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Why the Kashmiri pandits are fleeing after being reinstated

The Kashmiri pandits were expelled from the disputed territory of Kashmir in the 1990s. Years later, the Indian government launched an employment programme and provided secluded accommodation for them. But in light of increased militancy and targeted attacks, they have been forced to flee once again. 

Due to the rise of militancy and calls for killings against the pandits in Kashmir in the 1990s, several families had to migrate to Jammu, Delhi and other regions in India; most of these families were Hindu or pandits, and a minority of those who fled were Muslim and Sikh.

Some of these families returned after 2008, when the Indian government released an employment package program; this program provided employment, grants for constructing houses, accommodation, cash relief, and even scholarships for the children in these migrant families.

In March 2021, as part of a written reply to a question in the parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs claimed that about 3,800 pandits had been posted in the Kashmir valley out of 6,000 posts that had been made under the program.

Although, on 31st May, Kashmiri pandit employees that were reinstated in the valley under a Prime Minister employment program threatened a mass migration if the government failed to move them to a safer location- preferably for a period of two to three years until it became safer for them to reside in.

Why are the pandits fleeing again?

One resident told the Indian Express, ‘At times, there seems no purpose to these gated colonies. Every day, we have to move out for work, without any security. Our children have to go to school. We may be safe during the night, but we are vulnerable during the day.’

After the community threatened mass migration, multiple transit camps were sealed off the next day. Barricades were put up outside colonies and security personnel checked vehicles to ensure no pandit left.

This was following the murder of a Hindu teacher, Rajni Bala, by terrorists in the district of Kulgam. Not only this, another incident that led to their call for relocation was the killing of Rahul Bhat, which took place right inside a district office on 12th May.

For this reason, on 3rd June, hundreds of pandits hired vehicles and left the camps of Vessu, Mattan, Sheikhpora, Baramulla, and Kulgam before the first light of day.

One resident of the Mattan camp told The Hindu, ‘We do not feel safe after the recent killings. Out of the 96 families living in the Mattan colony, only a dozen are left behind. They too will leave this place in (the) coming days’.

And with this, in a span of twenty-four hours, the Jagti camp in Jammu received 120 pandits just from the districts of Baramulla and Kupwara.

What is being done to protect the pandits?

In light of these demands to be relocated outside of Kashmir, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has ordered for all pandit government employees to be transferred to ‘safer locations’ within the valley.

Unfortunately, people fear that no place in the valley can be safe enough for them and demand to be transferred to Jammu or another region outside the valley.

Kashmiri pandit activist Mohit Bhan said in an interview to the Diplomat that in the case that the government undertakes the relocation of the pandits outside of the valley, ‘all this facade of normalcy and the credit of abrogating Article 370, 35A for the betterment of Kashmir and so many other things would fall flat.’

Regardless, once the transfer list of 177 pandit teachers was released, it got leaked on WhatsApp and other social media apps.

Following this, ruling party BJP’s Jammu & Kashmir unit demanded that strict action be taken against those officials responsible for the leak as it has made Kashmiri pandits vulnerable to targeted killings.

In light of this leak, an imaam from Anantnag’s Jamia masjid denounced the killings of the Hindus during a sermon and called for the members of the majority population to condemn these killings and offer protection to the minorities.