SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir’s Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has asked people across the country to stop seeing killings in Kashmir on basis of religion. The statement in the backdrop of protests by nearly 10,000 employees of Jammu and Kashmir in Jammu is being seen as significant.

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LG Manoj Sinha visited the family of slain Puran Krishan Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit who was killed in Shopian on October 15, 2022

“It is true some Kashmiri Pandit became victims of targeted killings. But there is another side too… I want to say that people from the Kashmir valley are also killed. A lot of other people have also been killed.. There are also labourers who come from Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand during the apple season…,” Sinha told an interaction in a Delhi newsroom. “The country should stop seeing this issue on the basis of religion.”

Sinha said that these “two-three incidents” should not become the basis for spreading “a narrative”.

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The statement assumes significance in wake of the fact that since May 12, 2022, almost all the Kashmiri Pandits employed in Kashmir under a special package and an entire flock of reserved category employees serving in Kashmir, are protesting in Jammu. Citing security reasons, they are seeking their relocation out of Kashmir till the situation improves. After months of persuading them to return and paying them salaries without work till August 2022, Sinha announced that people who will sit at home will not get their salaries.

This triggered a crisis as BJP spearheaded a counter-campaign with one senior minister saying that saving lives was more important even if it means shutting down a dozen offices. Interestingly, all other political parties including the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, PDP, Congress and even the Democratic Azad Party supported the protesting employees.

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It was in this response that Sinha said that killings in Kashmir should not be seen from the religious prism.

Under the special package, the Government of India funded the employment of 6000 migrant Kashmiri Pandits with the sole condition that they will have to serve in Kashmir. For this, they will be given a flat each.

Sinha said that so far 5866 Pandits have been given jobs. He revealed that 1,200 homes are being given to Kashmiri Pandits in April and by December 2023, 1,800 more houses will be allotted. At the same time, work on a major housing complex in Srinagar is in fast-forward mode.

Sinha’s statement came at the peak of Chilai Kalan, the harshest phase of winter. Even right now, tens of thousands of non-local and non-Muslim workers are in Kashmir, some working in remote Fruit Mandis in the periphery.

“People who are residents believe they (labourers) have a huge role to play in the UT’s economy. They have a role in its development. Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India. Anybody can work in any state…they have the right to work here. The same goes for Kashmir,” Sinha was quoted as having said. “There’s a majority in Kashmir who appreciate this and want other people to come and work. We also take care of them (migrants)… push for their insurance. During the apple season, we had guidelines regarding their safety and security – financial and societal.”

Admitting that the KP employees face problems, Sinha said he was in constant touch with them. “First, they wanted to relocate to safer places. Slowly we have managed to post people in the district headquarters,” Sinha said. “Now if the employee is from the rural development department, he cannot be posted in the city. So, he is posted in the village neighbouring the district headquarters. A few are in the tehsil headquarters but the police had said it is secured.”

In 2022, India Jr Home Minister Nityanand Rai told the Rajya Sabha early this month that 14 people belonging to minority communities, including three Kashmiri Pandits, were killed in Jammu and Kashmir. A total of 31 civilians were killed this year.

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