Kashmir’s Dogra Hindus are victims of militancy, but off the govt support radar

Kashmir’s Dogra Hindus are victims of militancy, but off the govt support radar

The Kashmiri Dogra community claims systematic alienation from the Centre's welfare schemes that cover Kashmiri Pandits; many have migrated out of the valley

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On April 13, 50-year old Satish Kumar Singh was shot multiple times by suspected militants outside his residence in Kakran village of Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Singh succumbed to his injuries shortly after, leaving behind his ageing mother, wife and three daughters – the youngest just seven and the eldest, a 12-year-old stricken by polio.

In the restive Kashmir Valley, where such killings are a regular affair, the muted condolences and perfunctory tweets condemning the murder didn’t surprise anyone. Barring a delegation of leaders from the National Conference, no politician from the Union Territory paid a visit to Singh’s family. And no eyebrows would be raised at this indifference by much of Kashmir’s political, administrative and police establishment towards the killing of a civilian by militants.

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After all, the harsh reality of Kashmir for a better part of the past three decades has been the mounting statistics of innocents slain by militants, from across the border or those bred on Kashmiri soil; each death reduced to  a mere number in the annual tally of lives claimed by the perpetual conflict zone.

Nothing changed for some

But then, the past two months haven’t been a continuation of this status quo of muted acceptance of civilian killings. The nation has raged over the issue, largely due to Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files. The film, whose factual authenticity is still being debated, spoke of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits — scores of whom were killed by Islamic terrorists while others were forced to flee the Valley in 1989-1990.

The response to The Kashmir Files from India’s Hindutva ecosystem evoked a sense among Hindus of Muslim-majority Kashmir that the state would be more proactive in protecting them against militants. With Singh’s killing, this hope stands shattered.

The locals of Kakran village, however, aren’t surprised. Singh belonged to the numerically dwindling and, thus, electorally insignificant Kashmiri Dogra community which, unlike the Kashmiri Pandits, hasn’t been courted or consolidated into a vote bank.

The Dogra history

The Kashmiri Dogras – Rajputs and a handful of other Hindu castes – settled in the Valley from Jammu and parts of the undivided Punjab back in the mid-1840s, when Gulab Singh, founder of the Kashmiri Dogra dynasty, was anointed by the British as Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir.

Locals in Kulgam, Uri and Shopian districts of Kashmir claim that the number of Dogra families stood at nearly 10,000 when Maharaja Hari Singh, Gulab Singh’s descendant and the last monarch of J&K, agreed to accede his princely state to the Indian Union after Partition. In subsequent decades, a large number of Dogra Hindus moved out of the Valley in search of better livelihood prospects or because of the threat of militancy. However, many also stayed back despite the risk to their lives from terrorists who, in the turbulent period between 1989 and 1991, reportedly targeted Hindus – Kashmiri Pandits and Dogras – living in the Valley.

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Today, fewer than 115 Dogra families – about 60 of them Dogra Rajputs like Singh – remain in the Valley as per the 2010 Census, which had pegged the number of Kashmiri Pundit  households in Kashmir at nearly 700. In Singh’s village of Kakran that has a population of about 600 residents, there are only six Dogra households.

While the BJP has aggressively advocated justice for displaced Kashmiri Pandits, many of whom have been living in resettlement shelters in Jammu since the 1990s, a similar push for Kashmiri Dogras and Kashmiri Sikhs, who also faced the brunt of militancy, has rarely been forthcoming. As a result, the Dogras claim that while welfare and rehabilitation schemes have been launched specifically for Kashmiri Pandits, Dogra Hindus have practically fallen off the government’s radar.

Denied benefits

In fact, in the BJP’s repeated claims of undoing past injustices heaped on Kashmir by its political rivals and pushing unprecedented development in the Valley, the Dogras find no mention. This despite BJP’s Udhampur MP and junior minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, being a Dogra Rajput.

