Members of the community have alleged that attacks against them have increased in the wake of the recent protests in Kashmir and they do not feel safe.
Contrary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim of providing a safe atmosphere to displaced Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley, members of the community in the Valley have now said they are fearing for their lives. The community is also unhappy with the closure of the police’s “minority security pickets” across South Kashmir, which were set up after the massacres of 1998 and 2003.
What has added to the fears of the Kashmiri Pandits have been multiple alleged incidents of stone pelting and verbal abuse since the latest uprising began in the Valley on July 8, following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani.
Wani’s successor Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Musa in a brief video message released in mid-October had appealed to Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes, stating that the group “takes responsibility for their safety”. But in the atmosphere of fear and distrust that prevails in the Valley, people have not taken this assurance seriously.
Sanjay Tickoo of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti told The Wire, “This is just a political statement, it has no value”. He said ever since Wani’s killings and the resultant turmoil in the Valley, which has resulted in the death of over 100 protesters and injuries to over 15,000 citizens and security personnel, the incidents of attacks on the Kashmir Pandits have also gone up.
“There have been at least 53 incidents of stone-pelting and verbal attacks on the community members and in one incident about 150 trees were also forcibly cut in the orchard of a member. To top it, the security provided near the habitations of the Kashmiri Pandits in the form of pickets has been withdrawn, leading to increased fear.”
Tickoo said of 198 such pickets, 110 were located in South Kashmir and personnel have been withdrawn from all of them. “At least with these personnel around we were able to sleep in peace, but now that sense of security is also gone.”
On being asked if the security has been withdrawn because of the many instances of snatching of weapons from the personnel posted at these pickets, Tickoo said this was an issue to be tackled by the government. “But should you compromise people’s security like this?” he asked.
‘Return to the 1990s’
Tickoo, whose family was among the few hundred Kashmiri Pandit families which stayed back in the Valley after the attacks on the community began in the 1990s, said “the situation now is once again very similar to what it was then. They began with targeting and burning schools and that is what is being repeated now. Then they had begun attacking the Pandits and that we fear would come in the next round of attacks.”
He said while the radicals are apprehensive about directly attacking the community, they are creating pressure and tension to force the Pandits to leave. Recalling the 2003 Nadimarg massacre in which 24 people were rounded up and gunned down by the militants, Tickoo said prior to that he and his associates had visited the village which had 34 Hindu families and just four cops and noted that the police presence was scarce and they hardly bothered who visited.
“Similarly, now the security has been withdrawn,” said Tickoo, who has also written to the prime minister and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti about the issue.
In a letter sent late last week, in the wake of a petrol bomb being thrown at a Kashmiri Pandit’s house in Kulgam in South Kashmir on October 28, Tickoo had raised the security concerns of the minorities living in the Valley. He noted that as per government records, nearly 808 Kashmiri Pandit families were living in Kashmir Valley after many from the community left following the 1990 armed uprising in the state.
“These families are living at different places in the Kashmir Valley and till date these families were provided security from the State Government by creating “Minority Security Pickets” close to the KP dwellings,” he wrote, asserting that “for presumed security” these pickets played a big role.
In the letter, Tickoo stated that “after the encounter of Burhan Wani, the count of militants in Kashmir Valley has increased many folds” and had become a “cause of threat to the security of the State as well as to the minorities living in Kashmir Valley.”
He demanded a review of the decision of withdrawal of security to the minorities and urged that the security personnel be re-deployed at all the MSPs with additional manpower. “Else,” he wrote, “it will be clear that some conspiracy with malafide intentions is being hatched against this miniscule community living in Kashmir Valley.”
About ten days ago, the All State Kashmiri Pandit Conference (ASKPC), the umbrella organisation of the community, had also raised the issue, claiming that the police had started withdrawing the security of minority enclaves and temples following rifle-snatching incidents by militants.
“The minorities fear the worst as the security provided to most of the shrines and families living in the Valley has been withdrawn. It is a matter of concern as the state government has left the minorities at the mercy of militants,” the group’s president, Ravinder Raina, had charged.
The ASKPC had also raised the issue of the transit camps of Kashmiri Pandits being attacked in the Valley. Its general secretary T.K. Bhat had stated that the “government of India must realise that return of Pandits’ to Kashmir shall only be possible if they are settled and rehabilitated at one place in Kashmir where there shall be free flow of Indian constitution.”
The state has also been witnessing an ongoing protest by Kashmiri Pandit employees who have refused to return to their duties following attacks by mobs on their transit camps in the Valley. These employees are also alleging that their salaries have been withheld since July.
According to the All Migrant Employees Association Kashmir, there are about 1,500 employees from the Kashmiri Pandit community who are employed under the prime minister’s rehabilitation package and who have largely refused to return to the Valley due to security concerns.
The BJP leaders in the state, many of who are in the Mehbooba government, have also been batting for these employees. One of them, Surinder Ambardar, a member of the legislative council, recently said he had taken up the matter with deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh who “assured” that “no one will be forced to join their duties till normalcy returns in the Valley”.
The Wire tried to get an official response from the state government through Amitabh Mattoo, the political advisor to the chief minister, but could not establish contact with him. His response is awaited and the story would be updated as soon as it is received.