“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Was the Last Genocide of Kashmiri Hindus Inevitable – Could it Have Been Prevented?

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

23 September 2023

The author was invited to by the International Commission for Human Rights & Religious Freedom (ICHRRF), a Washington-based Think Tank, to speak at the Convention on Forgotten Genocides of Kurdish, Yazidi, Armenian, Native American, Bengali Hindu, Malabar Hindu, Pakistani Hindu and Kashmiri Hindu Genocides. The meeting took place in George Washington University City View Room, Washington DC.

The author was invited to by the International Commission for Human Rights & Religious Freedom (ICHRRF), a Washington-based Think Tank, to speak at the Convention on Forgotten Genocides of Kurdish, Yazidi, Armenian, Native American, Bengali Hindu, Malabar Hindu, Pakistani Hindu and Kashmiri Hindu Genocides. The meeting took place in George Washington University City View Room, Washington DC.


I begin with the year 1997. The date of 25th January 1997 to be precise. That day in the U.S. was the Super Bowl XXXII Sunday. The game was played in San Diego,where the Denver Broncos defeated defending champions Green Bay Packers by a score of 31-24. Bill Clinton was the U.S. President, and it would be on the following day, Monday, when India would celebrate its Republic Day and when President Bill Clinton would finally discuss the Monica Lewinsky story publicly. It was a festive weekend in America as well as in India.


But not everywhere in India. In a hamlet in the Ganderbal district (the Indian equivalent of a county) in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (called Kashmir for brevity), about 500 miles north of the Indian capital, New Delhi, a gruesome event of horrific proportions took place that has permanently scarred a small farming community of about 200 souls. The village of Wandhama had a total population of 24 Kashmiri Pandits, a minority community spread around a cluster of few homes surrounded by their Muslim neighbors. It was that day when a Mujahideen group of foreign and domestic terrorists entered the village, plucked the residents belonging to the minority community, assembled all 24 of them in a line, and shot them dead one by one. The dead included four children, nine women, and ten men. The sole survivor (a child) escaped death because other victims fell over him, and the killers took him for dead. In the hamlet of Wandhama, the entire population of Kashmiri Pandits was wiped out in a matter of minutes.


Ghastly as the Wandhama tragedy was, an even more hideous crime took place a year earlier, on 15 June 1997, in the Ramban district, about 80 miles south of Srinagar, the State capital. It was the morning time, and a public transport bus was carrying passengers from Ramban to a nearby village of Gool when it was stopped about seven miles before reaching its destination. Four Mujahideen terrorists entered the bus and asked all Hindus to identify themselves and step down. Six passengers alighted from the bus. The armed terrorists checked their identification and selected three passengers who were taken to the side and shot dead. All three were Kashmiri Pandits, teachers in the Gool Higher Secondary School, whereas the remaining three local Hindus (non-Pandits) were spared and ran away.


So, we have to be specific here. We are talking about the Genocide of Kashmiri Pandits, which most people of their faith in India, meaning Hindus, knew very little or nothing about until the movie “The Kashmir Files” was released in 2022. The Indian moviegoers, for the first time, realized the horrors of the violent and brutal ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir. Therein lies the tale of betrayal and deceit perpetuated by those ruling democratic India in the years past and those in the Indian civil society trying to keep them honest at that time. In the case of Kashmiri Pandits, every one of those players – from the Indian political leaders to the Indian media to the Indian watchdog NGOs – every one of them did their best to keep this Genocide hidden to the point that many distractors, even in India, question whether Kashmiri Pandits faced any atrocities.


The Wandhama tragedy of 1998 was not the last time when a nefarious bunch of foreign and domestic Mujahideen terrorists wiped out the entire Pandit population of a hamlet in Kashmir. On 23rd March 2003, a similar tragedy struck Nadimarg in Pulwama District, where a total of 24 were shot dead, consisting of two young boys, 11 women and 11 men.


All criminal cases arising from Wandhama, Ramban, Nadimarg, and other mass and targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits remain unsolved. While the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which gave a ruling on the 10th June 1999 that “what Kashmiri Pandits have gone through is akin to Genocide”, it is only in the last couple of years, some 30 years after the carnage, when the Government of India finally decided to investigate the targeted killings of a few, but not all, Kashmiri Pandit victims.


When people generalize and talk about the “Kashmiri Hindu Genocide of 1989-1990,” they ignore the actual extent of this tragedy and, more importantly, the enabling factors that led to it. Much like the way the “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht) took place in Berlin on 9th November 1938 as a prelude to the Jewish holocaust, a similar horrific set of events took place in the Anantnag district of Kashmir on 20th February 1986, where hundreds of Pandit homes, temples, and religious sites were either burnt down or desecrated in a number of villages within the district. However, not a single criminal incident from that day was ever investigated. No Special Investigation Teams (SITs) were constituted, and there was no follow-up by the local Police on the First Information Reports (FIRs) that were filed related to the burnings and lootings of Pandit properties. The message to Islamic zealots in and out of the Kashmir was chillingly clear – no one in the Government, whether in Srinagar or in New Delhi, was concerned about the welfare and well-being of the Kashmiri Pandit minority in the valley.


