have viewed these policies as attempts to alter the religious balance in Ladakh. For instance, in 2000, Lama Lobzang, an influential Buddhist leader in Ladakh, stated, “The NC (National Conference) Government is deliberately settling a large number of people from the Valley with a view to reducing the Buddhist majority in Ladakh into [a] minority.” Similarly, Hindus from Jammu have long complained of political and economic domination by Kashmiri Muslims.
Furthermore, as we reported in 2010, thousands of Kashmiri Pandit refugees have been systematically disenfranchised and prevented from exercising their right to vote. For example, in 1996, there were 147,000 voters among Kashmiri Hindus throughout India; in 2002, the number went down to 117,000; now there are approximately 77,000, out of which only 11,000 were able to vote in the 2009 general (parliamentary) elections. When many Pandit refugees living in the camps protested being left off the election voter lists in 2009, they were assaulted by the police for demanding their right to vote.
The refugees must also undergo a cumbersome process to obtain voter ID cards and must fill out an M-Form (Migrant Form) to be considered eligible to vote. 40,000 Pandit refugees applied for voting rights using the M-Form, but only 26,000 were certified by the authorities to vote, with 11,000 ultimately voting. Unlike other Indians, these Pandits have to fill out an M-Form, even though they are not technically migrants, but rather victims of ethnic cleansing.
Furthermore, the few Kashmiri Pandits remaining in the Kashmir Valley also suffer from severe economic and political discrimination. According to a study appearing in the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, “[t]he primary problems the KPs [Kashmiri Pandits] in the Valley face today are that of unemployment and inadequate rehabilitation. Approximately 125 Pandit families in Kashmir live below the poverty line. According to a survey taken by the Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir in 2003, there were more than 500 educated youth who were unemployed and over 200 of these individuals were no longer eligible for government jobs due to their age…” The same study found that a number of Pandit families had been relocated by the state government to isolated locations in the state, without providing adequate rehabilitation or provisions. The families were presumably relocated for security concerns, but the government failed to take care of their basic living needs.
On a positive note, the long neglected Kashmiri Pandits formed their first political party, the Jammu Kashmir National United Front, and fielded 15 candidates during the 2008 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections to highlight the suffering of the displaced Hindus.
In addition, on September 15, 2009, an “Apex Committee” comprising of 30 – 35 Kashmiri Pandits was formed by the State Government to address the community’s political and economic aspirations. A list of Common Minimum Demands (CMD’s) was drafted by the Committee with the primary focus on the following eight demands:
- The Apex Committee should be consulted on all government initiatives before either the Central or State government proposes any legislative bill, or approves any executive or administrative order related to the rehabilitation and return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
- The reservation of 6,000 jobs for Pandits and enhancement of cash relief to displaced families should take place within the next six months as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) while long-term issues are being resolved.
- The financial and economic benefit package must extend to Valley-based Pandits (so called "non-migrants") who have received marginal assistance from the State government and local civil society so far. The Pandit population in the Valley continues to steadily decline, and reversing that trend should be one of the highest priorities.
- Political rights of the community, including representation in the State Cabinet, Legislative Assembly, and the Indian Parliament must be guaranteed through changes in appropriate State and Union laws.
- Kashmiri Pandits must receive equal consideration as full-fledged constituents in the political dialogue that the Central government plans to hold with various Kashmiri entities.
- The State Government must agree, in principle, to implement the recommendation of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) regarding granting minority status to Pandits.
- The State government must secure legislative approval of the Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Bill (2008) without further delay.
- The Central government must establish a Commission of Inquiry to examine what events led to the forced exodus of Pandits in 1989-1990 and implement appropriate recommendations to prevent a similar calamity in the future.
To date, however, the Central and State Governments have failed to implement all the recommendations of the “Apex Committee.”
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are defined as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internally recognized state border.”
By far the greatest tragedy to befall Kashmiri Hindus was their forced displacement from Kashmir. Over 95% of the Hindu population in the Kashmir Valley (350,000 people) became internally displaced between 1989 and 1991, as they were forced to flee their historic homeland by Muslim extremists. There was an organized and systematic campaign to cleanse Hindus from Kashmir, including massacres, rape, threats, and intimidation. Public announcements were placed in newspapers, sermons made in mosques, and posters hung on houses ordering all Kashmiri Hindus to leave the Valley and threatening violence if they did not. This was only the latest in a series of historical mass migrations by Hindus from Kashmir.
After their initial displacement between 1989 and 1991, 160 of the remaining 700 Hindu families in the Valley were also forced to leave after increased violence and attacks occurred between 2003 and 2004.
In order to accommodate the large numbers of Hindus fleeing the Valley, the Indian government set up semi-permanent camps for the displaced in Jammu and New Delhi. There are approximately eight camps in the Jammu/Udhampur area and fourteen of them in the vicinity of Delhi/New Delhi. These camps, however, are overcrowded and lack adequate facilities and basic necessities. For instance, there is no regular supply of drinking water, a shortage of medicines, and poor sanitation. Additionally, education and employment opportunities are severely lacking. As a result of the substandard conditions, the Kashmiri Pandits, after years of displacement, have faced serious health problems, including high incidence of disease, depression, stress-related problems, and a high death rate.
The Indian government, however, refuses to label Kashmiri Hindus as internally displaced persons (IDP) despite the fact that the United Nations categorizes them as such. The Indian government is weary of granting the Pandits IDP status, as it would allow international aid agencies, such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, and others to visit the refugee camps.
Although the central Indian government and the state government in Kashmir have discussed proposals to rehabilitate the displaced Pandits to the Valley, these plans have not yet been implemented. Furthermore, while Hindus are keen to return, Pandit leaders are skeptical of the government’s rehabilitation plans and its ability to provide protection to Hindus upon return.
