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Jammu & Kashmir

Kashmiri Pandits in J&K blame Narendra Modi government for targeted attacks

Print edition : Jun 02, 2022 T+T-

Kashmiri Pandits in J&K blame Narendra Modi government for targeted attacks

A protest in Srinagar by Kashmiri Pandits against the killing of Rahul Bhat on May 21. | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir blame the Hindu supremacist policies of the Modi government for terrorists making them targets of attack.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the podium in Samba on April 24, he enumerated to his rapt audience a slew of government measures, which, he said, would uplift Jammu and Kashmir’s young people from a life of despair and inadequacy. “You won’t suffer like your parents and grandparents,” was his assurance to them as he laid the foundation for several development projects, pegged at over Rs.20,000 crore, for the Union Territory.

Modi’s first visit to Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of its special status in August 2019 made for yet another compelling video moment in prime-time news bulletins and on social media. But in the fortified camps of the Pandit community dotting the Kashmir Valley, Modi’s images and sound bites no longer entice. They cause anger and incredulity.

The autumn of 2021 descended on them as a gory reminiscence of 1990 as prominent members fell to bullets, prompting an immediate flight to the safe haven of Jammu. The first Kashmiri Pandit to be killed was Makhan Lal Bindroo, a pharmacist who had not left the Valley even when militancy was at its peak. Terrorists shot him dead on October 5. There were two other killings on the same day: of Virender Paswan, a hawker from Bihar, and Muhammad Shafi Lone, president of the local taxi drivers’ union. If there were any doubts that Hindus living in the Valley were on the terrorists’ radar, a grisly spraying of bullets two days later on Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand, the principal and teacher respectively of the Government Boys School in Sangam, dispelled them.

Also read: Escalation of violence in J&K leading to alienation of Kashmiri Pandits

The killings have gone on unabated. The latest victim was Rahul Bhat, a clerk at the tehsil office in Chadoora town. Terrorists shot him in his seat at the office on May 12. He was among the nearly 6,000 Kashmiri Pandits who had been given jobs under a 2008 rehabilitation package of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to facilitate Kashmiri migrants’ return to their homeland. Bhat’s killing sparked an explosion of rage and protests by members of the Pandit fraternity as images of his inconsolable wife and seven-year-old daughter wrecked New Delhi’s constant self-applaud for reining in militants.

Disillusion and fretfulness

The Pandits’ disillusionment with the government is palpable. When the BJP’s Kavinder Gupta, a former deputy Chief Minister, went to attend Bhat’s funeral, he was greeted with hostile slogans. But why are Kashmiri Pandits fuming at a party that swears to espouse their cause? What has triggered a planned offensive against the minority Hindu community in Kashmir? Is it a fallout of a repressive bureaucratic control that is looking to realign Jammu and Kashmir’s demography by bringing non-locals in large numbers as settlers?

The overwhelming sentiment on the ground is: “Yes”. In October, when this reporter wheedled his way into the heavily fortified Vessu camp in Anantnag, strictly barred at the time for outsiders, including mediapersons, a Kashmiri Pandit resident said that the Modi government’s iron-fisted handling of Kashmir had shaken the already fragile relations between Pandits and Muslims. There are no apparent signs of animosity or denial of a sense of belonging, but, as the respondent dispiritedly pointed out, “something changed with the abrogation of Article 370”.

Also read: ‘Alienation of people in Kashmir at an all-time high’

Sanjay Tikoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, was more forthcoming. He said that the BJP’s trenchant commitment to pursue a “Hindu first” politics and its constant relaying of messages aimed at segregating and vilifying Muslims had added to the vulnerability of the 800-plus Kashmiri Pandit families that had, in 1990, decided to stay back in the Valley despite lurking danger. Asked how their current experience differed from that in 1990, he said: “There were militants who targeted Kashmiri Pandits then, but there were thousands of Muslim brethren who also saved us. Today I see a lull.”

Many Kashmiri Pandits attribute this indifference to the Hindu supremacist politics of the BJP. On May 14, two days after Rahul Bhat was eliminated by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, a group of Kashmiri Pandit employees staged a protest in Srinagar demanding relocation outside the Valley. Pertinently, the government’s employment scheme for Kashmiri Pandits obliges them to live in Kashmir. The agitating members complained that they were virtually held as prisoners in their camps after the incident.

BJP has no worries

But the BJP is confident that Kashmiri Pandits do not doubt its fidelity to their cause. In an interaction with Frontline, the party’s spokesperson in Jammu, Rahul Sharma, explained: “Some of them are upset, but the feeling is temporary. The Pandits look to us with hope, they know it is only the BJP that has the political will to uproot terrorism in all its forms.” He pointed out that it was the BJP that brought a provision to nominate two members from the community in Jammu and Kashmir’s legislature.

Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai shares that upbeat mood. In April, he informed Parliament that terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir had steadily declined: from 417 in 2018 to 255 in 2019, 244 in 2020 and 229 in 2021. However, the numbers have to be seen against the limitations thrown in by a pandemic that scuppered, among other things, terrorists’ capacity to wage war.

Also read: Jammu and Kashmir’s apparatus of repression

At any rate, the dwindling numbers are hardly an indicator that battle lines have been redrawn in India’s favour. The assessment of the security grid in Jammu and Kashmir is that Pakistan, which imposed restraints on the Jaish-e-Mohammad under international pressure following the Pulwama terror strike in February 2019, drastically reduced them after August 5 the same year, as fixation with New Delhi’s “unilateral action” in Kashmir deviated focus from Islamabad.

But why is the current breed of militants targeting civilians, in particular Hindus? This reporter is among those journalists who had warned of the calamitous upshots of an exclusively militaristic approach to contain insurgency without engagement with the stakeholders in the conflict, noting that militant groups would go after soft targets, mostly low-ranking police officers and civilians.

Mandate from Pakistan?

A senior Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader, who spoke to Frontline, was of the opinion that there was a mandate from Pakistan to terrorise the tiny Hindu community living in the Valley. “It is a tactical response to the situation,” the PDP leader said. He was referring to the BJP’s attempts to change the demographics of Jammu and Kashmir by stepping up the process of domicile certification of non-local people.

“Pakistan’s influence in Kashmir is courtesy the overwhelming Muslim population. If India were to dilute it, Pakistan’s influence will peter out. It would do all it can to prevent the flooding of Hindus [into Jammu and Kashmir],” the PDP leader said. Before the Modi government ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, jobs and land rights were exclusive to the natives of the State, referred to as “State subjects”.

Also read: Persistent militant attacks in Kashmir puncture peace claims

As Kashmir smoulders, the advances made by the Kashmiri Pandits in the arena of politics and administration are eroding. Nanajee Watal is an example. He was elected sarpanch of a village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district in 2018, but now he has only two options: either remain confined in a small, airless room on the first floor of a shabby hotel in Srinagar, with barbed wires blocking entry for outsiders, or retire to Jammu, away from the bustle of political activity.

“My security officer was transferred in 2019. Since then, I’m on my own. Only the BJP cadre gets security here,” the sarpanch said.  He is full of scorn for the Manoj Sinha government that announced a measly compensation of Rs.5 lakh for Rahul Bhat’s family besides a grade IV government job for his widow. “They sell our tragedy. But when someone from the community is killed, they expect his widow to do menial job. Is this our worth?”

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