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1990 or 2021, Hindus Remain Soft Targets in Kashmir

Despite steps taken by the Modi government, recent killings have jolted the hope of return among Pandits.

Published
Opinion
7 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Makhan Lal Bindroo's family conducting his last rites.&nbsp;</p></div>
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(The recent civilian killings in Kashmir have rattled the Union Territory and set off a flurry of speculations. The Quint has published diverse opinions on the subject to present a broad view of the situation to its readers. You can read other views here)

The fresh spate of killings of the minorities in Kashmir has ruptured the semblance of peace and vitiated the overall environment. It also exhibits that the government of India’s invalidation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution doesn’t automatically translate into neutralisation of Islamist terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has widely publicised a hunky-dory picture of Jammu & Kashmir while not paying much heed to the ever-growing radicalisation, particularly in Kashmir.

The killings of Makhan Lal Bindroo and Virendra Paswan on 5 October 2021, followed by Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand on 7 October, by Islamist terrorists in Srinagar have sent shock waves across Kashmir. These are reminiscent of the targeted killings of Hindus in 1989-90, when the armed insurgency against India, in which many Kashmiri Muslims actively participated and were backed by Pakistan, had just started in Jammu and Kashmir.

Makhan Lal Bindroo, Supinder Kour, and Deepak Chand were citizens of Jammu & Kashmir, whereas Virendra Paswan was from Bihar.

Such killings raise questions about the nature of the 'freedom' movement in Kashmir which is often presented as the struggle for rights and justice around the world not only by terror sponsors but also by many academicians and intelligentsia.

So far, The Resistance Front (TRF) has claimed responsibility for the targeted killings. However, the killings of Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand are counter-claimed by another terrorist group, Geelani Force whereas the Islamic State (J&K) has released a video claiming responsibility for the murder of Virendra Paswan.

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The Meaning of Targeted Killings

Makhan Lal Bindroo lived with his family and ran a pharmacy store in Srinagar. He was one of the few Kashmiri Pandits who had decided to stay back in Kashmir after the onset of terrorism in 1990. He remained part of Kashmir’s ecosystem all these years. Despite that, he was not spared by the terrorists. This suggests that Kashmiri Pandits who have stayed back in Kashmir can be touched by terrorists. The unsaid code — Pandits (especially non-displaced) won’t be harmed — no longer holds.

A poor street vendor, Virendra Paswan, from the Bhagalpur district of Bihar, was killed. This validates the fact that outsiders aren’t welcome in Kashmir if they want to make it home — even if temporary — and earn their bread in one way or the other. They are welcome only as tourists who should spend their currency in Kashmir.

The ‘local versus outsider’ thought has been infused by mainstream Kashmiri politicians and then further fuelled by Kashmir-based media. Member of Parliament from Srinagar and former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Dr Farooq Abdullah, while addressing a rally in April 2019, said, “They think that they will bring people from outside, settle them here in Kashmir, reduce our population. Will we keep sleeping? We will oppose it, Inshallah. We will stand against it.” There are many statements by other politicians where you will find similar undertones that instils the ‘othering’ of non-Kashmiris.

Recalling the Massacre of 35 Sikhs

Supinder Kour, a Kashmiri Sikh woman, was the Principal of Government Boys Higher Secondary School, Eidgah, in Srinagar, whereas Deepak Chand was a Hindu teacher in the same school. Terrorists barged into the school, lined up all the teachers, checked their identity cards, singled out these two non-Muslim teachers, and shot them dead.

A Sikh’s killing in Kashmir is a first after a long time, the last being the massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpura in Anantnag by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) on 20 March 2000. Importantly, the Sikh community in Kashmir has lately been very vocal about the forced conversions of Sikh girls to Islam.

Last month, on 17 September, off-duty policeman Bantoo Sharma — who was a non-displaced Kashmiri Pandit — was killed in South Kashmir’s Wanpoh area. One should recall the earlier killings of Ajay Pandita (Bharti), Sarpanch – Lok Bhawan, on 8 June 2020, and Rakesh Pandit, Municipal Committee Chairman (Tral), on 2 June 2021, by terrorists in South Kashmir. Both were Kashmiri Pandits and got killed because they tried to integrate into the social milieu through participation in grassroots democracy.

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Atmosphere of fear

Back-to-back attacks on minorities have created an atmosphere of fear in Kashmir. These killings are particularly distressful for the Pandits currently living in Kashmir — non-displaced Pandit families who didn’t leave their homes in the 1990s (and braved the most turbulent period of Kashmir) and Pandits who are currently working in Kashmir (largely under the Prime Minister’s employment package).

