Losing hope: Who will give Kashmiri Pandits justice now that the Supreme Court has turned them away?

The apex court last week rejected the second petition for a fresh investigation into the killings of Pandits in the 1990s.

On October 25, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the second plea for a fresh investigation into the killings of hundreds of Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was a review petition filed by a Kashmiri Pandit group against the court’s July 24 order, which stated:

“We decline to entertain this petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, for the simple reason that the instances referred to in the present petition pertain to the year 1989-90, and more than 27 years have passed by since then. No fruitful purpose would emerge, as evidence is unlikely to be available at this late juncture.”  

The apex court’s decision is nothing short of rubbing salt into the wounds of Kashmir’s ethnic minority community. Particularly at a time when the Narendra Modi government has appointed former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma to hold talks with various stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir. The stakeholders include the separatist Hurriyat Conference as Sharma confirmed in an interview with the journalist Barkha Dutt recently.

Is the Modi government softening up on Kashmiri separatists by giving the new interlocutor a free hand? The separatists who orchestrated the exodus of the Pandits and continue to foment trouble as and when there is talk of the Pandits returning to their homeland.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power at the Centre as well as in Jammu and Kashmir, has done little for the Pandits despite claiming to be committed to redressing their plight. Other parties such as the Congress, National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party too have offered little more than lip service.

Time and again, we hear the hollow promises of governments about enabling the Pandits to return to Kashmir. But there is rarely talk of bringing the perpetrators to book and providing justice to this terror-affected community that has been homeless for nearly a quarter of a century. Before becoming prime minister, Modi spoke about the Pandits on several occasions. But he has gone largely silent since assuming power in 2014. The Pandit community had great expectations from Modi, but he has disappointed.

When the legislature and the executive failed to redress the grievances of the displaced community, some Kashmiri Pandits went to the judiciary. Little did they know that the judiciary too would shut its doors for the seekers of justice. It is shocking that the Supreme Court dismissed the plea for investigation on the ground that the crimes took place long ago and it was not worthwhile to pursue the matter now. Merely because 27 years have passed does not mean investigation cannot be done, especially when those such as Yasin Malik and Farooq Ahmad Dar, alias Bitta Karate, have admitted to the crimes. Recently, Republic TV broadcast an exposé showing terrorists who have since given up arms purportedly confessing to having killed Pandits in the 1990s.

Different standards?

Further, how can the Supreme Court envisage that nothing fruitful will come to light by reopening the cases? Is it appropriate for the judiciary to prophesise rather than scrutinise the matter at hand on its merits?

Curiously, this logic was not followed when on March 24, 2017, the Supreme Court decided to re-examine 199 cases pertaining to the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage that had been closed by the Special Investigation Team constituted by Modi government in 2015. Also, on April 19, 2017, the Supreme Court restored conspiracy charges against LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and 13 other accused in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case.

Isn’t the apex court contradicting itself by reopening cases from 1984 and 1992 while dismissing a similar matter from the early 1990s?

One goes to the highest court in the land when all other avenues for justice have failed to deliver. Whom should the Pandits turn to for justice now that the apex court has ruled that seeking justice won’t lead to anything? Should they just stop demanding justice and redress of their grievances?

About two months ago, the Pandits commemorated the 28th death anniversary of Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, noted lawyer and senior BJP leader, who was gunned down outside his house in Srinagar on September 14, 1989. He was the first Pandit victim of terrorism in Kashmir. Taploo’s killing was the beginning of a reign of terror that forced the minority Pandit community to flee their homeland in 1990. Who can forget the massacres of Sangrampora, Wandhama, and Nadimarg? Who can forget Pandit women such as Sarla Bhat and Girija Tickoo who were raped before being murdered by terrorists?

Kashmir’s struggle for Azadi, overtly and covertly supported by most of the majority Muslim community, has meant barbadi, or ruin, for the minority Pandit community. The Pandits were seen as living symbols of the Indian nation in Kashmir and, hence, bore the brunt when the insurgency against the Indian state erupted in 1989.

In spite of their trials and tribulations, Kashmiri Pandits have always stood for the Indian nation and believed in her democracy. Yet, they have been let down by all pillars of Indian democracy. Will they ever get justice?

Varad Sharma is a Kashmiri writer. He co-edited A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits.

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