Our Exodus leads to loss of our Religious Heritage.
“Sheikh ne masjid banayi, mismar butkhana kiya: Pehle kuchh soorat to thee, ab khaas veerana kiya.”
-Daya Shankar Nasim
(The Sheikh made a mosque after demolishing a temple; earlier there was an image to concentrate upon, now there is a ruin to wander on.)
Vandalising and destroying of Kashmiri Pandit religious places came naturally to the radical Islamists whose ancestors had done the same ever since their arrival, first in India and later in Kashmir. Most of the temple lands and their other religious assets in Kashmir belonged to some known entities, namely, Dharmarth Trust, Bajrang Dev Baba Dharma Das Koul Mandir (popularly called Bab Dharam Das), Ganesh Mandir, Durga Nag Mandir and Hari Parbat. In addition to these institutions, some local committees formed by Kashmiri Pandits also managed some temple properties, estimated to be nearly 500 in number. During Dogra rule, when Dharmarth Trust was set up by Maharaja Ranbir Singh, he had incorporated into its by-laws which stipulated that selling of any temple land would amount to killing of 100 cows. This had the desired effect and temple lands and other assets remained untouched by the unscrupulous elements. Immediately after exodus, a large number of Pandits’ religious shrines were targeted. These places were attacked by frenzied mobs bent upon wanton destruction of centuries-old structures of great magnificence and heritage.
With the departure of Pandits from the Valley, a deathly silence fell on a large number of religious places, where sizeable congregations used to assemble on auspicious days. Some of these places were closed down; others, like the famous Sharika Temple at Hari Parbat, were covered by a worne out tarpaulin to appease the majority community. Places of Hindu social organisations, used mainly for socio-cultural activities, were burnt down or bombed. Rocket attacks were also carried out to destroy or damage the Kheer Bhavani temple at Tullamula and Ganesh Temple at Ganpathyar in Srinagar. Both attacks were off the target, causing little damage.
Cremation grounds and some holy springs, along with their adjacent lands, were appropriated by unscrupulous elements. The cremation ground at Sopore and Sadhu Ganga Temple at Kandi in Kupwara district were encroached upon. The sprawling cremation grounds at villages Sagam and Fatehpora have been appropriated by the Wakf board. The famous temple at Mattan lost 33 kanals of its land to similar illegal occupation.
In many cases, the process of illegally occupying the lands of the Hindu religious sites started much before the actual exodus. Biased government, working under the dictates of the Islamists and prodded on by its Islamised bureaucracy, itself became a usurper of Hindu religious sites on one pretext or the other. The cremation ground at Sopore was taken over to construct a bridge over it. The land belonging to Durga Nag Trust in Srinagar too was taken over by the Wakf board. Subsequently, a shopping complex, named Suleiman Complex was constructed on it. Vide its order, SRO-702 dated December 31, 1984, the entire temple and its land was transferred by the State Government to the Wakf board. In the same manner, Public Health Engineering Department of the State constructed a tank over the holy spring of Guddar (Godawri) in Kulgam. Near the same place at Manzhgam, a primary school has been constructed on the temple land. A proposal had also been floated to convert the holy spring and the temple complex at Manghoma, near Pulwama, into a water supply scheme.
According to a statement made by the Home Minister of India in Parliament on March 12, 1993, 38 temples/shrines were demolished, damaged and desecrated in Kashmir between 1989 through 1991. The above figures presented a conservative estimate by the government for obvious reasons. The actual number was much larger and stood at approximately 68, as the state government never collected the data from remote areas and deliberately played down the issue in the same manner in which it hid the exodus of Pandits. The factual data was collected from Pandit refugees who were witness to such destruction. Centuries old idols, like the rare Sahstri-Netra Shivling in Silgam Temple, on the road to Pahalgam, have been destroyed. Similarly, the Hanuman Temple near Hari Parbat was also completely destroyed. Sanctum sanctorum of many temples were defiled by smearing idols with filth.
The trend of destruction of temples continued much after the exodus. Two decades after the insurgency broke out in Kashmir, the number of temples destroyed stood at approximately 60. Lieutenant General (Retd.) SK Sinha, former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir writes, “What happened a couple of years earlier in Jammu and Kashmir was, if anything, more reprehensible. Some 60 functional Hindu temples were destroyed, but the secular brigade and the secular media suffer from collective amnesia about it and the ethnic cleansing of Kashmir Valley because of which Pandits are now living as refugees in camps.” Of late there have been reports emanating from the Valley which point to a new trend as far as the temple properties are concerned. It is believed that some unscrupulous elements, working in connivance with land mafia have started selling off temple properties in Kashmir. Even the management of these temples is illegally constituted.
Property of big temples like the Ramji Temple in Srinagar, which is worth crores of rupees, is being sold or leased out allegedly on the management’s instructions. Similar stories concerning other temples have also been reported. Newspapers also reported that Vaital Bhairva shrine at Motiyar, Rainawari, Srinagar, has been ransacked and its Dharamshala occupied by relatives of the local MLA. It is even reported that Jammu and Kashmir Dharmarth Trust has sold the land of Pratepeshwar Temple, Kohnikon and Barbarshah. The Prayag Temple at Shadipora, Srinagar, too, witnessed plunder and later encroachment.
There were nearly 46 temples on the left and right banks of River Jhelum, which held great reverence for Pandits in the Valley. Most of these were gutted/ looted at the time of exodus. As late as March 2010, the State’s Revenue Minister, Raman Bhalla admitted in the State Assembly that 170 temples had been ‘damaged’ in ‘militancy related’ violence. The same figures were quoted by Jitender Singh, Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Union Government while speaking in the Rajya Sabha on August 22, 2012. However, Kashmiri Pandits refute these figures and put the same at 550. The minister also admitted that 113 kanals of temple land was grabbed in Shopian alone. After the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, a large number of temples were left without any Pujari/caretaker. As ground situation improved, many Pujaris came from outside the state and filled-in this vacuum. Over a period of time, with the assistance of unscrupulous elements in the state administration, they became Mahants controlling these temples and their properties. In due course these Mahants, in connivance with the local mafia started selling these lands with fictitious records and other papers.
Tariq Bhatt writes, “Seventy per cent of its properties have been compromised, encroached upon, leased or sold after 1990 by non-Kashmiri mahants in connivance with land sharks.