Gaw Kadal and beyond It is important to look back for breaking the shackles of the past and this indeed is one moment


On the occasion of 25th anniversary of Gaw Kadal massacre, that has gone down as one of the most gruesome incidents in the history of human rights abuse in Kashmir and forms the bedrock of a tormented and hurt psyche of its people, it would be an appropriate time to analyse the complex fabric of the conflict that was evolving in the days preceding and following this massacre, how Kashmiri psyche evolved and how a government policy shaped itself into an endless tapestry of repressive regime. Those few days of January 1990, when Jagmohan took over as governor, when a slew of massacres and exodus of Pandits followed in quick succession and as simultaneous events are some of the most defining moments in the history of Kashmir’s conflict, shaping narratives that are strikingly contradictory in nature and opposed to each other, stemming from and evoking bitterness and suspicions. 

To understand the exodus and the beginning of the era of official repression, days preceding and after January 19 are crucial markers. A right wing Kashmiri Pandit organization Panun Kashmir observes the day as Holocaust Day. For Kashmiri Muslims too, January 19 is a turning point, not particularly owing to the flight of Pandits and other minorities, that also eventually robbed the Valley of its secular fabric, but more for the curfewed streets and the slew of shocking massacres by security forces that followed.

For both, the day forms an important part of collective memory, for entirely different reasons. The day also coincides with Jagmohan taking over the reins of Jammu and Kashmir as Governor of the state, suddenly placed under governor’s rule. The move had probably been in the making as after heightened militancy related incidents between September and December 1989, New Delhi had sent in extra reinforcements of armed forces and troops were doubling up ever since the beginning of January. The last vestiges of state government had virtually collapsed by end of December itself; the situation was already under New Delhi’s direct control by the time Jagmohan took over and began his work with an immediacy in the Valley which had already been placed under strict unprecedented curfew for days. A large chunk of Pandits left the Valley in the intervening night of January 19 and 20, amid strict curfew, many in buses of government controlled State Road Transport Corporation. On January 20, house to house searches, raids, cordons, random arrests with allegations of harassment and atrocities began in many areas of Srinagar city, particularly Muslim majority areas, where people caught between the devil and deep sea situation started pouring out on streets in protest, violating the prohibitory orders. Street protests with slogans of ‘azadi’ inclusive of all its religious symbols became a regular feature. And so did massacres on streets, starting from Gawkadal on the morning of January 21, leaving an estimated 50 to 80 people dead and hundreds injured, many of whom succumbed to their injuries lateri. Alamgari Bazaar massacre followed on January 22, Handwara on January 25. It is difficult to presume that these varied events taking place simultaneously were only a matter of coincidence. Neither the roots of the Kashmir conflict, nor that of the mutual suspicions between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, not even the threat perception suffered by the minorities after youth from the majority community picked up guns and raised the slogans of ‘azadi’, lie in the events that happened in this short span of a week. However, these events added a new dimension to the polity of the Valley, sharpening these divides and churning out bitter memories that have become difficult to reconcile even after two and half decades.. 

These events, how they happened and how they impacted the socio-political landscape of Kashmir, become crucially important for both understanding some of the complexities associated with the Kashmir dispute as well as in resolving them. The Gaw Kadal incident is essentially central to the memory of culture of abuse and the vicious cycle of violence it perpetuates. An understanding of the official prejudices and of the hurt psyche therefore lies embedded in the memory of these slew of massacres. Any bid to address the essential component of human rights violations and much needed mechanisms of justice must begin from here. The events preceding these massacres are crucial to the snapping of Kashmir’s historic and much famed secular fabric and any possibility of return of Kashmiri Pandits and restoration of secular polity has to be rooted in not just newly generated goodwill but in exchange of a dialogue starting from the memory of those days that generated unfathomable bitterness, making it impossible to understand how two well knit communities living in exemplary harmony became totally oblivious of the sufferings, pain, fears and trepidation of each other within a matter of days. Wisdom would not lie in skirting the memory of these crucial days, compelling people from persistently carrying on the baggage of parallel histories, but in bringing them on the table for dialogue and dispassionate discussion, for listening and understanding different perspectives. It is important to leave history behind and move on but sometimes, it is important to look back for breaking the shackles of the past and thisindeed is one moment.