Fighting Fear

The killing of four non-Muslim civilians triggered a wave of insecurity sending some of the Kashmiri Pandits who had returned to Kashmir under an employment package, back to Jammu. At the same time, however, many others stayed put, Minhaj Masoodi reports

Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha visits family of Deepak Chand, the Kashmri Pandit school teacher who was killed in Eidgah Srinagar in October 2021.

Anil Raina (name changed) came back to Kashmir under PM’s job package in 2017. Teaching in a state-run school in Srinagar, he is back in Jammu because of the renewed safety concerns. Anil and many of his colleagues are yet to decide on the future course of action.

Fear and insecurity among Kashmir’s Pandit community are palpable. Many Pandit families who had been putting up in transit accommodation settlements at various places across Kashmir have mostly left.  Some of them see it as a grim reminder of the early 1990s.

A Wave of Killings

On 6 October, militants fired upon Makhan Lal Bindroo, injuring him grievously. Bindroo was rushed to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) where he succumbed to his injuries. The attack sent shockwaves in the valley, drawing condemnations from every quarter.

Two days later, they struck again, this time at a government school in Eidgah area of Srinagar city. The school principal, Supinder Koul and her Kashmiri Pandit colleague, Deepak Chand were killed by the militants.

Supinder belonged to the Sikh community and was a resident of Aloochi Bagh area of Srinagar while Deepak, a migrant Pandit had returned to Kashmir under PM’s job package. Just four days before his death, he had gone to Jammu to drop off his wife and a two-year-old daughter.

Deepak had even been telling his friends and family to return to Kashmir. “It is safe here,” he used to tell his family before getting mowed down while on duty. His killing has left Anil Raina and many other Pandits fearing for their lives.

Popular pharmacist Makhan Lal Bindroo cremated in presence of relatives and members from the Muslim community at Srinagar cremation ground. Bindroo was killed on Tuesday evening October 6, 2021, by unknown gunmen at his shop at Iqbal Park, Srinagar. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Looming Fear

“We left the valley because the situation was such. We did not do anything. The situation made us flee,” Raina said. On the day when two teachers were killed at Eidgah, cops from police stations came and dropped the minority community members at the airport.

“There are many Kashmiri pandits that want to stay in Kashmir. But currently, we don’t feel safe,” Raina said with a visible concern in his voice. “Earlier, killings used to happen on roads and alleys. But now, killings are taking place inside schools. If these people can enter school and office premises to kill people, it means that we are not secure.”

He said that while many Pandits are living at government camps, others are putting up at rented accommodations. Those living at government camps and safe zones have some security, but the ones living in rented accommodations have no guaranteed safety.

“Even if the government takes us to safe zones, the government says that they would provide us security at the offices, but who will assure and provide us the safety during travel and transit from home to office,” he questioned. He said that the government cannot provide security to every single person. “It is impossible,” he conceded.

Assurances, Affidavits

“On the other hand, the government is asking us to come back. We would have come but where do we live. The government is forcing us to come back. Divisional Commissioner said that if you don’t come back, it would be in contravention to the service rules,” said a seemingly annoyed Raina in a reference to an affidavit they were made to sign when they were given jobs under the Prime Minister’s Package.

The cremation of Makhan Lal Tickoo in Tahab village in Pulwama was carried out by Muslims on May 8, 2021. He along with 10 other families refused to migrate out of Kashmir in the 1990s and lived at his place of birth. Pic: Social media

The affidavit said that those who wished to get jobs would have to work only in Kashmir. It has barred them from seeking transfers outside Kashmir.

“We want the affidavit to be declared null and void. Because, then we can try for transfers back to Jammu,” Raina said.

Accusing the government of failing to fulfil its promises, he said that the government had fallen short of its duty to provide us accommodation and security. “Where is that,” he asked.

Jaan hai tou Jahan hai. Jaan bachegi toh hum aayenge na (Life is everything. If we manage to stay alive, only then can we come back),” Raina exclaimed.

