Kashmir: An exodus little-known in the West

In the wake of the upsurge of fighting in Kashmir in 1989 the vast majority of Hindus residing in the province fled to India, where most of them continue to live in refugee camps. In a Al Jazeera report on “Kashmir: the Pandit question” on 1 August 2011 Azad Essa interviewed Mridu Rai, the author of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir (Princeton University Press, 2004). Rai argues that 95% of Pandits joined the exodus, with estimates of their total number ranging from 150-250,000. The last time a census was carried out in Kashmir was 1941 – when there were 80,000 Pandits. Some 40,000 Sikhs continue to live in Kashmir.
The fate of the refugees has been a cause celebre for Hindu nationalists, leading some to suggest that the departure of the Pandits was a deliberate strategy by the New Delhi government, and by then-Governor Jagmohan, to clear the decks for repressive action by the Indian army and police.
Jammu and Kashmir was the only province with a Muslim majority that stayed within India after partition in 1947, due to the accident of its having a Hindu ruler. The promised plebiscite to decide whether the region would join India or Pakistan never took place. The fate of Kashmir has been the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan in the years since. Writing in World News on 15 August – Indian Independence Day, or the ‘Black Day’ for Kashmiri nationalists, Shabir Choudry made the case for Kashmiri independence from both India and Pakistan.
In 2009 the Oregon state legislature passed a resolution declaring September 14 Martyr’s Day to commemorate the fate of non-Muslim minorities in Kashmir, illustrating the way in which ethnic conflict is embedded in broader international debates over the legitimacy of state actions, especially intense in the context of the global War on Terror.

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