The targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits have once again thrown open the debate about the deep societal divide between communities and the failure of the government to handle the highly sensitive segment in the Kashmir valley, the only large Muslim-majority region of India that has been torn by strife for decades. A fresh wave of targeted attacks, primarily on Hindu migrant workers and Kashmiri pandits, has seen a resurgence after the abrogation of Articles 370 & Article 35A on August 5, 2019. What is alarming is that this time, terrorists have killed pandits who chose to stay in the Valley against all odds and bear the brunt along with the majority community. The blood started flowing in the streets last year with the killing of prominent businessman ML Bindroo. He was shot dead at his medical store in Srinagar. In October, Rahul Bhat was shot dead inside the revenue office in Budgam. On August 18, Sunil Kumar was killed. And Pitambar Nath Bhat nearly escaped death in a murderous attack inside an orchard in Chotipora village of Shopian. On October 15, we saw Puran Krishan Bhat, an apple orchard owner in Shopian district, being attacked just at the gate of his home.
Ray of Hope
The last three decades of uprooting from the valley has only underlined the fact that Kashmiri Pandits have an existential stake in the valley. It’s imperative for Kashmiri Pandits to be physically present in the valley as members of society to claim their stakes in everything that makes their future secure and gives the sense of assurance that they belong to this land, be it political, cultural and spiritual or economic avenues. After spending almost three decades in exile, a ray of hope and the urge to return to their roots emerged in the community slowly and steadily but I see that these targeted killings have derailed those plans and sent a shiver down their spine. In a sincere effort during the Congress regime during the summers of 2010, an attempt to revive age-old relations and bond between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims had started rebuilding. It was mainly due to the sincere and mammoth efforts of civil society, regional political parties and even security agencies. This resulted in 4,500 Kashmiri Pandit employees getting deployed in their native districts of Kashmir. Some of them got accommodated in transit accommodations which were not so healthy and livable spaces and others in rented accommodations amongst the majority Muslim community. A few invested in reconstructing their homes on the lands they own and some invested in new properties.
There is an urgent need for the Central Government and LG administration to revisit its policy in J&K by demonstrating political will and large-heartedness in dealing with the situation. There is a need to understand what went in the favour of Kashmiri Pandits that even during the peak agitations of 2010 and 2016, not even a single Kashmiri Pandit was injured let alone killed. A comprehensive process of serious dialogue with Pandits along with all the stakeholders from the majority community is the need of the hour. The big question that remains unanswered is where will the government settle the Kashmiri Pandits. One group demands a separate homeland. How viable is that? Some seek townships in separate zones. Without communication with the larger Muslim society, how is that going to impart any sense of security given that they have to go out for daily chores?
A New Mantra
If at all anyone in the system wants Kashmiri Pandits to live peacefully and with a sense of security, I do not see that happening without taking local Muslims into confidence. They have been equally facing the brunt of militancy. One need not pitch two communities against each other in the name of “Hindu khatrein main hain” (Hindus are in danger). After my return in 2018, I have derived my sense of security from my local friends from the Muslim majority community. They are equally clueless and worried. They also realise these targeted killings are not in favour of Kashmir’s majority population. The big responsibility despite all odds and threats still falls on the shoulders of the majority Muslim community. They need to shield fellow Kashmiri Pandits from the bloodbath unleashed on them by terrorists. As I always say, reconciliation, and not revenge, ought to be the mantra for everyone; the government, the Pandits and the Muslims.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Kashmir Diary")
Mohit Bhan is with the J&K People’s Democratic Party