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J&K Terror Attacks: Three Exoduses Later, Kashmiri Pandits Vouch for No Return

Kashmir has been gripped by a renewed spell of armed violence staged by those who the police call “hybrid militants”

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A spate of targeted killings has brought the Pandit community living in Kashmir on the edge. Despite consistent denials by the local administration, evidence is mounting that Pandit families are once again fleeing in hordes, dogged by the fear of being hit by the militants.

Kashmir valley has been gripped by a renewed spell of armed violence staged by faceless assailants who the police call “hybrid militants”.
Snapshot
  • At least, twelve Pandit families are reported to have fled the Chowdari Gund village of Shopian following the killing of a villager

  • Families huddled in the cramped rooms of Jagti, a housing colony in Jammu say they will never return to Kashmir and have already registered themselves under the category of ‘migrants.’

  • Under the Rs 16,000 crores re-settlement plan, at least 4000 Pandit individuals were offered government jobs and transit accommodations so that they can start their lives in Kashmir afresh.

  • Kashmiri Pandit Sanghrash Samiti (KPSS), a body overlooking the welfare of Hindu families in the valley, says, of nine targeted killings of non-Muslims living and working in Kashmir this year, three were Kashmiri Pandits.

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Terrorised by Militants, Kashmiri Families Flee Villages

At least, twelve Pandit families are reported to have fled the Chowdari Gund village of Shopian following the killing of 43-year-old Puran Krishen Bhat, a Pandit villager who the militants gunned down as he was leaving his home on 15 October.

Apart from these 12 families of Chowdhari Gund whose migration has been featured in the media routinely over the last one week, The Quint could trace additional four families which lived in the neighbouring village of Chotigam, also leaving Kashmir under what they describe as “stressful conditions.”

And worse still, the families which are currently huddled in the cramped rooms of Jagti, a housing colony in Jammu where the escaping Pandits have survived the hardships that followed their migration, say they will never return to Kashmir and have already registered themselves under the category of ‘migrants.’
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Fear-Mongering Against Kashmiri Pandits Persists in the Valley

Bhat’s killing has stirred extreme fear among the local Pandit community of which only 808 families are living in Kashmir. In the 1990s, an estimated 66,000 families belonging to the community, migrated in large numbers to the hot plains of Jammu as an armed uprising swept through the valley.

It’s not just the non-migrant Pandits—those who stayed through the turbulent years of 1990s when the militancy broke out who are now leaving the valley, but also those who had returned under the 2008 Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package.

Under the Rs 16,000 crores re-settlement plan, at least 4000 Pandit individuals were offered government jobs and transit accommodations so that they can start their lives in Kashmir afresh.
Kashmir has been gripped by a renewed spell of armed violence staged by those who the police call “hybrid militants”

The rooms of Jagti township in Jammu where the 4 families of Chotigam Shopian are now living amid financial hardships.

(Special Arrangement) 

40-year-old Sandeep Raina, a junior engineer at J&K’s Power Development Department was among those Pandits who had signed up for the return plan with a lot of anticipation. 

For 11 years, Raina says, he had lived a relatively peaceful life in Kashmir barring a few occasions when unrest would break out. “I would temporarily shift to Jammu and then return,” he tells The Quint“But now the situation has deteriorated alarmingly.”

Raina, who landed in Jammu on Saturday, says over the last few years, he had to spend around 3 lakh rupees on seeking readmissions of his 10-year-old son at various schools in Jammu and Srinagar cities as short-lived spells of peaceful period in Kashmir were punctuated by violent cycles of political strife, adding uncertainty to their lives.

“I have seen three exoduses literally. First was when I was 10 years old and when we had to leave Kashmir in early 1990s,” he said. “Second was when we were made to return to Kashmir as part of the PM package. And this is the third one as our family has left the valley once again.”

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No Relief or End to Exodus for Kashmiri Hindu Migrants

An estimated 4,002 persons, out of 5,554, employed under PM’s plan in Kashmir, with most of them being Pandits, have left Kashmir after the killing of Rahul Bhat, a Pandit employee at J&K’s Revenue Department. Bhat was shot dead in May earlier this year, sparking unprecedented protests among the Pandit returnees living across six transit accommodations in Kashmir.

