THE targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits underline the deep societal divide between communities in the predominantly-Muslim Kashmir valley. This new wave of attacks, mainly targeting Hindu migrant workers and Kashmiri Pandits, started after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. The terrorists have killed Pandits who had chosen to stay on in Kashmir against all odds. It began last year with the killing of prominent businessman ML Bindroo, who was shot at his medical store in Srinagar in October.
On May 12, terrorists shot Rahul Bhat inside the revenue office where he worked in Budgam. On August 18, militants killed Sunil Kumar and injured Pitambar Nath Bhat inside an orchard in Chotipora village of Shopian. On October 15, Puran Krishan Bhat, who owned an apple orchard in Shopian district, was attacked just outside his home.
The new breed of terrorists are mostly locals, who have been radicalised. The question is why Kashmiri Pandits are targets? Because they are the real bulwark against the radicalisation of Kashmir and represent the revival of the plural-rich Kashmiri ethos and culture.
Kashmiri Pandits have an existential stake in the valley. They have to be physically present there as stakeholders and day-to-day participants in the socio-economic, political, cultural and spiritual ethos. They represent Kashmir, which was considered the abode of Saraswati, the highest seat of learning in India and was also referred to as Sharda Peeth. So much so that students graduating from Kashi would take four symbolic steps towards Kashmir, denoting their aspiration for higher learning.
Rajatarangini, an authoritative historical tome on the royal lineage of Kashmir, written by Kalhana in the 12th century, outlines the greatness of Kashmiri Pandit King Lalitaditya, whose kingdom in the eighth century extended from the Caspian Sea in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south, and included Assam in the east. Kashmiri Pandits draw lineage from Sarangadeva, considered the father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music, and Acharya Abhinav Gupta, one of the greatest scholars of all times, who wrote 46 literary classics, including the renowned Abhinav Bharti.
Three decades after living in exile, when the community was slowly and steadily coming to terms and many in the new generation had started unearthing and rediscovering their roots in the Valley, targeted killings have derailed their plans. In 1989-90, when the anti-India insurgency was just beginning, several Pandits in Srinagar and other towns in Kashmir were killed by militants. It triggered an exodus of Pandits from the Valley to Jammu and other parts of India.
But post-2010, societal relations between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims had started rebuilding, thanks to the efforts of many people. This helped 4,500 Kashmiri Pandit employees get deployed in Kashmir, of whom around 1,100 live in transit accommodations and the rest in rented spaces. Some of them had started investing in the reconstruction of their homes on the lands they own.
The government says major terror groups, with their masterminds sitting across the border, are worried over the sea change that has come in the situation in the Valley. Despite protests and demands by Pandit employees, the Centre has decided not to allow the mass transfer or relocation of these employees from the Valley to the Jammu division.
Contrary to the claims of the authorities, the ground situation in Kashmir is very grim. The infiltration has neither come down nor have the authorities succeeded to stop the targeted killings. The Pandits are sandwiched between the so-called national interests of the two rival states, one of which claims to be the world’s largest democracy. While the iron-fisted policy of the Centre has brought the number of militant attacks on the security forces down, it has not brought any difference to Kashmiri Pandits, who again became soft targets. It is significant to mention that after 2003, the killing and targeting of Kashmiri Pandits had largely stopped because of the engagement and building of societal relations.
Let the terrorists and their supporters in Kashmir realise that annihilation of the Pandit community means destroying their own existence, as they represent the link to their history. No community or nation can exist without its history. They need to understand that Kashmiris, irrespective of religion, have a shared culture and society.
It is hoped that the Central Government shall revisit its J&K policy by demonstrating political will and large-heartedness in dealing with the Kashmir situation. There is a need to attend to societal relations along with finding ways to rehabilitate and provide security to Kashmiri Pandits in their homeland.
To quote what former PM IK Gujral once said: “For the illustrious Kashmiri Pandit community, which has contributed a great deal in shaping the nation, building a democratic, progressive and secular India, if the coffers of the country are to be emptied for them, it would still be a small price to pay.”
There is a need to start a structured dialogue with Pandits to design a comprehensive and time-bound package for return and rehabilitation in three smart cities. It shall not take more than two to three years for its implementation.
It would be in the interests of justice to constitute an SIT under a retired Supreme Court judge to probe the killings in Kashmir and expose the communal cleansing. The extremists have sought to project the conflict in Kashmir as a religious one. Islamist militants, for instance, supposedly target Pandits because they view the community as loyal to India, by virtue of their being Hindu. This mentality can be defeated only by promoting and reviving composite Kashmiri culture through a series of elaborate steps.
There is also a question — will settling Kashmiri Pandits into separate regions, devoid of interaction with Muslims, secure them? If the government is keen to safeguard Pandits, it is not possible without taking local peace-loving Muslims into confidence. The local Muslims also need to shield their Kashmiri Pandit brethren from bloodthirsty terrorists.
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