The February 1986 tragedy happened in Kashmir when the Congress Party ruled New Delhi. The Central Government subsequently changed in New Delhi following a national election on 2nd December 1989. In the new Government that came to power, the Kashmiri Muslim leader who had instigated the communal riots in the Anantnag district in 1986 became the new Union Home Minister, in charge of India’s internal security. Kashmiri Pandits expected that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which was supporting the new ruling Janta Dal Party (JDP) government from the outside, would sternly disallow the selection of a communal provocateur to head India’s internal security, but that was not to be. Kashmiri Pandits read the handwriting on the wall. And things have gone downhill for Kashmiri Pandits ever since.


That, my friends, is how the last Genocide of Kashmiri Hindus began. The ruling Muslim class in Kashmir, who had reduced Pandits to second-class citizens in their own country, were not only given a clean chit by those in the power in New Delhi but rewarded as well.


As I assess the situation today, I will say that the latest Kashmiri Hindu Genocide began on 20th February 1986 and ended nearly 30 years later on 8th July 2016, when the Indian security forces in Kashmir killed a terrorist named Burhan Wani. India had elected a new Prime Minister in 2014, and his Party, the BJP, was a coalition partner in the State. The fire and fury that was unleashed by Wani’s death in Kashmir prompted the newly elected Prime Minister to initiate fresh internal security assessments that eventually exposed the complex web of links between terrorists, supported by Pakistan and local sources, with the so-called pro-India politicians of Kashmir, as well as the nexus between local civil society, that served as fronts for the insurgents, with a few foreign-funded NGOs in India, all of whom were skillfully creating and curating the violence and mayhem in Kashmir. The true beneficiaries were Kashmiri politicians, both in and out of power, who ensured their personal survival by coddling with rulers in New Delhi, who in turn mainly relied on the corrupt ruling class in Kashmir to keep the ground realities out of the newspaper headlines. It was a fertile ground for Pakistan’s intelligence services and various Jehadi Tanzeems to exploit and operate pretty much with impunity.

During those 30 years, the ruling dispensation in New Delhi changed ten times, and in the Jammu & Kashmir State eight times. Prime Ministers were elected from the Congress Party, the BJP, and an assortment of disparate and unstable coalitions. In Kashmir, the Chief Ministers mainly switched between two local political parties, namely, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). One person’s ignorance led to another person’s bliss. The Indian government simply shoveled Rupees into the valley to buy peace and keep a lid on the law-and-order situation. The reassessment by the Modi government in 2016 to build peace rather than buy it changed all that and led to the Indian Parliamentary resolution of 5th August 2019 on Kashmir. The rest is history.


What have we learned from the last Genocide of Kashmiri Hindus? First, it lasted for nearly 30 years, from 1986 to 2016. The population of Pandits dwindled from nearly 350,000 in 1986 to about 5,000 by 2016, even as the Central Government had begun a scheme to offer jobs to Pandits who wished to return. Second, Pakistanis and a network of Jihadi supporters based in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia played a nefarious role in the Genocide of Kashmiri Hindus. Third, unlike the previous Genocides of Pandits beginning in the 14th Century, the latest Kashmiri Hindu Genocide occurred in the sovereign, multi-ethnic, secular, and democratic India. 


It happened because the Indian State at the highest levels of power and authority made a decision right after India’s independence in 1947 to “buy the peace” rather than “build the peace” in Kashmir. The result of this policy was that State Chief Ministers used their authority to marginalize minorities in Kashmir in order to appease their vote banks within the larger Muslim community, while the Central Government in New Delhi looked the other way. Especially painful to Kashmiri Pandits was the performance of those Indian Prime Ministers who ignored the plight of Pandits in order to appease a voting segment of the broader Indian society and rewarded dubious politicians of Kashmir or coddled with Kashmiri terrorists who had police cases registered under their names for having killed Kashmiri Pandits in the past. Armed Islamic terrorists from Pakistan found Kashmir ripe for insurgency and ethnic cleansing of minorities. While Pakistan played a central role in the Genocide of Kashmiri Hindus, neither the regional parties, the NC and the PDP, nor the national Parties, namely the Congress Party or the BJP, can be absolved from their past misdeeds in this regard.


Was the last Genocide of Kashmiri Pandits inevitable? The answer is Yes. Could it have been prevented? The answer, sadly, is also Yes.


Selected curated news clips supporting the commentary’s key arguments are attached. Please click here.

To learn more about the ICHRRF, please click here.


About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.


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