“At most, 90 percent of Pandits living in Vessu camp in South Kashmir have left Kashmir already,” Raina said. “Only those who haven’t been able to get their wards out of the local schools are currently living there. What’s the point of living in such conditions? It’s like being locked up in a golden cage. We couldn’t go out and we were feeling besieged by heightened security drives.”

Kashmiri Pandit Sanghrash Samiti (KPSS), a body overlooking the welfare of Hindu families in the valley, says, of nine targeted killings of non-Muslims living and working in Kashmir this year, three were Kashmiri Pandits.
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The first attack took place in April at Chotigam, a reclusive village on the far end of Shopian district in South Kashmir. The Quint had then visited the village and documented the fear in which the family of Bal Krishnan, a young Pandit pharmacist fatally shot at by the militants, was living. Although the timely hospitalisation had saved Krishnan’s life, his family had grown fearful.

Then in August, militants struck the same village again and this time shot dead Sunil Bhat and injured his brother Pitambar Nath, both local orchardists. Both brothers are cousins of Bal Krishnan who, after being targeted in April, had left Valley permanently and was living in Jammu.

“The administration has failed to protect us and so have the public and the civil society,” said Anil Bhat, Bal Krishnan’s brother. Anil spoke to The Quint over phone from Jagti, where he along with 16 other Pandit residents of Chotigam, comprising 4 families, has been living since August.

Bhat’s story is a case in point as to how the official apathy and absence of any social initiative by the larger civil society has ended up deepening the sense of vulnerability felt by the Pandits, prompting the latest round of departures.

“We begged everyone to save us and do something to safeguard our lives,” Anil says, his voice loaded with grief and anger. “When my brother was shot I wrote to every officer in Shopian. I wrote to the chief secretary, principal secretary as well as divisional commissioner. I told them that we are facing a threat to our lives. But there was no response.”

Kashmir has been gripped by a renewed spell of armed violence staged by those who the police call “hybrid militants”

33-year-old Anil Bhat, pictured earlier this year at his home in Shopian after his brother Bal Krishnan was shot at by the militants.

Credits: Shakir Mir 

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Many Don’t Want To Return to Valley Ever

As Anil’s family was picking the fallen threads of their lives, another tragedy struck. On August 16, his cousin Sunil Bhat was shot dead. Just 9 days after the episode, the families packed their belongings and flew to Jammu, leaving their stuccoed houses and huge apple orchards behind, unattended.

The family told The Quint they own up to 10 acres of orchard land in Shopian.

 “I personally looked after 4 acres of orchard land that produced around 2000 boxes of packaged apple fruit every season, fetching 20 lakh rupees. This was our basic income,” Anil said. “Besides, I also ran a small shop where I sold readymade garments.”

Anil said that all the fruit at their orchards is rotting because there’s no one to pick the apples. “We left a life of contentment in the valley and are living here in small, claustrophobic rooms. We have been borrowing money from one relative after another. Not even a single person from the government has come to see us,” he said.

Kashmir has been gripped by a renewed spell of armed violence staged by those who the police call “hybrid militants”

The official documents seeking the categorisation of the family of Anil Bhat as “migrants” under the aegis of Office of Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, J&K. Till August 25 2022, the Bhat family was regarded as non-migrant Pandits.

Special Arrangement 

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Recently, the Shopian district administration reacted to the news of Pandit families migrating to Jammu, suggesting that it was a routine matter as “Many families migrate after the harvesting is over, due to the onset of winter.”

But Anil’s story, as well as that of those four Pandit families of Chotigam who left with him, belies this assertion as they had taken the departure from Kashmir in August, well before the harvesting season had even begun. “They are lying to save their reputations,” Anil said. “Till the time I am alive, I will never go to Kashmir. It may be a heaven for tourists but not for the local Hindus.”

(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The Wire.inArticle 14CaravanFirstpostThe 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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  J&K   PM Modi   Kashmiri Pandits 

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