The killings of Kashmir’s Hindu minority by Islamic militants were carried out by “immature” people who used the gun for the wrong purposes, leading separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has said.
The often grisly killing of hundreds of Pandits in 1989 and the early 1990s set off panic in the community and triggered the exodus of about 3,60,000 Hindus.
“Those who picked up the guns were not all mature. They were often immature. They also used the gun for the wrong purposes,” Geelani said in an interview to HT at his Srinagar office. “There was too much emotion. Emotional slogans were given, and their acts were driven just by emotion.”
Geelani preaches an Islamic path for Kashmiris and leads the breakaway faction of Kashmir’s separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference. He is often accused by critics of being inflexible and a hard-liner — an allegation he denies.
“Whenever something like this happens to an innocent person from any religion without a valid reason, that is against Islamic values and human values,” he said.
But he added that the Pandit killings were “negligible” when compared to the deaths of Muslims during the time, allegedly carried out by counter-insurgents — former militants who later fought alongside the security forces. “Muslim lecturers, doctors, priests and other Islam-loving people were targeted. In comparison, what happened to the Pandits was negligible,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir — home to 10 million people — is the only Muslim-majority state in India.
This is the first time that Geelani has spoken out against the militants who killed the Pandits. He also blamed the then Governor Jagmohan for the exodus. “Jagmohan called their leaders and said ‘a freedom struggle has started, we will crush it in a few months, you leave the Valley for a few months’. They did not know the struggle would go on for so long,” Geelani said. Between late 1989 and 1991, more than 3,60,000 Pandits fled the Kashmir Valley, according to police records. Many were transported to the airport in military vehicles, and flown out of the region to refugee camps. At least 6,000 Pandits still live in squalid conditions in refugee camps in Jammu.
The Pandits left behind houses, orchards and fields when they fled. While many returned to make distress sales, others had their properties forcibly occupied by militants and other local residents.