Facing terror and govt apathy, say Kashmiri Pandit employees in J&K; puncture normalcy narrative

Kashmiri Pandits employed in J&K under a Central scheme are protesting against insecure living and working conditions. Some of them are demanding creation of an exclusive UT to accommodate them

IANS Photo (File)
IANS Photo (File)

NH Political Bureau

Even as their fellow countrymen celebrated the 75th Independence Day on Monday, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits employed in the erstwhile state under the aegis of a Prime Minister employment package for migrant Kashmiris, felt they had little reason to join the festivities.

Amid a heavy downpour in Jammu, many of them unfurled the tricolor and joined the recitation of the national anthem in their tented area, but some of them had toyed with the idea boycotting the celebration in order to draw attention to their plight.

Sitting on a dharna for the last 100 days, they feel abandoned by the BJP- led Central government which had gone out of its way to promote a Bollywood flick, The Kashmir Files, based on the community’s sufferings during the peak of terrorism in the Valley. No one from the Central government or from the UT’s administration led by LG Manoj Sinha has bothered to reach out to them.

Frustrated with the apathy shown by the government, certain quarters feel that the only solution to their problem is the creation of a new Union Territory within Jammu and Kashmir earmarked exclusively for Kashmiri Pandits.

Talking to National Herald over the phone, Agnishekhar, convenor of Panun Kashmir (PK), a body representing the community, who had addressed the protestors last week, said, “Creation of a Chandigarh-like Union Territory for all Kashmiri Pandits will bring a permanent solution.”

Opining that creation of such a UT will also provide moral support to the Army in the time of crisis, he said, “For the time being, the migrant Kashhmiri Pandits ought to be relocated or attached with the Commissioner’s office.”

“We are not demanding anything big for our children but relocation to a safer place until the situation becomes conducive,” Agnishekhar added, pointing out that he had himself survived terrorist attacks back in the 1990s.

Though the idea mooted by the activist does not have many takers, the J&K administration is aware of the growing resentment among the Kashmiri Pandits against the BJP, said a Delhi-based Kashmiri journalist, who felt that the killing of Rahul Bhat from the community had served as a wake-up call for them.

Bhat, employed as a clerk under the PM’s special employment package for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, was killed in a targeted killing in May this year at his office in Chadoora in the central Kashmir district of Budgam.

Kashmiri Pandits say fear had a vice-like grip in the Valley in contrast to the govt’s narrative of normalcy. Targeted killings of migrant employees had added to the trauma, with no such employee willing to travel to remote areas, they said.

Most of these employees have either not joined their places of posting although they had been relieved from existing postings without their consent, they contended.

Agnishekhar alleged that migrant employees who happened to be associated with BJP leaders had managed to secure transfers to safer places.

“The Jammu and Kashmir administration run by LG Sinha is allowing discrimination in transfers and postings,” he said.

Incidentally, the migrant employees have also alleged that the UT administration had withheld their salaries.

Though the exact number of employees who have not received salaries could not be ascertained and verified independently, the number, as per an estimate, goes beyond one thousand.

“Salaries up to two months of a large number of employees working in the Finance department, Department of Public Works and Road and Building department; Education and Medical health department; offices of Director, Rural Development department and Director, Agriculture; Department of Planning/Revenue department; Power Development department and office of Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar have not been released,” the employees alleged.

“A delegation of protesting Pandits took up the issue with the concerned authorities but no action has been taken yet,” one of the protesters said.

“The government is exploiting our helplessness. They are treating us like bonded labourers,” Agnishekhar remarked.

Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits under the PM Package was formulated in 2002-04 by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was heading a coalition government with the Congress in the erstwhile state at the time.

As per a report published by The Indian Express, less than one fifth of all the Pandits working under the PM Package live in a secure place.

“Of the 6,000 posts provided for Pandit migrants under the scheme, a total of 5,928 are filled up. No more than 1,037 of them live in secure accommodations. The remaining are compelled to rent quarters outside the secure zones meant for them. They also travel long distances without security, on a daily basis, for work,” said the report.

Asked whether the situation had improved on the ground in the troubled region after the abrogation of Article 370, as claimed by the Centre, Agnisekhar replied, “First of all, we should not call it abrogation of Article 370, as it is very much in place. Only the constitutional and legal status has changed. I do not see any structural change on the ground, specifically for Pandits,” he said.

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