Kashmiri Pandits in a state of churn after spurt in targeted killings

Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley say BJP-led Central govt has no roadmap for people of Kashmir, leave alone for them, and that BJP was just playing politics in their name

Kashmiri Pandits leaving the Valley
Kashmiri Pandits leaving the Valley

Daanish Bin Nabi

From January 19, 1990 to May 12, 2022, Kashmir, as well as her religious-minority, commonly known as Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) have gone through some turbulent changes.

For the KPs, May 12, 2022 will be another black day. It was the day when militants killed Kashmiri Pandit Rahul Bhatt inside Tehsildar’s office in Chadoora area of central Kashmir’s district Budgam, sending shockwaves across Jammu and Kashmir.

This was just the latest such incident.

On June 2, two people – a bank manager in south Kashmir and a brick kiln labourer in central Kashmir – were killed and another labourer was injured. Since May 1, the killing of the labourer was the ninth killing of a non-Kashmiri by unknown gunmen.

Earlier, on May 31, a schoolteacher was shot dead in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. She hailed from Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir.

In May, two security personnel and three civilians died in targeted killings.

In May, security forces had 14 ‘encounters’ in which 27 terrorists were neutralized. This is the highest number of kills in a month this year.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has clearly taken a sudden and violent turn for the worse, in contrast to a recent statement made by Union Minister Jitendra Singh that Jammu and Kashmir was fast returning to ‘normal’ as the decades-long terrorism was on its last legs. Srinagar was declared 'terror-free' by police in August 2020, but now there has been a swell in terror ranks, with missing local youth from the Valley posing a major security challenge.

Security forces have pinned the recent incidents on so-called ‘hybrid terrorists’ -- operatives who are not on any terror lists but are radicalised enough to carry out a strike and then slip back into routine life.

They claim that around 160 terrorists are active in the Valley, of which 90 are ‘foreign operatives’. The number of hybrid terrorists may close to 50, as per media reports.

NSA Ajit Doval has, predictably, blamed Pakistan for the spate of targeted killings in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, KPs are in a state of churn. “Even after all these years, we have to see our loved ones being killed. Kashmir is hell. This place is cursed for KPs,” Amit Koul said.

Soon after Rahul Bhatt was killed, KPs across the Kashmir valley staged strong protests and demanded their relocation outside the Kashmir valley.

“There are around 7000 KP employees working under the PM’s scheme of 2012. Many have left while others are waiting to leave. There are thousands more who want to leave but the Jammu and Kashmir administration isn’t allowing them to leave as they don’t want another migration of KPs. If they are allowed to leave, no employee will be left here,” says Chunni Lal, chief of Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir (HWSK) which was founded in 1999.

HWSK is working mostly for those Pandits families who chose to stay back in Kashmir rather than joining the exodus earlier.

“The government did nothing for non-migrant KPs. There are scores of KP families who did not leave Kashmir but migrated from rural to urban district centers. The government failed to even rehabilitate them. We protested in 2015 in and around Lal Chowk but the BJP government did nothing for us,” Lal adds.

Talking about Sheikhpora camp in central Kashmir’s district Budgam, Lal says that the camp was actually constructed only to accommodate non-migrant KPs by the Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

“The camp can accommodate around 4000 families. However, only 31 non-migrant families are living at the Sheikhpora camp, which is sheer injustice to us. Rest of the accommodation was given to KPs working under prime minister’s scheme of 2012,” he said.

Fear stalks Pandit families

One of the important factors that is leading to the second migration of Kashmiri Pandits is fear that has engulfed the minority community. “There is fear among all of us. We are sitting ducks and soft targets,” Ashu Bhatt said.

Since 2019, Ashu has been working under the prime minister’s package scheme as a teacher. He belongs to Habba Kadal area of Srinagar and had migrated to Jammu following the breakout of militancy in Kashmir.

“There are around 6000 employees recruited under the scheme. Around 3800 families have left. Others are here only because either their parents are going under any medical check-ups or their children have exams. I will leave Kashmir as soon as my children's exams get over,” Ashu said.

“I have asked a few contacts in Delhi and Mumbai to look for a job for me and my wife. We will leave Kashmir for good now,” he added.

He said that the BJP-led government at the Center has no roadmap for the people of Kashmir, leave alone for Kashmiri Pandits. “Congress did have a soft corner for the people of Kashmir. The BJP is only playing politics in our name. They are only using us to garner votes,” Ashu said.

The killing of Rahul Bhatt also started a fresh ‘migration’ of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley. Kashmiri Pandit Sangarash Samiti (KPSS) is the largest KP group, comprising of those who stayed back during the 1990s. The group is headed by Sanjay Tickoo.

“Around 120 families, working under Prime Minister’s Package scheme of 2012, have left the Kashmir valley following the killing of Rahul Bhatt,” KPSS said.

It said that as the J&K administration and the Centre had failed to provide security to Pandits, many more families are planning to leave.

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