Even as locals protest Kashmiri Pandit’s killing in Pulwama, fear grips those staying back since 1990s

Sanjay Sharma, 42, a bank guard by profession, was shot dead near his native village in Pulwama by militants.

February 28, 2023 03:48 pm | Updated 06:21 pm IST - SRINAGAR

Jammu and Kashmir BJP President Ravinder Raina with the bereaved family members of Kashmiri Pandit Sanjay Sharma who was shot dead by suspected militants, in Pulwama.

Jammu and Kashmir BJP President Ravinder Raina with the bereaved family members of Kashmiri Pandit Sanjay Sharma who was shot dead by suspected militants, in Pulwama. | Photo Credit: ANI

Local Muslims held protests and in hundreds joined the family of slain Kashmir Pandit Sanjay Sharma for the last rites in Pulwama’s Achan area on February 27, but the targeted killing has further shattered the confidence of the miniscule population of those Pandits who preferred to stay back despite raging militancy in the 1990s in the Kashmir valley.

Putting her arms repeatedly around the three minor orphans — Sakshi, Diksha and Aryan — Sharma’s wife, in her late 30s, is still grappling to come to terms with what unfolded before her eyes on Sunday morning in a village, which housed her humble residence for many decades now.

Also read: Two militants, including Kashmiri Pandit bank guard’s killer, shot dead in Awantipora encounter

“I do not want to live here anymore. My husband was shot four times in front of me on the road (in Achan). No one came forward. I supported him, with blood dripping, and reached the nearby hospital only to bring his body home. These three minor orphans are testimony to the tragedy these attackers left behind. They snatched my husband at the prime age for none of his fault. What will happen to the kids now?” deceased Sharma’s wife said.

Sanjay Sharma, 42, a bank guard by profession, was shot dead near his native village in Pulwama on Sunday morning by militants. He became the second such victim in the area in the past 30 years. The last killing of a Kashmiri Pandit, Janki Nath, took place at the hands of militants in 1990, at the peak of militancy. However, the family of Sharma took a bold decision to stay back, unlike hundreds of Kashmiri Pandit families who left for other parts of the country. 

Despite raging militancy in Pulwama between 2010 and 2018, Kashmiri Pandits never felt scared. However, the dynamic is fast changing for the community after the revocation of special provisions of Article 370 in 2019. According to official figures, 29 civilians were killed in 2022, which included three local Pandits, three Hindus and eight non-local labourers. The killing of Pandits resulted in mass migration of more than 5,500 Pandit employees from the Kashmir Valley.

With just four Pandit families left behind in Pulwama’s Achan, scores of local Muslims, mostly neighbours, on Monday arranged for the last rites of Sharma.  “On the recent ‘Herath’ festival [Maha Shivrarti], he [Sharma] shared wet walnuts with his Muslim neighbours, as was the tradition among Kashmiri Pandits. They are like our brothers,” Maqbool Ahmad, a local, said.

Scores of locals held a candlelight vigil in Pulwama’s Shaheedi Chowk to protest against the killing. Similar protests were also held in Ganderbal and Baramulla districts of the Valley.

Sanjay K. Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandits Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a body of around 800 Pandit families who stayed back in Kashmir in the 1990s, however, sees these attacks as the tipping point for the community. “Raliv, Galiv Ya Chaliv (convert, die or leave), a modus-operandi initiated by the radical Kashmiris to establish Islamic doctrine in Kashmir continues and is reverberated by every Kashmiri Pandit killing. Since 1990, the dark times for Kashmiri Pandits continue. Islamic countries and scholars repeatedly claim that terror doesn’t have a religion, but they need to see in Kashmir that here it not only has a religion but a face too,” Mr. Tickoo said.

He blamed a few militants for these killings in Kashmir. “In a proxy war between India and Pakistan in which Muslim Kashmir is fighting against Hindu India, the innocent religious minorities living in Kashmir are scapegoats for Pakistan and Muslim Kashmir, while Hindu India is concerned about elections and political strategies,” Mr. Tickoo said.

He urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to intervene and “accept the failure of the current Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha”. 

“Non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits have become fodder for the government, terrorists and migrant Kashmiri Pandits, who are living luxurious lives outside the Kashmir Valley,” Mr. Tickoo said, while asking the Centre to “consider this challenge and stop experimenting with the situation in Kashmir and endangering the lives of Kashmiri Pandits.”

All J&K political parties, including Hurriyat headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, have condemned the killing. “Kashmiri Muslims are ashamed of Pandit Sanjay Sharma’s killing. We safeguarded the ethos of brotherhood and communal harmony when the entire country indulged in Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947. Kashmiri Pandits are an asset of Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims need to take every possible measure to provide a sense of security to the minority community and save them from assailants,” Ms. Mufti said, after meeting the victim’s family.

She said people of Kashmir are caught “in between two guns”. “On one hand, the government atrocities in the name of curbing militancy are unabated. Detention and raids are a continuous process. ED, NIA and other agencies are seizing properties of Kashmiris,” Ms. Muti added.

Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is under house arrest, also condemned the killing and termed it “a gruesome act”.

“Killing of human beings in such a manner is a tragedy that Kashmir has been witnessing for the past three and a half decades now, with no seeming end in near future. The State policy of extreme repression and unilateral interventions countered by equally extreme and viscous vengeance is a vortex we have got caught into, leading to extreme suffering of Kashmiris of all hues,” the Mirwaiz said.

Also read: TRF behind Kashmiri Pandit’s killing, says police; 3 local, 2 foreign terrorists active in Pulwama

He said Kashmiri pandits living in Kashmir unfortunately have become sitting ducks in the current situation. “The prevailing coercive atmosphere, with no space for outreach, the contact among communities and people is also fast disappearing ,” the Mirwaiz added.

BJP State president Ravinder Raina, who also visited the family in Pulwama, said, “Pakistan’s coward terrorists have murdered humanity. Killing an innocent is no bravery. Sharma was living for over 50 years in the village with the locals. People of Kashmir have also condemned the brutal killing. All Muslims of Pulwama’s Achan are with the Sharma family. They have not even cooked for the past two days.” He said the security forces will make these attackers pay soon.

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