Islamic militant groups have rejected the Pandits’ right to return and have issued threats against Hindus if they return. For example, one extremist group publicly stated, “We impose a ban on the return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants to the Valley.” This indicates that the security situation in the Valley remains tenuous and Hindus cannot yet safely return to their homes.
Despite India’s secular Constitution, Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir have been constant targets of violent Islamist militants. Article 15 prohibits discrimination “against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” Life and personal liberty are protected by Article 21, which maintains, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” The life and liberty of Hindus in the Kashmir Valley have not been protected nor preserved by the Indian Government. As noted above, militants in the Valley have terrorized and ruthlessly murdered Hindus, and the ongoing security threat hinders their return to their homeland.
Article 38 states, “The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.” Once again, the Indian Government has failed to uphold the provisions of Article 38. The welfare of the Hindus still living in Kashmir and those living in refugee camps has not been supported by the Indian government. Many of the nearly 400,000 individuals who fled the Kashmir Valley continue to live in abysmal conditions in refugee settlements and have been deprived of social, economic, and political justice.
International Human Rights Law
Pakistan's use of state sponsored terrorism and support for Islamic militants in Indian Kashmir is a violation of U.N. Covenants governing terrorism, such as the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. A number of these Pakistan-based groups have been labeled as terrorist organizations by the United Kingdom and the United States. For instance, the UK has banned five militant organizations -- Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HUJI), Jundallah, Khuddam ul-Islam, Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ), and Sipah-e Sahab Pakistan (SSP). The United States has also designated LeJ, Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HuM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as terrorist organizations.
India's accession to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) occurred on July 10, 1979, and its ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination took place on March 2, 1967. Once again, the Indian government has failed to uphold either of these UN covenants. Most importantly, Article 27 of the ICCPR, which protects the rights of “ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities…to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise (sic) their own religion [and] to use their own language,” has been violated time and again in the Kashmir Valley as Hindus have been systematically driven out of the region. The destruction of temples and frequent attacks on Hindu pilgrimage sites is another indication of the failure to protect Kashmiri Hindus under the ICCPR.
Finally, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement encompass the protections of international human rights law and humanitarian law, as applied to internally displaced persons. The legal protections afforded to IDPs, however, are substantially weaker than that for refugees who benefit from specialized international refugee law. Substantively, the Guiding Principles prohibit the arbitrary displacement of persons based on their religious and ethnic background, and affirm IDPs’ basic rights to food, water, shelter, dignity, and safety. The principles also emphasize the “importance of voluntary and safe return, as well as the need to assist the displaced to recover their property and possessions.” The responsibility for preventing internal displacement and protecting the rights of the displaced persons lies with a country’s “national authorities,” according to the Guiding Principles. Consequently, the Indian government, as the responsible “national authority,” has failed to protect the rights of the Kashmiri Pandits under this legal framework. Hindus living in displacement camps still face deplorable conditions and have not been safely rehabilitated to their homes in the Valley. In addition, the Indian government refuses to label them as IDPs, instead referring to them as “migrants.” The term “migrant” is problematic as it implies that Hindus left Kashmir of their own volition and denies the fact that they were forced to flee.
The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley is virtually complete with less than 3,000 Pandits remaining in the Valley. Hindus forced from the Valley continue to live in refugee camps in decrepit conditions in violation of their fundamental rights to shelter and dignity. Now, two decades later, some of those previously driven out of their homes, have returned to inquire into what has happened to their homes and their friends. An account by Indira Raina is one of the most poignant accounts of such a visit. Raina writes of an old Muslim woman, now occupying the Raina ancestral home, and concludes her essay with the following:
As I finished my tale, the old lady wiped her eyes, hugged me assuring that this is still my home. She took me to our prayer room. I was astonished to find our religious symbol "OM" still glittering on the wall. "See, I too offer my Nimaz in this room. After all, God is one", she said. Holding my hand, we came outside and bid goodbye to each other perhaps never to meet again. Soon it started raining. As I walked on the road, I kept on looking back again and again at the frail old lady and the house as if I was leaving my childhood behind for ever!
The fate of the Kashmiri Pandits continues to be in limbo as the Indian government strives to end the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. The status of the state as a “disputed area” will continue to affect the condition of Kashmiri Hindus. Similarly, the ineffectiveness of the Central and State Government to find a viable solution for the Kashmiri Pandits and the unwillingness of Pakistan to end its support for Islamic terrorists carrying out attacks in the region will only prolong the plight of the Pandit community. In addition, the inflammatory rhetoric of Islamist terrorists based in Pakistan only vitiates the atmosphere further and perpetuates a dangerous cycle of terrorist violence that continues to claim innocent Muslim and Hindus lives in the region.
It is incumbent upon the Pakistani Government to cease moral and material support to all terrorists in the Kashmir Valley. India must create an atmosphere in the Kashmir Valley conducive to the return and safe resettlement of Hindus to their original homes throughout Jammu and Kashmir, and further dialogue with Pakistan must be predicated on the return of the Valley’s original Hindu residents. Furthermore, the state government must end the economic and political marginalization of Hindus and Buddhists in the state and provide full protection and accommodation to Hindu pilgrims and pilgrimage sites. India must also abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, which has allowed the State's residents to live under a separate set of laws, benefiting its Muslim population, who enjoy political power at the detriment of Kashmir’s religious minorities.
And finally, U.S. policy makers and Congressional Representatives must exert pressure on Pakistan to end its use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy and should support H. Res. 387 to send a strong message in support of the Kashmiri Pandits.