Srinagar: The latest killing of a Kashmiri Pandit in Pulwama district has revived the climate of insecurity and fear in the Valley, and allegations that the Jammu and Kashmir administration has failed to protect the minority Hindu community.
Sanjay Kumar, the father of three minor children who worked as a bank security guard, was shot dead in Achan village of Pulwama district on Sunday, February 26, prompting the members of the Kashmiri Hindu community to intensify their protest in Jammu.
On Tuesday, February 28, several dozen Kashmiri Pandits, who have been provided employment in the J&K administration under a centrally-sponsored PM package for migrants, assembled outside the office of the relief and rehabilitation commissioner in Jammu for the third day in a row and staged a protest to demand their relocation.
“The killing (of Sanjay) has increased the worries of my family,” said Rubon Saproo, a protesting migrant employee, “They are asking me to quit the job. The government may be trying its best to protect us. I have full faith in security agencies. But for me and my family, my life is more important than my livelihood.”
Under the PM package, around 6,000 Kashmiri Pandit employees have been hired by the J&K administration and posted in various government departments in Kashmir Valley. As part of the package, the administration is also constructing transit accommodations for the employees in Kashmir, some of which are already functional.
A senior J&K administration official said that the Valley was deliberately chosen as the place of posting for the employees under the PM package to enable the reintegration of the community after they were forced to leave because of the armed insurgency which began in the early 1990s.
Kashmiri Pandit activist and lawyer, Deepika Pushkar Nath, said that the rehabilitation policy was formulated at a time when the violence was at its lowest ebb and Kashmir was peaceful. “There were no terror attacks on the Pandits when the policy was rolled out by the Congress government. But the equation has changed,” she said.
A wave of targeted killings
The situation started to turn ugly after the reading down of Article 370. Open threats were issued by militant groups such as the Resistance Front and ‘Kashmir Fight’ to Kashmiri Hindus and others for allegedly becoming part of the BJP-led Union government’s “agenda of changing the demography” of the Muslim majority region.
In the aftermath of the broad daylight killing of Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employee, in May 2022 at his government office in central Kashmir, nearly all the Kashmiri migrant employees fled to Jammu. A wave of targeted killings swept the Valley last year in which at least 14 civilians, including three Kashmiri Pandits, were murdered.
Ranjan Jotshi, vice-president of All Migrant Displaced Employees Association Kashmir (AMDEAK), said that the situation in Kashmir after the latest killing in Pulwama has “made it more difficult” for the migrant employees to resume their duties in Kashmir. “I am glad that I left Kashmir last year because I too could have been dead by now,” Ranjan told The Wire over the phone.
The AMDEAK leader, who is posted in J&K’s Social Welfare Department in south Kashmir where the latest killing took place, said that he would quit instead of resuming his duty. “My family is happy only as long as I am alive. I will work as a daily-wage labourer and return alive to my family in the evening rather than in a coffin,” added Ranjan.
The J&K administration has paid no heed to the migrant employees’ demand for relocation. Instead of reaching out, the administration has withheld their salary. In December, J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha asked the employees to resume their duties, warning that they would not be paid for “sitting at home”.
Sinha’s remarks drew flak from the Pandit community, prominent citizens as well as political leaders in Kashmir. However, he has continued to rule out the relocation demand, forcing some of the employees to resume their duties.
‘Revived fear psychosis’
A Kashmiri Pandit employee, who shifted back to his place of posting in south Kashmir after the administration stopped his salary last year, said that the Pulwama killing has revived the fear psychosis in the migrant employees.
“Earlier, I had to remain extra-cautious only during my commute to the office and back home. Now, every stranger I see along the way and in the office looks like a killer in disguise. I feel depressed at times. My family doesn’t want me to continue the job,” he said, wishing to remain anonymous.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a prominent group of Kashmiri Hindus living in Kashmir, on Monday called for the removal of LG Sinha for “letting the Kashmiri Pandits be killed by the militants for some vested agenda and vendetta to malign the ruling political party at the national and international level.”
KPSS president Sanjay Tickoo said in the letter that “in a fight between Muslim Kashmir and Hindu India religious minorities living in Kashmir are becoming a scapegoat”, adding that the Union government must issues orders “to initiate brutal operation against the militants and their aides to safeguard the lives of the innocents Kashmiri Pandits and other religious minorities living in Kashmir Valley”.
‘Principle of natural justice’
While the J&K administration is sticking to its stand that the rehabilitation policy doesn’t contain provisions for the relocation of Kashmiri Pandit employees, Deepika, the lawyer, said that the government should “act on the principle of natural justice”.
“Despite the fact that there is no relocation clause in the policy, Kashmiri migrant employees are trapped in a peculiarly harsh situation where the writ of the constitution and our fundamental rights, which includes the right to live, are more important than a government policy,” she said.
Saproo, the protesting employee, also argued that the government should amend the existing rehabilitation policy and allow the migrant employees to temporarily work out of Jammu till the situation improves in Kashmir Valley and the ongoing construction of 6,000 accommodations for migrant employees is completed.
“Five Kashmiri Pandit employees were killed at their places of work in the last couple of years. The killing of Sanjay has aggravated the atmosphere of fear. In such a situation, how can the government expect us to resume our duties?” he said.
One militant killed
Two days after the killing in Pulwama’s Achan village, the J&K police claimed that it has gunned down Aqib Mushtaq Bhat, an ‘A’ category militant from Pulwama who, the police said, was involved in the killing of Sanjay. But the killing is unlikely to reassure migrant employees.
Jotshi said that he can’t ignore the “good work” that the government is doing for restoring peace in Kashmir and rehabilitating Kashmiri Pandits. But he said that the government can’t provide security to all the Pandit employees. “Sanjay was staying back at home for five months. The day he left his home, he was killed,” he said.
Saproo said that the Pulwama killing has “proven” that Kashmiri Pandits are not safe in the Valley. “Since the terrorism broke out in Kashmir, my family is settled in Jammu. I shifted to Kashmir only to earn an income. But I will draw a salary only as long as I am alive. What will it mean to my family when I am not there,” he said.