Under the Prime Minister’s package, around 4,000 Pandits have joined government departments in various parts of Kashmir in the last decade and have been living with their families either in transit camps provided by the government or rental accommodations. Fearing for their lives, many have quietly come back to Jammu.

The non-displaced Pandit families are closely watching the emerging situation and hoping that the Jammu & Kashmir administration will take immediate steps in ensuring their safety. The valley-based Pandit organisation, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarash Samiti (KPSS), has written a letter (dated 5 October) to the Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant-Governor, Manoj Sinha, regarding the security of Hindus living in Kashmir. Sanjay Tickoo, President of KPSS, wrote, “From last more than ten days there is an input that the businessmen and prominent faces from non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus living in Kashmir Valley will be eliminated from Kashmir Valley and concerned agencies are in deep slumber.”

Support for Jihad

Targeted Hindu killings in Kashmir are unlikely to happen without support from local elements. That is the modus operandi — be it the 1990s or 2021. Let’s not forget the fact that there is still tacit support to jihad in Kashmir from several sections of the population. Even after losing scores of their own men and women, there is somehow social sanction to participation in the so-called 'holy war'. One has to look beyond the Dal Lake and the Tulip Garden in Srinagar and examine this ground reality. That it’s only Pakistan that does everything in Kashmir is a half-truth. The neighbouring country does sponsor jihad, but a good part of it is homegrown too, fuelled by radicalised sections — many are ‘misguided’ Kashmiris. Until we don’t address the radicalisation that has existed for more than three decades, jihad won't go away from Kashmir.

The bloodshed of 'infidels' at the hands of Islamist terrorists seems never-ending in Kashmir. It may pause for a while, and that may look like a long pause, but it will continue. In 1989-1990, targeted killings of many Hindus happened in Kashmir such as Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, Justice Nilakanth Ganjoo, Kashmiri poet and writer Sarwanand Koul 'Premi', Advocate Prem Nath Bhat, Lassa Koul, and Professor Nilakanth Raina.

By the end of 1990, most of the Pandits had left Kashmir. The minorities, who stayed back were targeted again in the 1990s and early 2000s which included the horrific massacres of Sangrampora (Budgam) in 1997, Wandhama (Ganderbal) in 1998, Chittisinghpura (Anantnag) in 2000, and Nadimarg (Pulwama) in 2003.

After all, the Jihad in Kashmir — like any other Islamist terrorist movement in the world — is the war against 'infidels' or 'apostates'. Jihadi elements operating in Kashmir may feel emboldened after the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan.

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Silence of the Indian State

The government of India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is focusing on a ‘Naya Jammu Kashmir’, which was initiated through the annulment of Article 370 on 5 August 2019. Be it the 1990s or 2021, the Indian state has failed to provide a basic sense of security to Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. Even after intelligence inputs, the authorities couldn’t thwart the latest killings in the Srinagar city.

When jihad erupted in Jammu and Kashmir during 1989-90, Pandits became the primary, soft targets. Facing persecution, most Pandits had to leave their homes in Kashmir. Three decades later, Pandits are becoming soft targets once again at the hands of terrorists. If the government of the day can’t ensure security to the Pandits in Kashmir, who will?

The killing of Makhan Lal Bindroo — like the targeted killings of Ajay Pandita (Bharti), Rakesh Pandit, Bantoo Sharma — happened under Modi's watch. The promises of a homecoming of the entire community are pure hogwash if the government fails in protecting a small number of Pandits currently living in Kashmir.

The mainstream in Kashmir is at odds with the measures taken by the Modi government in the last couple of years. The government’s course corrections in Jammu and Kashmir, especially which look favourable to Pandits, have displeased several sections among the Muslims. In other words, if Pandits are given their genuine rights and empowered in their homeland, it does not go down well in Kashmir. Remember that a Pandit is a Hindu, and living symbol of India, in a Muslim-majority Kashmir.

There is No Jagmohan

On a day when two non-Muslims (Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand) were killed by terrorists in Srinagar, India's Minority Affairs Minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, was seen riding a pony in Doodhpathri. Perhaps that is how he was taking care of the minorities in Kashmir and sending a message that all is well. The image of Naqvi riding a pony defined the imperviousness of the Modi government.

It was Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 and then Vishwanath Pratap Singh in 1990 — now, it is Narendra Modi in 2021. There is sadly no Jagmohan. Except the hollow condolences and banal assurances, there is a deafening silence of the Indian State over Kashmir. The haplessness of Kashmir’s minority hasn’t ended yet.

(Varad Sharma is a writer and political commentator. He is the co-editor of a book on Kashmir’s ethnic minority community titled ‘A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits’, published by Bloomsbury India. He tweets @VaradSharma. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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