- Scores of Pandit families migrate to Jammu as violence escalates in Srinagar.
SRINAGAR ‚ÄĒ Sheikhpora Pandit Colony in Central Kashmir‚Äôs Budgam district wore a deserted look on Friday. The previous day a Kashmiri Pandit teacher and a Sikh teacher were gunned down by ‚Äúunknown gunmen‚ÄĚ. Two days before their killings, a renowned Kashmiri Pandit businessman, Makhan Lal Bindroo, was killed in his shop.
Otherwise a bustling place inhabited by around 400 Pandit families, the Sheikhpora Pandit colony now looks like a ghost town. Although heavily guarded by paramilitary CRPF personnel, it doesn‚Äôt give the residents the confidence to live in the colony anymore. Scores of families have already migrated to Jammu while many are preparing to migrate soon.
Vinod Bhat, a government teacher, is one of those planning to leave. The Principal of his school has asked him not to come to the school for the next week. ‚ÄúHad I been living alone, I would have stayed back. But I have children, wife and mother with me and I do not want to risk their lives,‚ÄĚ Vinod said.
Sources in the administration said that the government has given a holiday of 10 days to employees from the minority community.
Dozens of Pandit families who returned to the Valley after being given jobs under the Prime Minister’s special employment scheme for Kashmiri migrants have left accommodations. Vinod said that at least 30 per cent of the people residing in the Sheikhpora colony have left. Bhat, 39, returned to the Valley 10 years ago after getting a job under the PM’s special scheme. He said that all these years he never felt unsafe.
On October 5, Bindroo was shot dead in his chemist shop in uptown Srinagar. Bindroo‚Äôs killing was the first of three on that day. Within an hour, Virender Paswan, a panipuri seller from Bihar, was shot dead about 8 km away from Bindroo‚Äôs shop. Shortly afterwards, Mohammad Shafi Lone, a taxi driver in the Naidkhai area of Bandipora district was shot dead.
Next day, ML Bindroo‚Äôs mourning son Sidharth told media that he believes the ‚Äúfear and phobia of demographic change‚ÄĚ has driven the spate of attacks on minorities and non-local residents in the Valley. The Bindroo family was one of the few families that stayed back in the Valley during the peak of armed insurgency in the ‚Äô90s.
Since the beginning of this year, official data reveals that 28 civilians have been killed. Out of 28, five persons belong to the local Hindu/Sikh community and 2 non-local Hindu labourers.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public, especially minority communities, not to panic. ‚ÄúWe have been maintaining peace and a secured environment and will continue to do so,‚ÄĚ the IGP said.
While the government is claiming that the unilateral abrogation of the erstwhile state‚Äôs special status has improved the situation in the valley, however the situation on the ground contradicts the government claims.
In July 2021, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, on behalf of the Government of India, had said this in a written reply to a question put to his ministry in the Rajya Sabha that Kashmiri Pandits have been feeling “more secure” and over 3800 youngsters from the community have moved back to Kashmir recently to take up jobs provided as part of the prime minister’s rehabilitation package. ‚ÄúAnother 1997 candidates were selected for jobs under the same package in April and they will be moving to Kashmir soon.‚ÄĚ
Sanjay Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit leader described these claims as a sham and said there is no truth in the claims made by the Government of India. ‚ÄúThe rehabilitation scheme sold by the Government of India is just a PR exercise for the ruling party. Whatever benefits the Kashmiri Pandits have gotten so far are only because of the UPA II. BJP has only given us hollow promises but they are projecting it as if everything good that has happened to Kashmiri pandits has happened after the abrogation of special status.‚ÄĚ
Tickoo said the recent killings are an offshoot of the abrogation of the special status.¬† ‚ÄúThe claim that the killings are happening because of the domicile law and other forced policies that have been passed since the abrogation is not the total picture of the situation. It has aggravated the condition but the root cause is the August 5 decision and mishandling of the Kashmir situation by New Delhi for decades,‚ÄĚ he said.
Tickoo, in an angry and aggressive tone, said that the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party has used the Kashmiri Pandits for their vote bank.
There is an unsettling calm in the valley. As many as 70 Pandit families have packed their bags and left as they fear for their lives, Tickoo claimed, ‚ÄúOut of the 4000 migrant government employees, 1400 have moved and that‚Äôs in just 3 days.‚ÄĚ
The recent spate of killings has alarmed the authorities even as the Home Minister of India Amit Shah held a high-level meeting to discuss the security situation in the aftermath of the killings.
A top police officer said that the killings are being investigated. ‚ÄúDozens of youth have been detained for questioning,‚ÄĚ he said.
Several Kashmiri Pandit organisations allege the administration did not take adequate measures to ensure their safety despite intelligence inputs about attacks on minorities. They complained that the security agencies had not addressed their concerns.
A top government official said that the concerned authorities have been asked to ensure the security of all those who are asking for it. Many Pandits living or working in far off places have been asked to move to government guest houses.
Not just the Kashmir Pandits who are moving out, but many non-local labourers have also started leaving the valley after the killing of Virender Paswan, a non-local street vendor.
In Hawal, where non-local labourers live in rented accommodations, anxiety and fear has gripped non-local workers. Virender Paswan, who was shot down on the evening of October 5, would live in the same area.
The 45-year-old Paswan from Bihar had been travelling to Kashmir for seasonal work for years, his friends said. The labourers are scared now. Many have already left for their homes while others are planning to leave.
Pintu, a 40-year-old non-local labourer said that he is frightened after the killing of Paswan.
He said the killing of Paswan is worrying his family in Bihar and he along with other labourers will leave for his home state on Sunday.
Meher Qadri is a former staff writer at the Mountain Ink.