Conflicts & War

Hindus in Indian Kashmir staring at second exodus after targeted killings

By Shah Abbas

Srinagar, India, June 6 (EFE).- Hundreds of Hindus, who had returned to Kashmir amid government’s normalcy claims in the troubled region, have again fled their homes, fearing for their lives amid a spate of targeted killings in India’s Muslim-majority region.

The Hindus, locally called Pandits, were among over 76,000 families that left the Kashmir Valley due to threats in 1989-90, when an anti-India armed rebellion started in the disputed region.

Since August 2019, militants have targeted Pandits and non-Kashmiris, after the federal government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party abrogated the region’s semi-autonomous status.

The controversial move sparked apprehensions that the government was trying to change the demography of the Muslim majority region.

Over the last few years, more than 6,000 Pandit migrants returned to Kashmir under a special government package to “empower” the migrant Hindus.

At least nine persons, including Pandits, non-Kashmiri workers, and cops, have been killed in multiple targeted attacks by suspected militants in the last two months, the police records show.

On June.3, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a group of Hindus that stayed in the valley in the early 1990s, wrote to the chief justice of the region, calling for protection of the religious minorities.

The government has claimed it took “stringent” security measures in and around the Hindu colonies and the localities where the migrants under its rehabilitation program reside.

According to eyewitnesses, security vehicles and mobile bunkers have are around these camps and localities, and curbs imposed on the free movement of people.

“We are living like prisoners especially since May 12, when Rahul Bhat, a revenue department Hindu employee, was killed in his office in central Kashmir’s Budgam district,” Avinash Bhat, a government teacher, told EFE.

He said the migrant employees in Kashmir now do not dare to step out.

Avinash was part of a 23-member committee that met federally-appointed governor of the disputed region, Manoj Sinha, regarding the concerns of the migrants.

“We met Sinha but unfortunately nothing has come out,” a disappointed Avinash said, adding “disheartened” Hindu employees started leaving Kashmir after May 13 without caring for their jobs.

“Around 2,000 migrant employees have left in panic, including at least 20 of my relatives, friends, and acquaintances,” Avinash said.

Others questioned the policies of the authorities in dealing with Kashmir.

Satish Mahaldar, a migrant Pandit who heads the Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Return of Migrants (RRRM), a nonprofit championing the cause of migrants from the valley, said the revocation of the region’s semi-autonomy changed nothing in Kashmir, despite the government claims on the contrary.

“It has worsened the situation and Kashmir has become a playground for all the regional players,” said Mahaldar.

Several Pandits feel the commoners have become “canon fodder” in the Kashmir problem.

“Along with Pandits and non-locals, local Muslim citizens are also being killed every now and then,” Jawahar Lal, a resident of southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district, told EFE.

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