Unlike the Kashmiri Pandits, Dogra Hindus residing in the Valley are not entitled to any benefits under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Plan, which includes schemes such as special recruitment drives for granting Kashmiri Pandits jobs in the government. The obvious omission has never found a mention, leave alone remedy, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive prescriptions of justice for Kashmiri Hindus.

“The government has failed us. We don’t get any financial assistance or even free/subsidised ration like the Kashmiri Pandits do. Our wards who got selected for government jobs were disqualified because they are not Kashmiri Pandits,” Singh’s elder brother, Kuljeet Jamwal (56), told The Federal.

Abdul Qayoom, sarpanch of Kakran, also claimed that the government has offered no help as yet to Singh’s family. “The panchayat can, at best, recommend to the government to enrol Satish’s wife for widow pension but the amount she will receive will not be enough to sustain her family. The villagers are pooling in money to help the family but the government should at least provide his wife with a job,” Qayoom said.

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Jamwal said Singh’s wife and daughters are scared and want to migrate out of Kakran but are faced with obvious hurdles – they have no property in Hindu-majority Jammu, no financial resources to sustain themselves and no help from the government. There is no word from the government yet on providing Singh’s family the ex-gratia and other relief measures kin of civilians killed by terrorists are normally entitled to receive.

“Our forefathers created the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir but being a Dogra Hindu in today’s Kashmir is a curse,” said Jamwal, adding that the current political dispensation has reserved all welfare schemes for Kashmiri Pandits while treating Dogras as second-class Hindus.

What the schemes details reveal

A cursory glimpse at government-sponsored welfare schemes for Kashmiri Hindus shows how the scales are tipped against the Dogra community.

In 2020, the J&K Service Selection Board had advertised for 500 posts for non-migrant Hindus under the PM’s Rehabilitation Plan. The applicants were asked to produce certificates proving their bona fides – essentially stating that they hadn’t migrated out of Kashmir and were Kashmiri Pandits. 

Dogra Rajputs, though non-migrant Hindus, are distinct from Kashmiri Pandits but those who drafted the certification criteria seemed to assume that Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Hindus are interchangeable terms. As such, most deputy commissioners declined to issue these certificates to Dogra Hindus.

The Dogra applicants moved court against the discrepancy. An interim court order then paved the way for their selection but only 50 managed to secure a place among the 500 advertised vacancies; Kashmiri Pandits got the remaining 450 seats. This small victory was also short-lived, as the J&K High Court later ruled that non-migrant Hindus, as envisaged under the PM package, meant Kashmiri Pandits and thus other Kashmiri Hindus could not take benefit of the special recruitment drive.

“The judgment raised issues which should have been challenged and I was expecting the petitioners to do so but no one turned up. There can’t be two sets of laws for the same community living at the same place,” advocate Altaf Mehraj, who represented the Dogra Hindu petitioners in the J&K High Court, told The Federal.

Systematic alienation 

Panthers Party leader Hakikat Singh, a Dogra Rajput from Shopian, claims it is this systematic alienation of his community from an equitable share in government’s welfare schemes that has forced Dogras to migrate out. “Without jobs and security, how can we live here? There is no sense of justice and equality,” the Panthers Party leader said.

Years of deprivation from welfare schemes and anger against administrative apathy towards a perceived uptick in selective targeting of Kashmiri Hindus by militants over the past year seems to have now emboldened the Dogras to demand their rights more forcefully.

Following Singh’s murder, the Dogras of Kulgam submitted a memorandum to the district’s deputy commissioner demanding that the community be provided security and that welfare schemes announced for non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits be extended to them, too.

“During (the height of) militancy, the government announced different schemes for non-migrant Kashmiri people but unfortunately these were confined to non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits and were not extended to Kashmiri Rajputs, which is sheer injustice,” read the memorandum. 

Bilal Mohi-ud-din Bhat, deputy commissioner of Kulgam, told The Federal that the concerns raised by the Dogras were genuine and he had forwarded the memorandum to higher authorities for consideration.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Jammu)

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