Kashmir back to square one: Another exodus begins following 16 killed since January, seven in May
Even as a bank manager in Kulgam was shot dead on Thursday, Kashmiri Pandits began leaving the Valley. Many were locked up inside their housing colonies to prevent them from leaving
This week in Kashmir was marked by murder of a Kashmiri Pandit school teacher Rajani Bala (36) in Kulgam, the seventh targeted killing in May alone, and the threat of yet another exodus of Pandits from the Valley.
A summon sent to Yash Raj Sharma, editor in-charge of the portal The Kashmir Walla for an article published in 2011, asking him to present himself in Jammu on June 2, also indicated that the Government had not given up its hard security approach to Kashmir.
Earlier, Fahad Shah, the editor of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested in February and re-arrested thrice every time he was granted bail by the court. The last time he was arrested was also ostensibly because of an article published in 2011. He is accused of having glorified militants in Kashmir.
With Kashmiri Pandits hitting the street, and some 100 families reportedly having left the Valley, the Government’s assurance of bringing back and settling displaced Pandits has suffered a jolt. Even the 800-odd Pandit families which had stayed back in 1990 or returned to take up jobs and live in transit or resettlement camps for them, this week threatened to leave the Valley, complaining of insecurity.
The resurgence of targeted killings and the threatened exodus by Pandits point to a collapse of the grand push to normalise Kashmir initiated in August 2019. As many as 40 Kashmiri Muslims too have been killed, among them policemen, Panches and public servants, by militants since August 2019.
BJP’s sustained attempts to prop up pro-BJP parties in the Valley, hold panchayat and district development council elections and set up a Delimitation Committee unilaterally have further alienated the people, say Kashmir watchers. The Government had put up elected Panches (in elections where hardly one percent of the voters cast votes) in hotels and had provided them security at public cost. But none of this has worked in normalising Kashmir.
Author, historian and blogger Ashok Kumar Pandey points out that the administrative space in Kashmir has been handed over to the outsiders. As a result, the administration has no connect with the people with most administrators having little idea of the language, people or the geography, he said in several YouTube interviews this week. As a result, human intelligence is virtually missing, enabling militants to strike at will. A vocal critic of the Government’s Kashmir policy, Pandey, who was in Kashmir this week, blames Prime Minister and BJP promoting the film The Kashmir Files and the assault on Muslims in the rest of the country as responsible for the current situation.
The film The Kashmir Files creates the impression that Kashmiri Muslims, and not Pakistan-backed terrorists, had killed Hindu Pandits in 1990. It is also silent on Kashmiri Muslims killed by the same militants. BJP and Prime Minister Modi had promoted the film. BJP offices and ministers booked theatres and bought tickets in bulk to distribute them among people. In several cities the screening was followed by dinner hosted by the party.
Pandey recalls Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar exulting in 2019 that boys from Haryana would now be able to marry beautiful and fair Kashmiri women. BJP had then plastered Haryana to thank the Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah for abrogating Article 370. It was not clear how the abrogation would benefit people in Haryana, he quips, and it is not clear how it has benefitted them now.
BJP, feel political observers, does not want Kashmir to be normal. It suits the party’s interests to keep Kashmir on the boil so that the party can polarise voters in the rest of the country and reap electoral dividend. For over seven decades BJP and the RSS have viewed Kashmir through communal and law & order prisms.
People of Kashmir, be they Hindus or Muslims, are not of much concern to the party and it is becoming obvious by the day.
Like any other state, says Pandey, Kashmir too has its share of corruption, nepotism and communalism. There are fringe elements too and so are separatists. But a majority of the people, at least till 2019, saw their future in India and with India. They need to feel reassured that they can be safe and prosper in the country, that they will get a fair treatment.
But the vitiated atmosphere in the country, the incessant communal rhetoric and treatment of minorities, agree observers, have made many Kashmiris lose hope.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)