Kashmiri Pandit employees under Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package (PMRP) are up in arms with the J&K administration after Lt Governor Manoj Sinha asked them to return to Kashmir without which their salaries will not be disbursed. He also dismissed the demands that they be relocated to the Jammu division for the time being.
The employees have not been attending their duties in protest against the spate of targeted killings that have rattled the valley since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.
As per Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, nine Pandit persons have been killed in various militant attacks in J&K in the last two years. Four of them died this year alone.
Kashmiri Pandit employees under Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation are up in arms after J&K Lt Governor Manoj Sinha asked them to return to Kashmir without which their salaries will not be disbursed.
The employees have not been attending their duties in protest against the spate of targeted killings that have rattled the valley since abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.
Earlier in May, the militants affiliated with The Resistance Front group, shot dead Rahul Bhat— a Pandit employee posted at the Revenue Department office in Budgam district.
The safety issue of Pandits cropped up again after the militant group TRF issued a 'hit list' consisting of names of 57 employees working under the PM’s Package in Kashmir.
A Spate of Targetted Killings Sparked Protests Among Kashmiri Pandits
“We have cleared their (protesting employees’) salaries till 31 August but it cannot be done that they will be paid their salaries by sitting at their homes. This is a loud and clear message to them and they should listen and understand it,” Sinha told reporters.
Earlier this year in May, the militants affiliated with The Resistance Front (TRF) group, shot dead Rahul Bhat— a Pandit employee posted at the Revenue Department office in Budgam district. Bhat’s killing sparked a massive agitation within Pandit employees launching valley-wide protests and sit-ins, demanding action against culprits as well as stronger security mechanisms to forestall further attacks.
Under the Rs 16,000 crores re-settlement plan, around 4000 Pandit individuals were offered government jobs and transit accommodations in 2008 so that they can restart their lives in Kashmir.
These Pandits are categorised as ‘migrants’ because they were part of 66,000 families belonging to the community that migrated in large numbers to the hot plains of Jammu in early 1990s as an armed uprising swept through the valley.
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There are around six such transit camps across Kashmir where these employees are living. But since Bhat’s killing in May, most of them have left for Jammu where they have been regularly participating in protests against the administration.
According to the protesting employees, the J&K government has been withholding their salaries because they have not been attending work. The Pandit employees are demanding to be temporarily shifted to Jammu until the security situation in Kashmir becomes stable.
Earlier this month, the issue of the safety of Pandits cropped up again after the militant group TRF issued a 'hit list' consisting of names of 57 employees working under the PM’s Package in Kashmir. These employees' names appeared in the blog ‘Kashmir Fight’ which has been linked to militant activities in the valley, has led to a police probe as well.
On Wednesday, Sinha said that all relevant security arrangements have already been put in place. He added that all Pandit employees were already relocated to district headquarters in Kashmir whereas those working in the rural development department have been transferred to villages close to Tehsil and district headquarters.
Sinha said that the government has appointed special officers in every district to look into the grievance of the Pandits.
Sinha said he sympathised with the employees, but added, “The minority employees should also keep in mind that they are employees of the Kashmir division… Like a district cadre employee of Poonch cannot come to Jammu, those of the Kashmir division, too, cannot be posted here. Everyone should understand this.”
But his comments have only inflamed the agitated Pandits further. Over the past two days, Pandit employees have doubled down in their seven-month-long protests. On Friday, around 200 employees held a protest sit-in outside the BJP office in Jammu.
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Demonstrations have also taken place outside the Press Club in Jammu.
“If only Lt Governor was aware of the ground-level situation in Kashmir, he would not have spoken the way he has,” one employee who did not want to be identified told The Quint over the phone from Jammu. “They don’t know where these threat letters and hit-lists are coming from.”
A flurry of purported threat letters from the TRF groups have been in circulation on social media in Kashmir over the last few weeks. One of them has leaked the names of Pandit employees. A second letter prints the list of names of assembly constituencies in-charge of the BJP’s J&K unit. A third letter surfaced on Thursday, in Divar village of Tral area in South Kashmir. The letter was full of bluster against the local Sikh community.
“For all these years that we lived in the Valley, we never raised any issue,” the Pandit protester added. “But now we are facing a life-threatening situation.” Asked if their salaries have been released, he said, “Some of the employees were given salary till the month of August, others till September and October.”
The protesters said they are aware that their concerned departments are a deficit of manpower in their absence. “We do get regular communications from our offices,” the Pandit protester said. “But at the same time security agencies ring our phones and tell us that we need to be careful and vigilant as they have received inputs about the attacks. So how can we return? I was living at Sheikhpura camp in Budgam along with 300 other Pandit employees. All of us have left except 30 who are still there.”
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Kashmir-based Pandit groups too, have slammed the Lt Governor for his remarks. “It looks like he is unaware of the reality of Kashmir,” said Sanjay Tickoo, President of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a welfare body that looks after the interests of 800 remaining Pandit families.
“He is being fed wrongly by his secretaries. His style of working is such that not only Pandits but people living across J&K are annoyed with him. Whatever he is feeding to the Home Ministry is doubtful. His officers are spreading misinformation that everything is under control. J&K Director General of Police recently gave a statement that Tral region is militancy free. But yesterday morning, a threat letter published on behalf of the TRF group against Sikhs surfaced. Where did these guys come from? Pandits have genuine concerns when it comes to safety and security.”
(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The Wire.in, Article 14, Caravan, Firstpost, The Times of India, and more. He tweets at @shakirmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)