Thirty years ago, Kashmiri Hindus (known as Pandits) experienced unimaginable devastation when they were cleansed from their ancestral homeland. The Pakistan-sponsored insurgency and campaign of targeted killings, rape, threats, and destruction of properties and religious sites spanned over many years. But events on January 19, 1990 reached a fevered pitch and culminated in mass panic and the forced displacement of 95% of the Kashmiri Hindu population.

On that day, newspapers, posted fliers, and mosques issued declarations that Kashmiri Hindus were infidels and had to leave Kashmir, convert to Islam, or be killed. The campaign triggered a mass exodus of Kashmir’s religious minority, its indigneous people.

It is for these reasons that January 19 is commemorated as Exodus Day.

Who are the Kashmiri Pandits? | Kashmiri Hinduism | Exodus Day Events | Original Reporting & Resources

Who are the Kashmiri Pandits?

Kashmiri Pandits are the indigenous Hindus from the mountainous region of Kashmir. They were integral in establishing ancient Kashmir as a renowned center for Hindu learning, and cultivated over thousands of years a culture and traditions that have had a lasting impact on the Hindu tradition and Indic civilization as a whole. Kashmiri Hindus are known for their significant contributions to a variety of spheres, including philosophy, theology, literature and poetry, music, and the arts and sciences.

Kashmiri Hindus speak of seven exoduses — episodes of mass forced migration — spanning the past six hundred years. Four of the earliest exoduses involved repressive rulers who promoted major demographic shifts, social and institutionalized religious discrimination and persecution, and killings, forcing Kashmiri Hindus to suffer terribly, convert, or leave their ancestral homeland.

The fifth exodus, including some 41,000 Hindu families who fled what today is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, occurred during the time of India’s partition in 1947 when Pakistan invaded Kashmir and Kashmir legally acceded to India.

The sixth exodus, somewhat a prelude to the last, occurred in 1986 due to influential local political figures stoking religious fervor and fear, and an apathetic and ineffectual central government. The result was the targeted looting and arson of Hindu owned properties, and abductions, torture, and killing of Kashmiri Hindus.

The seventh exodus occurred in 1989-1990 as the result of a Pakistan-sponsored separatist insurgency. 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus were cleansed from Kashmir, and hundreds killed. Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., has previously written that the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits in the late 80s and early 90s was part of an orchestrated campaign by Islamist militant groups supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to create an Islamic state.

Religio-ethnic cleansing has left both tangible and intangible scars. Forced separation from their ancestral homeland has taken away from Kashmiri Hindus sacred geography, temples and other religious sites, familial property, linguistic and literary assets, and cultural heritage and integrity. It has incurred immeasurable social, economic, and professional losses. And the trauma of terror, violence, physical insecurity, and devastating loss has also had untold impact on the physical and mental health of Kashmiri Hindus.

Today, thousands continue to live in miserable refugee camps in Jammu and New Delhi. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits have, however, rebuilt their lives in other parts of India and around the world. They've endeavored to create home away from their homeland. But most, if not all, wait for a day to return home from exile.

The Kashmiri Hindu story is not only a story of loss. It is a story of survival and hope.

Kashmiri Hinduism

The predominant philosophical school of Kashmiri Hindus is Kashmiri Shaivism, also known as Trika Shaivism. Kashmiri Shaivism is a monistic, non-dualist tradition that expounds upon the nature and relationship between Shiva (the foundational Masculine Principle), Shakti (the energetic Feminine Principle), and Nara (humans). It holds that Shiva-Shakti and humans (and all of Creation) are one and the same, but that ignorance, rooted in physical, mental, and causal conditioning, obscures this Reality and thereby causes human suffering. Recognition or realization of this unified Reality comes through the invocation and worship, including ritual prayer, meditation, and other yogic practices, of Shakti.

Kashmiri Hinduism also involves the celebration of numerous festivals which are unique to Kashmir. Even pan-Hindu festivals such as Shivaratri are celebrated uniquely, incorporating Kashmir’s sacred geography, regional history, and local Kashmiri customs.

That said, Hinduism in Kashmir has been intimately linked with Hinduism in other parts of India. Hindu pilgrimage sites in Kashmir, such as Amarnath (Kashmir Valley) and Vaishno Devi (Jammu), for example, are considered sacred by Hindus throughout India, not just in Kashmir. Moreover, several rivers that flow through the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Vitasta (Jhelum) and Maruvardhavan are considered sacred rivers in many Hindu texts, including the Rg Veda. Additionally, Kashmir has attracted several prominent Hindu philosophers and saints from other parts of India, including Adi Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya. And finally, several religious commentaries and works by Kashmiri Hindus have been considered authoritative by Hindus in other parts of India.

Exodus Day Events

Candlelight Vigils Co-sponsored by HAF, Register below:

  • Concord, CA — Concord Temple | 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
  • Fresno, CA — TBA | 6:30 pm
  • Miami, FL — Miami Dade College | The Freedom Tower | 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
  • Philadelphia, PA — Independence National Historical Park | People’s Plaza | 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm
  • Sacramento, CA — State Capitol | West Lawn | 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm
  • San Jose, CA — San Jose City Hall | West Plaza | 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
  • Sugar Land, TX — Sugar Land Town Square | City Hall Steps | 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. The first 50 attendees get a free #iheartkashmir tshirt.

Other Community Organization Events:

  • Edison, NJ — Umiya Mataji Temple | 11:00 am to 2:00 pm 
  • Dallas, TX — Kennedy Memorial/Dealey Plaza | 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
  • Davis, CA — Central Park of Davis | 1:00 pm
  • Milpitas, CA — India Community Center | 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm
  • Troy, MI — The Bhartiya Hindu Temple | 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • Naperville, IL  — Naperville City Hall | 400 S Eagle St | 5:00 pm 
  • Charlotte, NC — The University of North Carolina at Charlotte | Student Union Room 340 | 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • Washington, DC — Lafayette Square | 11:00 am to 2:00 pm