The security guards carrying Ak-47 rifles are guarding the road leading to Sheikhpora Pandit migrant quarters in Budgam, around 15 km from Srinagar. The high-security buildings for Kashmiri pandit employees, posted in different areas, are close to the Srinagar Airport. At the gate is posted a photo of Rahul Bhat, reading “Shaheed Rahul Bhat, stop innocent killings, justice for Rahul Bhat.”
On May 12 this year, Rahul Bhat, who was working in the revenue department, was shot dead inside the office premises in Chadoora village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
According to the police, on May 13, they killed two terrorists involved in Bhat's killing in a gunfight in Bandipora.
Bhat's killing, however, triggered a wave of protests by the minority community employees posted in Kashmir as they sought relocation to Jammu.
At the gate of the migrant quarters, the CRPF jawans are not letting outsiders inside the migrant quarters unless they have permission from the district police. Most of the employees, who were putting up at Sheikhpora, have gone back to Jammu.
200 Days of Kashmiri Pandits' Protest
Following target killings in the Valley, Kashmiri migrant pandit employees are demanding their relocation to Jammu and are protesting for it in Jammu for the past two 200 days.
Outside the BJP headquarters in Jammu on Friday, Kashmiri pandit employees gheraoed the BJP leaders showing anger against Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s statement that those who don’t work will not get a salary.
The protest compelled BJP leader Kavinder Gupta and BJP president Ravinder Raina to say that there are not enough security measures in place in the Valley for the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits.
Former Deputy Chief Minister of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state and senior BJP leader Kavinder Gupta said that the situation in Kashmir should become such that pandits should feel safe to return to the Valley. “We appeal to the government that they should see the situation and they should also see how the government can save the lives of Kashmiri pandit employees. It is not right to give such a harsh statement after taking feedback from a few people,” Gupta said alluding to the statement of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha.
Employees already got a 'breathing period:' LG Manoj Sinha
On December 21, Sinha addressing a rare press conference in Jammu and said that since May these Kashmiri pandits are on strike. “I have tried with honesty to resolve their long pending issues. They wanted to have a secure workplace. I shifted almost all of them to the district headquarters for posting. We have appointed an officer in every district to listen to their grievances,” he said adding that structures have been constructed or some are under construction and they would be given around 1200 houses in Kashmir till April next year.
Sinha said the employees after leaving the Valley asked for a ‘breathing period’ after they meet him and the government allowed them the same till August this year. “But we cannot pay them if they are sitting at home. Let this message go clearly and loudly. They are Kashmir division employees and they cannot be posted in Jammu,” the L-G said. However, he said they are trying to form some policy.
'Sit-in for security, not just salary... We are in a state of war'
Kavinder Gupta said since 1990 no government has stopped the salary of Kashmiri migrant employees. “They are not on the sit-in for the release of their salary. They are here seeking security. The BJP is appealing to the government to give the conducive atmosphere (to the employees) in Kashmir and then they will not refuse to go there,” Gupta said.
“We don’t have to send our brothers and sisters there to get killed for the sake of it,” he added. “You make the atmosphere conducive in Kashmir,” Gupta said. “We will be soon talking to the Centre about this issue. This is a very serious issue,” he added. As Kashmiri pandit migrant employees expressed dismay over the Lt Governor’s statement accusing him of not knowing the situation of Kashmir since the 1990s, Ravinder Raina said Kashmiri pandits have all along fought against “tukde tukde gangs” in the country and outside the country. “I talked to Lt Governor and I asked him that he should call the representatives of Kashmiri pandit employees and reserved category employees.”
“Rahul Bhat was killed inside the office. I am appealing Lt Governor with all humility to have a meeting with Kashmir pandit employees posted in Kashmir and listen to them. Once you hear them you will realize the ground situation,” Raina said, adding that bureaucrats have failed to give a detailed briefing about the situation. Raina said Kashmiri Pandit employees and those reserved categories posted in the Valley will not be left alone. “Jammu and Kashmir is fighting a war for the past 35 years. We are in a state of war,” Raina said.
“If the need arises we will take you along to Delhi for the talks. We will not allow anyone to make you a scapegoat. We are with you and your demands are justified,” Raina said amid cheers from Kashmiri pandits. Raina asked the government to make a proper transfer policy for them and relocate them. “For the past 15 years they were working in Kashmir and they have never been away from their jobs,” Raina said adding that Lt Governor should formulate a relocation and transfer policy for them.
Government's failure to create a 'conducive atmosphere' in the valley
Kashmiri Pandit leader Dr. Agnishekhar, who joined hundreds of Kashmiri Pandit employees, who were shouting “LG Go Back,” says these people wouldn’t go to the Valley as situation is not conducive there. “It is sad to see Lt Governor Manoj Sinha talking so harshly. These children are not talking about salary but their lives. We don’t expect this should happen in the BJP rule,” Dr. Agnishekhar said. “They are not sitting at home but they are on sit in for the past 200 days.”
National Conference President Dr. Farooq Abdullah said the reluctance of Kashmir Pandits to return back to Kashmir deflates the incumbent government claims of return of peace to Jammu and Kashmir.
While speaking at a function in New Delhi, Dr. Farooq Abdullah said, “Unless New Delhi doesn't amend its past mistakes, return of peace to Jammu and Kashmir will remain elusive. If peace was restored in Kashmir then why Kashmiri pandit employees are not re-joining their duties in Kashmir? To make the matters worse for them, the protesting pandit employees are being told that they would either be sacked or their salaries won't be paid if they don't rejoin duty.”
“They cannot get away with lies. A lie has no legs,” Abdullah said.