The death of Kashmiri Pandit and bank guard Sanjay Sharma at the hands of terrorist gunmen in Pulwama is yet another murder in a series of attacks on the minority community in the Valley. Sharma is the second Pandit to fall to terrorism in the Pulwama area after Janki Nath’s death in 1990 at the peak of militancy. While the murder could be a deliberate ploy by terrorists to strike fear into the minority community in the area, it also signals the failure of security agencies to adequately protect the poor residents. The modus operandi of the radical elements who are targeting civilians has always been clear — the attacks are meant to invite state retaliation and repression, in turn fomenting discontent and disaffection to garner more recruits to the cause. On Tuesday, after follow-up operations that resulted in the death of an Army jawan and two militants, security forces have asserted that Sharma’s attacker has now been slain. But this does little to mitigate the fear that has gripped Pandits in the Valley and Pulwama in particular. Last year, militant attacks resulted in the deaths of 29 civilians including three local Pandits, three other Hindus and eight non-local labourers and also caused the migration of 5,500 Pandit employees from the Valley.
All political parties including the separatists such as Hurriyat Conference, besides civil society organisations have condemned the attacks, but the repeated and brazen nature of the killings, at one level, point to a breakdown of relations between the administration and the citizenry, leading to the inability of the administration to anticipate and prevent such attacks. The fact that areas that were relatively safe for the minority community even during the peak of militancy have now become unsafe suggests that the administration must rethink its security-centric policies in the Valley. The Union Territory administration and the Union government have claimed that hard-edged moves such as the dilution of Article 370 and bifurcating the State in 2019 have helped curb militancy and were necessary to bring back normalcy in the Valley. But the repeated attacks on the minority community suggest otherwise — radical sections have sought to utilise the disaffection in the Valley to foment polarisation. Only an effective government by elected representatives of the people of the Valley can do more to rebuild trust between the administration and the citizenry. This will help isolate the radical sections and ease the workload of the security forces in Kashmir. Restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and working towards the conduct of Assembly elections are now a clear imperative.
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