Insisting that the pattern of killings had become cyclic, he said a killing happens after which a period of lull follows and the government starts saying that everything is back to normal. But after a year or two, gunmen strike again and people are forced to flee. “We are back to square one. It has become a cycle.”

Supportive Colleagues

He said although it was reassuring to hear that there were announcements being made to reassure the Pandits of their security from the mosques, what would one say to the guy who has already made up his mind.

“I know how my Muslim colleagues supported me during this time, even volunteering me to accompany me up to Jammu, but we don’t know who the killers are. They are faceless, without a known face. I felt the local support but the insecurities and the fear remain,” Raina revealed.

The BJP government which has championed the cause of Pandit return over the last two decades has found itself being forced into a corner. One of the justifications given during the August 5 decision was that it would facilitate the return of migrant Kashmiri Pandits back home. They had also claimed that militancy-related incidents had come down after the reading down of Article 370. But recent events have punctured their claims of normalcy and the championing of the Pandit cause.

Stayed Put

Aditya (name changed) and his parents lived in Rainawari before the nineties. After the militancy erupted, his family migrated to Jammu. However, owing to financial constraints his family returned to Kashmir in 2010 but not under the PM’s package.

They now live in rented accommodations in South Kashmir. Aditya’s family contemplated a move back to Jammu after the recent incidents where people from minority communities were targeted.

Aditya said he and his family were not scared initially after the attacks had taken place. “However, there were some rumours about the temple being burned and it was at that time when we thought about going back,” Aditya said. “At one point, we felt that minorities are now being targeted again. We got scared.”

However, after discussing the issue of going back to Jammu, with his parents, Aditya felt that going back was not an option. “We thought it would not be the right move.”

After receiving assurances from the Police and his Muslim friends, Aditya chose to stay back.

A few hundred families chose to stay in Kashmir despite the conflict. Even some of them are now contemplating leaving Kashmir due to the fear psychosis, while others have already left

Tickoo Claims

Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandits Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), an organization that works for the rights of Kashmiri Pandits said that there was tremendous fear during the initial days.

After that, he said that he approached the government and reached out to civil society. “I, personally, appealed to all the masjid committees and the maulvis to assure the minority communities living in their areas of safety and address their security concerns,” Tickoo said.

“Fear,” Tickoo said, “has now eased by about 60 per cent.”

He said it is the human, moral and religious obligation of Kashmir’s majority community to restore the confidence of the minorities. “I think it is a good sign. Daer aaye dursut aaye (Better late than never) and I am thankful to those who on my appeal are coming forward.”

As per Tickoo, out of the 808 families that had stayed back during the 1990s, only seven had left in the aftermath of the attacks. But they have returned back to their homes.

However, prior to the attacks, Tickoo had sought an appointment with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha through several emails regarding security and other issues but LG’s office had not given them the appointment.

“From June till 5 October, even after the killing of Bindroo, we sent at least seven to eight emails seeking appointment. His office failed. Now, they called me on the 9th of this month, saying my appointment has been fixed with the LG,” Tickoo said. “But I categorically told them that we are not in a position to move out of our homes.”

 Unfortunate

 Sandeep Koul, a Pandit living in Baramulla, whose family did not migrate during the 1990s said that he did not feel too bothered after the incidents.

“What happened was unfortunate. Yes, Pandits were killed but they were not the only ones. Many Muslims were also targeted,” he said. “I did not feel any fear. My family was content and we are still here.”

As per the official data, this year, 28 civilians were killed by the gunmen but only six were from the minority community.

Koul, however, said that people have genuine fear and the government instead of just issuing statements should do something more concrete.

“People left because they got a signal from the government to leave. Now, the Divisional Commissioner issued a statement saying those who have left the valley and don’t come back will be dealt with strictly according to the service rules,” Koul said while accusing the government of double standards. “This is hypocrisy. Just days ago, you were telling people to stay at home.” 

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