Remembering Makhan Lal Bindroo: Kashmir’s Beloved Chemist

Bindroo in Kashmir is not just a caste or the name of a pharmacy: it stands for trust and a relationship nurtured over decades.

Makhan Lal Bindroo

SRINAGAR, Kashmir Everyone in Kashmir knows Bindroo’s pharmacy. It is the go-to place for anyone looking for medicine that is considered gold-standard and reasonably priced. And to top it all, there was always a reassuring presence of the amiable Bindroo ji at the counter who greeted you with a smile and would often personally check the shelves for drugs, just so you were served faster. I was also one of his customers. In my fewer brief encounters with him, he extended the same favour to me, even when we didn’t know each other. 

Bindroo in Kashmir, as a result, is not just a caste or the name of a pharmacy. It stands for trust and a relationship nurtured over decades. Not just one between a drug store and the thousands of its loyal customers but also between Kashmiri Muslims and a Kashmir Pandit: it was a relationship that transcended religion and Kashmir’s polarizing politics. 

This is why few people knew Bindroo ji’s full name, a fact that even his killing by suspected militants on Tuesday has not changed. 

Makhan Lal Bindroo, as the news reports have now identified him, was among the few thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who had stayed back in the Valley in the early 1990s while the rest of the community fled to safer areas in Jammu and the rest of the country. According to some people who knew him, Bindroo had firmly refused the advice of his community members to leave and not because of his business in the Valley.

“He loved Kashmir and fellow Kashmiris,” said a person who often visited the Bindroo pharmacy and had developed an informal relationship with the chemist. “He was acutely conscious of the turmoil and suffering in Kashmir and hoped for an end to it. But, in the end, he too was consumed by it.”

On the day, Bindroo was killed, a street vendor Virender Paswan who sold bhelpuri was also shot dead at Hawal in downtown Srinagar. This was followed by the killing of a civilian Mohammad Shafi Lone, the president of a taxi stand, at Naidkhai in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district. 

Bindroo’s killing stands out for its sheer egregiousness of what it has sought to attack.  In his person, he represented one of the last hopes of Pandit-Muslim reconciliation. His pharmacy was a place where a Kashmiri Pandit met his fellow Kashmiri Muslims untroubled by the baggage of the last thirty years. 

The Resistance Force (TRF) claimed responsibility for two of the attacks, the Kashmir police said, as per one media report. This group, reportedly an affiliate or offshoot of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, also claimed responsibility for shooting dead two civilians, Abdul Majeed Guru and Muhammad Shafi Dar, who were said to be working with Indian security agencies.

On its face, Bindroo’s murder seems to have a clear causal link to the militancy that has upended lives since 1989. But it is not that simple to solve a Kashmir murder. More so, when it has been carried out by unidentified gunmen. Over the past three decades, the unknown assassins have killed hundreds of people, many of them well-known like Bindroo but rarely have the killers been identified and brought to justice. In place of clarity, the murders like these trigger narratives: a public and an official account with the former invariably seeming to hew closer to the truth.

The reason for this is that the popular narrative about an assassination is based on a subtle understanding of the circumstances leading to the development. People make their own appraisals and react accordingly. Such appraisals fall into three categories: one, where people conclude the militants are behind the murder. Second, where government forces are blamed. And third where the killing is seen as the handiwork of either of the actors. This is why every such assassination usually elicits selective outrage and also a telling silence. 

In popular perception, the government agencies are as much in the dock as the militants and in turn, this confusion lets both escape the responsibility and even blame each other. 

There has never been a public debate about the issue except once in 2011 when the top Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Gani Bhat in a seminar raised the issue of the killings by unidentified men of the leaders like Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone, the fathers of current moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the People’s Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone respectively. Farooq was killed at his home in 1990 and Lone outside Srinagar’s grand mosque in 2002. There is a public narrative about their killing but no conclusive proof. 

Another thing about the killings by unidentified men is that there is often a vague and sometimes a crystal-clear understanding of the reasons behind the violence among the people but that is never sufficient to explain the extreme act. Beyond the politics or sometimes just a little unconventional public stance or an activity, or for that matter a more vocal tongue, many of the slain people were in no position to alter the drift of the situation to an extent where they could threaten any cause or a gameplan. 

The killing of Bindroo and that of two more civilians and in recent weeks that of a few others hardly fits into the idea of a simple moral world: a fact that was laid bare by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark in The Meadow, their best-selling investigative work on the 1995 Al Faran kidnapping. The book reveals the kidnapping as a perfidious play of the conflict in the state where sometimes the identities of the victims and the perpetrators fuse. They call it “a beautiful game”  that in its heyday in the nineties had no boundaries.

“India and Pakistan fought each other in the Valley by manipulating the lives of others. Everything that happened here involved acts of ventriloquism, with traitors, proxies and informers deployed by both sides, and civilians becoming the casualties,” the authors write.

Riyaz Wani is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.

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