“Scapegoats of politics”: Killing of Kashmiri Pandit sparks protests

On May 13, militants killed a Kashmiri Pandit Rahul Bhat inside a government office in central Kashmir’s Budgam. The incident led to outrage in the community who are now threatening to resign en-masse if they aren’t provided safer postings outside Kashmir. 

Since the killing, several Kashmiri Pandits have staged multiple protests across Kashmir, demanding justice as well as compensation for the slain’s family. They have also criticised the government for making them “scapegoats” for their politics.

On May 14, the Jammu and Kashmir administration lathi-charged the protesters as they tried to march towards the busy airport road and later locked them inside their fortified colonies. The protesters, however, continued to shout slogans against the government till late at night. 

The recent killing of yet another Kashmiri Pandit has again sparked fears amongst the community members, many of whom returned to Kashmir about a decade ago under the rehabilitation package, under which the Kashmiri Pandits were assured government jobs and accommodations in Kashmir.

“We trusted our bond with Kashmiri Muslims so much that we knew that our Muslim brothers would kill or die for us,” said Arun Sharma, a Kashmiri Pandit, during the protest against Bhat’s killing.

“But now, we can no longer trust anyone anymore.”

Sharma, a 32-year-old native of Srinagar’s Habba Kadal, has been living in the Sheikhpura transit colony near Srinagar since December 2010.

“After my return, I was scared during the initial years, however, a bond got created with the Kashmiri Muslims,” he said, as he protested against Bhat’s killing.

The Kashmiri Pandits protesting against Bhat’s killing demanded an end to targeted killings and the Kashmiri Pandit community being used as ‘Bali ka bakra’ or scapegoats by the government, said Sharma.

“India thinks that it can gain a hold over Kashmir by putting 4000 Kashmiri Pandits here but that’s not true,” he said. Did the government get us here to die? We are not ready to die like this. Today it was Rahul, tomorrow it will be us.”

A string of targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits since 2021 has caused a sense of fear among the minority community, with many of the community members starting to leave the region. Since the abrogation of Article 370, 14 Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus have been killed, reported The Hindu.

On Saturday, Lieutenant Governor of J&K, Manoj Sinha announced ex gratia for Bhat’s family however, no official statement has been made yet regarding the security concerns amongst the community. 

“J&K administration to provide a government job to Rahul Bhat’s wife in Jammu and financial assistance to the family. The government will bear the educational expenses of the daughter,” Sinha tweeted. He also mentioned that a special investigative team will be constituted to probe all the aspects of the attack. 

With yet another killing of a Kashmiri Pandit, there is an escalated fear amongst the people of the minority community, said a member of Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), who wished to remain anonymous. 

“How come someone can enter a government office that is in the vicinity of a police station and shoot someone like this? Somebody just goes in and kills an innocent person who has no political affiliations,” he said. 

Over 350 government employees in the Kashmir valley, all Kashmiri Pandits, submitted their resignation letters to J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Friday, as a way of protest against the killing. Deputy Commissioner of Budgam however tweeted that no resignation letters were received by the administration. 

“But everything is on social media. Principal Secretary to the LG had come and he said that it is okay if everyone wants to resign. They are reluctant and they are not showing empathy or sympathy toward the community,” said the member of KPSS.

The administration’s reluctance to address the issues will lead to prolonged protests resulting in problems between the Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim communities, he said.

“There are anti-social elements that can speak anything in the protests and move out.”