An estimated 5 lakh Pandits from Kashmir migrated from the valley after the rise of armed militancy and live in different parts of India, the majority of them settled in the predominantly Hindu region of Jammu.
Srinagar: Karan Sahoo, 28, and his wife became concerned after targeted attacks by activists against non-locals, especially members of the Kashmir minority community. The incidents, although they took place far from the Panzan region in central Kashmir, in Budgam, where they work in the laying of bricks, nevertheless made them anxious. Just hours after laying the rough bricks and piling them up to be taken to a nearby kiln, whose chimneys were emitting large plumes of smoke, activists killed two teachers, including a Hindu, in Srinagar.
Just a few kilometers away, in Budgam district, several Kashmiri pandits in government positions rushed to Shiekpura transit accommodation as soon as news of the new killings spread.
“We plan to return to Jammu after the killings,” said a Kashmiri pandit who works in the education department on condition of anonymity.
Sahoo and his wife have worked in several brickyards in Kashmir for several years here, but have never witnessed incidents of activists targeting members of the minority community. “If the attack happens anywhere here where we work, we will leave Kashmir,” said Karan, from Chattisgarh.
Attacks against non-locals especially increased after the repeal of Section 370, as now several categories of people outside of Kashmir, including those who have lived here for the past 15 years, have become eligible for the right to local domicile. Political parties opposed such concessions to non-locals.
Authorities have also stepped up efforts to aid the return of Kashmiri pundits to the valley and recently set out to remove “encroachments” on their properties they abandoned after migrating from the valley. Authorities last month laid the foundation stone for a transit camp spread over 50 earth channels in the northern Kashmir region from Khawajabagh to Baramulla to accommodate 336 families of Kashmiri pundits who wish to return here.
An estimated 5 lakhs of Kashmiri pandits migrated from the valley after the rise of armed militancy and live in different parts of India, the majority of them settled in the predominantly Hindu region of Jammu. Yet there are some 808 families comprising around 3,400 Kashmiri Pandits who have chosen to stay in Kashmir. There are also nearly 4,000 Kashmiri Pandits who are employed in various government departments here and have been recruited as part of a program to ensure their return to Kashmir. These Kashmiri pundits are settling in transit housing like Sheikpura’s here.
The Kashmiri Pandits said these attacks could trigger a new migration and also exposed government claims that the security situation has improved here.
Sanjay Tickoo, president of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, blamed authorities for the killings. “The authorities failed to take adequate security measures, which made the Pandits of Kashmir vulnerable,” he said. He added that several of the migrants who had previously chosen to stay could leave the valley.
On Wednesday, a prominent Kashmiri Hindu pharmacist in Srinagar was among three civilians killed by militants. The attacks took place in Srinagar, which has also seen an increase in incidents of militancy recently and in the past 15 days at least six civilians have been killed in the capital.
Senior BJP leader Ashwani Chrungoo said the situation in Kashmir remains dire. He said the security situation was reminiscent of the 1990s when Hindus in Kashmir faced targeted attacks. “Police and other security agencies have failed to ensure an appropriate security environment. Such attacks would not mar our resolve to bring Kashmiri Hindus back to the valley,” Chrungoo said.
Chrungoo, however, blamed the National Conference and People’s Democratic Front parties for the killings, as he said they recently issued a statement pushing for consolidation of Muslim votes in Kashmir. All the major political parties, including the NC, the PDP and the PC, however condemned these assassinations.
The separatist conglomerate All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has also condemned the killings. The Hurriyat said it “strongly condemns all killings, which are acts of sheer violence against other humans and humanity.”
“APHC once again calls on the global community to intervene to end the daily violence and tragic loss of life in Kashmir, which weighs heavily on its people, by pressing for the resolution of the lingering conflict in Kashmir,” which is the root cause of all this suffering, ”he added.
Successive governments have pledged to bring migrants from Kashmir back to the valley. Efforts have picked up speed during the BJP rule now, however.
Chrungoo said attacks on members of minority communities, including Sikhs, have also continued in the past. He referred to the murder of 35 Sikhs in Chittisinghpura, in the Anantnag region, in southern Kashmir, in March 2000 during US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India.
Pheerat Ram Sahoo, 34, has the rest of his family, including his wife and five children, from Chattisgarh in Kashmir and they live in makeshift accommodation in the Budgam brickyard. He said he was working here because the payments were almost double what he received outside of Kashmir and he could continue working if the situation remained calm.
“Usually during winters we move to Jammu due to snowfall. I will continue to work if the situation does not deteriorate, ”said Pheerat.