The Jammu and Kashmir administration and protesting Kashmiri Pandits engaged in a face-off on Wednesday, as the security forces disallowed street protests and stopped fear-stricken Pandit employees, recruited under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package since 2008, from leaving the Valley.
More than 4,000 Pandit employees have threatened to leave the Valley by Thursday morning. They have decided to go on mass migration, announced by their leaders, from various transit camps spread across the Valley.
“No Pandit employee was allowed to leave their locations by the police on Tuesday,” a Pandit employee, living in Srinagar’s Indira Nagar locality, said.
Kashmir has been witnessing daily protests by Kashmiri Pandits ever since Rahul Bhat, a Pandit government employee, was killed on May 12 inside his office at Chadoora in Budgam.
“Many of our neighbours living in the transit camps are in a deep cycle of depression because of Bhat’s killing. We see a bleak future for our kids in Kashmir. The latest killing of the schoolteacher, Rajni Bala, has further disturbed us mentally. It seems our lives have no value. In case the government does not come up with concrete measures, we will go for mass migration and leave for Jammu tomorrow,” a protesting employee said in Srinagar.
The Lieutenant-Governor administration is in talks with the leaders of the Pandit employees to address their demands. However, the administration has dropped broad hints that it was opposed to the idea of migration of employees from the Valley.
In the wake of the threat of mass resignation by those living in the transit camps, security was beefed up at all the camps at Nutnusa in Kupwara, Tulmulla in Ganderbal, Hall in Pulwama, Khanpur in Baramulla, Mattan in Anantnag and Vessu in Kulgam. Mobile bunkers were placed in the lanes leading to the houses of Pandit employees in Indira Nagar and Sheikhpora.
“It’s unfortunate that we were stopped from leaving the migrant camps. On the other hand, unauthorised absence is being marked in our attendance sheets in offices. Why?” another Pandit employee at the Sheikhpora transit camp said.
Meanwhile, a sit-in was held at the Vessu camp in Qazigund by Pandit employees. “We returned to Kashmir on the promise that the situation has improved here. However, since October last year Kashmiri Pandits have been targeted. What is our fault? Why are they doing it? We are clueless. I came here in 2010 to earn my livelihood. I am upset with those who promised us a safe and secure atmosphere in Kashmir on our return. Why are they silent now?” a Vessu-based Kashmiri Pandit employee said.
The growing fear among the minorities is palpable. The Mata Kheer Bhawani Asthapan Trust (MKBAT) has asked for the cancellation of the annual ‘mela’ due to the targeted killings of minorities in Kashmir. The annual yatra was scheduled to leave from Nagrota on June 5 for the Ragnya Devi temple in Tulmulla village of Ganderbal district. The temple attracts hundreds of Pandit devotees and the yatra is considered one of the main festivals by the community.
Kashmir witnessed a mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 in the face of unprecedented militancy. However, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008 conceived a plan to help in the return of Pandits to their homeland and offered 6,000 jobs to migrants.
Around 3,800 migrants took up jobs in different departments in Kashmir and were living peacefully till December 2020 when a goldsmith was killed inside his shop on Hari Singh High Street in Srinagar, just days after he acquired the domicile certificate.
Since then, nearly 17 members from the minority communities have been killed in targeted attacks by militants. The fresh wave of attacks on minorities have come after the Centre ended J&K’s special status on August 5, 2019 and opened up jobs and land in the Union Territory (UT) to outsiders.
Safe posting soon
An official spokesman said the J&K administration’s General Administration Department (GAD) had set up a dedicated cell for resolving the grievances of minority employees in Kashmir.
Sources said the Kashmir administration was drafting an elaborate plan to shift all the Pandit employees, recruited under the PM package, from “vulnerable locations to safer places”, especially to the secure offices in district headquarters.
Sources said over 4000 Pandit employees would be posted to “safer locations” in 10 districts in the Kashmir Valley. The Srinagar administration has already relocated over 50 teachers of the education department to safer places.
‘Hard work at stake’
The political parties have been critical of the government’s poor response so far.
“The hard work of successive governments for the past three decades is at stake right now. The Government of India should immediately take a note and ensure a safe environment for Kashmiri Pandits. I wonder how happy Vivek Agnihotri (director of the Kashmir Files movie) must be now who spread hatred just for monetary benefit,” National Conference youth leader Salman Sagar said.
Leaders of the Congress, which is holding a two-day ‘Nav Sankalp’ workshop, expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation in Kashmir.
Inaugurating the workshop, AICC in-charge Rajani Patil said the series of targeted killings of innocents, including minorities, has induced fear and pain among the people of Kashmir. Ms. Patil demanded urgent measures to ensure safety and security of the common people, especially minorities.