Why Kashmiri Pandits want to flee Valley, and why this worries the Centre

Why Kashmiri Pandits want to flee Valley, and why this worries the Centre

Amid targeted killings in recent weeks, the community wants to emigrate to safety; the Centre is in a fix as this threatens to take the sheen off its much-publicised Kashmir policy

The fear is palpable among the Kashmiri Pandit community in the Valley after the killing of a bank manager and a migrant worker on Thursday by suspected terrorists. There have been at least eight instances of targeted killings reported across the region over the past few weeks.

This initially sparked widespread protests by the Pandits over what they say is the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s “failure” to protect them from targeted attacks. Now, the Pandits employed in the Valley under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package have decided to call off their agitation, expressing frustration over official “inaction”; they just want out.

The Pandits have now given a call for mass migration out of the Valley despite the administration putting barricades outside their camps to stop them from leaving.

Mass migration is not good optics

The Kashmiri Pandits’ fervent pleas to leave the Valley raise questions over the success of the PM’s Package for their rehabilitation. The Narendra Modi government has been publicising the success of its Kashmir policy – especially after the abrogation of Article 370. As such, the recent spate of targeted killings in the Valley threatens to take the sheen off the Centre’s claims. The Centre’s assertions that peace has returned to the Valley after it wrote off Article 370 lie shattered as targeted killings continue unabated.

Also, the BJP has over the years positioned itself as the champion of Kashmiri Pandits’ cause and has constantly used their migration as a poll plank. Apart from reflecting badly on the Union Territory’s administration under LG Manoj Sinha, the call for mass migration by Kashmiri Pandit organisations will thus not be good optics for the Centre as well as for the BJP. No wonder, the authorities do not want the Pandits to leave and are more or less forcing them to stay back.

As many as 18 Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus have been killed in the Valley since Article 370 granting special status to J&K was abrogated by Parliament in August 2019.

The recent violence and protests

The recent protests were sparked off after Rahul Bhat, an employee working under the PM’s Package in the Revenue Department, was killed inside his office in Chadoora, Budgam, on May 12. Before that a Hindu woman schoolteacher was shot dead by terrorists in the same area.

Since then, the PM’s Package employees had been urging the government that they be transferred to Jammu. Indian Express quoted a Kashmiri Pandit employee, who has already left for Jammu, as saying, “In Kashmir, there is no place safe for minorities now.” At the Haal camp in south Kashmir, resident Arvind Pandita said: “It does not seem like things are getting better, so we will move with our children and all belongings.”

Also read: Kashmiri Pandits protesting but BJP busy celebrating its eight years: Rahul

“The government has made us hostages. We are not being allowed to leave our homes. We are all scared. There is a security failure in Kashmir. We implore the LG to let us leave for Jammu,” said a member of the community in an SOS video posted online.

On May 18, Kashmir Divisional Commissioner K Pandurang Pole had instructed the heads of various government departments to ensure that employees from the Kashmiri Pandit community are not posted in “vulnerable areas” but given postings in district headquarters.

On May 23, Lieutenant Governor Sinha visited the Sheikhpora camp, where Rahul Bhat’s family was staying at the time, and assured residents that their concerns would be addressed. But the Kashmiri Pandit employees remained unconvinced and declined to return to work.

What is the PM’s Package?

The Government of India devised policies under the Prime Minister’s Packages in 2008 and 2015 for the Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Migrants to the Kashmir Valley. Under the policy, special jobs were offered to Kashmiri migrant youth with the aim to rehabilitate them.

In March 2021, in a written reply to a question in Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had stated that out of 6,000 sanctioned posts, nearly 3,800 migrant candidates had returned to Kashmir over the past few years to take up government jobs under the PM Package. After the abrogation of Article 370, 520 migrant candidates returned to Kashmir to take up such jobs, it added.

The various components of the PM Package included construction of transit accommodation, financial help in providing housing and a cash relief to Kashmiri migrants, which was Rs 13,000 per family till March 2021.

How it all started in the 1990s

The Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the Valley started in 1990, with the peak between January and March that year.

The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) came into prominence in the mid-1980s with the hanging of Maqbool Bhatt. The political situation in the Valley was quite murky following the death in 1982 of then Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah, known as the Lion of Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah took over but his government was dismissed by the Centre and that led to political instability for the rest of the decade.

In 1986, in Anantnag, the constituency of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed – then in the Congress – there was a series of attacks on Hindu temples, and shops and properties of Kashmiri Pandits by separatists. The election in 1987 after which Farooq Abdullah formed the government again was a turning point at which militants took the upper hand. The election was widely believed to have been rigged. In 1989, the JKLF kidnapped Mufti Sayeed’s daughter and that incident is considered to have marked the beginning of militancy in the state.

Also read: Kashmiri Pandits may get 2 seats in J&K assembly on delimitation panel’s advice

The Abdullah government was soon dismissed and Governor’s rule was imposed. Jagmohan was appointed Governor by the United Front government, of which the BJP was a partner.

Attacks on Kashmiri Pandits increased in 1989 and many prominent community members were shot down by terrorists. Waves of panic hit the community after a local newspaper published an anonymous message, allegedly from the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, asking the Pandits to leave.

On January 20, 1990, the first stream began leaving the Valley with hastily packed belongings in whatever transport they could find. A second, larger wave left in March and April, after more Pandits were killed, as per newspaper reports.

The exodus in government figures

Pakistan-sponsored terrorism forced 64,827 Kashmiri Pandit families to leave the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s and settle in Jammu, Delhi, and some other parts of the country, according to government figures.

According to the annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for 2020-21, as many as 14,091 civilians and 5,356 security force personnel lost their lives to militancy in J&K in the 1990s, when militancy first reared its head in the Valley, and 2020.

Also read: Govt employees protest for 2nd day in Jammu, seek transfer from Kashmir

Besides Kashmiri Pandits, militancy forced some Sikh and Muslim families also to migrate from the Valley to Jammu, Delhi, and other parts of the country, it said.

As per the records of registration available with the Relief and Migrant Commissioner, J&K, at present, 43,618 registered Kashmiri migrant families are settled in Jammu, 19,338 families are settled in Delhi- NCR, and 1,995 families in a few other states and the UTs in the country, the report said.

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