After Amarnath terror attack, Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley fear for safety, seek more security

While the Amarnath terror attack has been condemned by everyone in Jammu and Kashmir, it is the Hindus in the Valley who are starting to question their safety.

On 10 July, militants targeted a bus ferrying Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, killing seven and injuring 19 people. This is the biggest attack on the annual pilgrimage since 2000, when 21 people were killed in a grenade attack by militants.

"Nobody will tell you, but the fact is that the attack on yatris has left the Hindu community shattered and apprehensive about their safety,” 62-year-old Bansi Lal, a Kashmiri Hindu, told 101Reporters.

Kashmiri Hindus at a shrine. Photo courtesy: Umer Asif

Kashmiri Hindus at a shrine. Photo courtesy: Umer Asif

His family stayed back in Kashmir when many from his community was forced to flee the Valley amid grave hostility in 1990. A father of two sons and a daughter, he said he cannot stop his children from moving out of Kashmir as he fears anything can happen anytime. Sitting in his ancestral home in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district, he said he wants to live here and die here like his ancestors, but asked how he would calm the frayed nerves of his children now that the militant ideology was gaining acceptance.

“It looks like the era of bloodshed has returned to Kashmir. Earlier, the demand was political and now it has turned religious. Killing in the name of religion has begun with a gruesome attack on pilgrims in Anantnag,” the former government officer said.

It all began on 15 March, when a former commander of militant outfit Hizbul-Mujahideen, Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Musa, released a video. In a message that went viral on social media, he exhorted the Muslims to fight for the implementation of Sharia law and Islam’s supremacy.

“I see that many people in Kashmir are engaged in a war of nationalism, which is forbidden in Islam. It should be exclusively for Islam so that Sharia law is established here,” Zakir was heard saying in the video. Musa became the face of militant forces after former commander Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July last year.

The militants later issued an open appeal to the stone-pelters, asking them not to raise the slogan of "Shariyat ya Shahadat" in Pakistan’s favour anymore. The slogan is the hallmark of global militant groups that reject the idea of nation states and fight to establish an Islamic caliphate.

Threat perception

The mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in January 1990 was preceded by similar virulent campaigns that had turned many Kashmiri Muslims against their Hindu brethren. While the current atmosphere is nowhere close to the hostility of January 1990, Hindus in the Valley perceive some threat nevertheless.

Anil Raina, 35, a Kashmiri Pandit living in old city of Srinagar, told 101Reporters that his family has never faced any danger from the local Muslim populace. “However, the way things are changing in Kashmir is incorrigible. Lagta hai alag hi daur aa gaya hai Kashmir mein. (Seems like a new era has dawned in Kashmir).”

An accountant with a private firm, he said that he vividly remembers how how his relatives, cousins and friends had to leave Kashmir in 1990 when he was just seven years old. His family, however, stayed behind as their neighbours assured them about their safety. But now, he said he would keenly watch the situation and would decide if he should bid adieu to Kashmir and move to some other place.

Sanjay Tickoo, a local Kashmiri Pandit leader who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, said the current circumstances in Kashmir were worrisome for the Pandits living there. He said the attack on pilgrims was a security lapse and such an attack could happen anywhere again.

"Who would guarantee my safety if I am attacked inside my house? My neighbours wouldn’t come for my rescue and I too wouldn’t come for theirs. Ye Kashmir hai, mere bhai (This is Kashmir, my brother.)”

Tickoo said that over 57 Hindu families have left Kashmir since 2008, the year that saw the worst-ever civil unrest since 1990, when separatists called for an agitation against the Amarnath land transfer. He said that was when the Pandits living in the Valley started fearing for their lives and safety and the process of moving out of Kashmir began soon after.

Ashwani Chrungoo, another Pandit leader who heads an organisation of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, Panun Kashmir (Our Kashmir), argued for the need to provide security to the Pandits living in the “volatile” Kashmir Valley. According to him, there are about 808 families of Pandits in Kashmir and their population is about 3,400.

“Providing security to the Pandits living in the Valley should be an utmost priority of the government. You cannot leave these trapped people at the mercy of the current situation, when Pakistan is waging a new proxy war in Kashmir,” he said. He added that the attack on the pilgrims was a clear message given by the militants and Pakistan that they do not want the pilgrimage to take place in Kashmir. “Who knows what their next move could be!”

A senior official posted in state’s home department, requesting anonymity, said the government has already been mulling on providing a security cover to the Pandits living in the Valley. According to him, there are about 1,500 Pandits who work in various government departments and haven’t resumed work since the 2016 unrest broke out. “They are citing security reasons and the home department is already working on their plea. We will act in accordance with the ground situation,” the official said.

For the separatists, however, Pandits living in the Valley are very much part of the society. They said that the Pandits should at no cost feel isolated or threatened in any way.

Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front spokesperson MH Altaf said that Pandits are the rightful owners of the land just like the Kashmiri Muslims and that there is no reason for the community to feel scared.

“There are many Sikhs living in the Valley, they do business in open markets. Pandits in the same way are as much Kashmiris as are the Muslims of the region,” he said.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2017 18:50 PM

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