One of the most shocking killings in Kashmir in 1990 was the murder of Sarvanand Kaul ‘Premi’, a Kashmiri Pandit school headmaster and popular litterateur.
This was a time when many Hindus had fled Kashmir. But the Kauls decided to stay back believing that the “family would not be touched due to the goodwill” that ‘Premi’ enjoyed in the society.
On May 1, 1990, however, 66-year-old ‘Premi’ and his younger son, Verinder, were gunned down in Anantnag, a day after being abducted from their village. Five days later, the grief-stricken Kaul family left Kashmir. Never to return.
May 1 is now observed by the Pandit community as Shaheedi Diwas, or Martyrdom Day. And thirty years on, his only surviving son, who’s getting through with minimal resources, is now planning a mammoth mission, to re-publish his father’s cherished work.
It’s been three decades since his father and his brother were gunned down in Kashmir. But, Rajinder Kaul, who is now almost the same age his father was when masked terrorists barged into their home the village of Soaf-shali, has no answers for the questions that have haunted him for years.
“Why did they kill my father and brother? Why was I orphaned? How did we become less of a Kashmiri? And, what did they even achieve with all this violence for thirty years?” Kaul asks, recalling the night when the clock stopped ticking for his family.
“It was a night of heavy downpour. The men rampaged through the house, desperately searching for something and asked my father to come meet the ‘commander’. My younger brother got suspicious and [decided to] accompany him,” Kaul recounts.
“Pandits were [seen as] government informers or accused of hiding Army’s weapons but we had faith in [my] father’s goodwill. We never imagined being targeted and expected both [my father and brother] to return soon. To our horror, next morning their dead bodies were located. My brother was only 27 years old, recently married and had a young child,” Kaul recalls.
That night of downpour, incidentally, reminds Kaul of his father’s poem ‘Rood Jeri’ (Rain is falling). Describing heavy rainfall on a hot summer day, the then 20-year-old Premi penned this verse while at his home, taking care of elders and cattle.
By the time the 1990’s summer night of heavy rainfall came, the poet had vanished into ashes.
Even though the Kauls were old acquaintances of then Governor Jagmohan, “no power could protect us at that time. There was no law and order in valley, thousands of men would congregate on streets shouting religious slogans. Their number went even into lakhs. We could only stay huddled in our houses. On that night, heavy rainfall meant nobody could be contacted about our situation.”
Sarvanand Kaul’s son Rajinder.
Five days after the tragedy, 13 members of the surviving Kaul family packed their bags, boarded a bus and left Kashmir forever. Some Muslim neighbours encouraged them to stay put, but a decision had been made. The Kaul family stayed for a few days in Jammu, at a hostel arranged by a contact and then moved to Delhi.
“Till September, I did not venture out of my house in Delhi. In shock and frightened, my eyesight suffered. My mother immersed herself in religion, maintaining a bold face in hardship. We expected a society furore but Indian conscience showed no awareness. Many influential people expressed sympathy but discouraged us against speaking to journalists. Slowly over the years with campaigns, people have now started to become aware of our struggle,” Rajinder Kaul says.
Kaul recounts how his father had helped in ensuring communal harmony a few years before the Kashmiri Pandit exodus of 1990. The year of 1986 saw communal tension after the Pandit community was targeted in Kashmir. It’s come to be called a ‘rehearsal’ of sorts for the violence seen in 1990 violence.
Then, ‘Premi’ had given a public speech in Kashmir appealing for communal harmony. “His words helped rebuild the confidence of minority Hindus”, his son reflects.
However, Kaul also questions former governments and their complete failure to handle the situation. “Where was the government at a time of lawlessness? No promptness was shown in handling increasing terrorism and violence.”
REVIVING THE LEGACY
In Delhi, Rajinder Kaul spends his days surrounded by piles of manuscripts written by his deceased father… they are all that remain of his father’s legacy.
‘Premi’ authored more than two dozen books, which include translations of the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, ‘Ramayana’, Rabrindranath Tagore’s ‘Geetanjali’, and Russian folk tales in Kashmiri. His unpublished work included translations of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s ‘Madhushala’ and works of playwright Alexander Pushkin.
As the only surviving son, Kaul intends to revive his father’s legacy, but faces a predicament. Kashmiri readership is fast reducing as with the current generation not reading or understanding the language.
‘Premi’s Kashmiri ‘Bhagwad Gita’ took four years to be converted into an audio/video project, but witnessed a lack of viewership despite renewed interest.
“Many books were destroyed, left behind. What I managed to bring is a cherished treasure I am trying to republish. The plan is to translate works into Nastalik Kashmiri (Urdu) and Nagri Kashmiri (Hindi) for a larger readership,” Kaul says.
Kaul is currently busy proofreading his father’s devotional poetry, ‘Bhakti-Pushp’, which includes 200 devotional songs, ready to be published once the lockdown is lifted.
“I am excited about his Urdu work on Lalishori, analysing the life and verses of celebrated poet Lal Ded. There is so much treasure I realise he had penned and I hope the world can be enlightened. The tragedy of his death is mine but his works are for everyone to delightfully read,” Kaul says.
The only regret he has is how governments have not acknowledged the contribution of such Kashmiri writers.
“I face a mammoth task but have minimal resources. We have not lived an easy life but I hope to spread awareness about my father. I have written to the cultural ministry, Sahitya Academy, J&K culture Department, and even to elected representatives I know. We await a national recognition for Sarvanand Kaul ‘Premi’. Perhaps, then the world will realise the greatness of this writer and the loss of such a precious life at the hands of terrorists,” Kaul concludes.