Pandits who braved 1990 leaving ‘normal’ Kashmir
Several Kashmiri Pandit families that had never migrated from the Valley before are leaving and applying for migrant status following targeted militant attacks, bringing under stress the government’s “all is well” line on Jammu and Kashmir.
“We are not prepared to live there in danger and have shifted to Jammu with our families. Our parents, wives and young kids are in trauma (after the killings),” a group of 13 Pandit families have said in a letter to the Jammu-based relief commissioner for migrants, seeking registration as migrants, which entails financial and other assistance.
More than 4,000 among the 5,554 Pandit employees who had returned to the Valley over the past 12 years under the Prime Minister’s return and rehabilitation package too have fled since the killing of employee Rahul Bhat in May, officials said.
The latest departures are politically more embarrassing for the administration because these families had stayed back during the tumultuous early days of the militancy in 1990 when thousands of their brethren had left.
These families now want official migrant status — granted mainly in Jammu and Delhi — which has been frozen for the past five years on the ground that Pandits face no threat in the Valley any more.
The BJP’s Kashmir Pandit face, Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, on Tuesday acknowledged that the government had failed to protect Pandits who had chosen to live in the Valley, and called for lifting of the freeze on the registration of migrants.
Of the 13 families to apply to the Jammu-based relief commissioner, 10 families had migrated last week from Choudhary Gund village in Shopian after a Pandit farmer, Puran Kishan Bhat, was killed by militants.
“We, the residents of Choudhary Gund, bore the brunt of militancy and shared agonies with our brethren for the last 32 years but the killing of Bhat compelled us to leave the Valley,” their application says.
Three other families had applied for migrant status after apparently leaving the Valley in August.
The Shopian administration has described reports of militancy-driven migrations as “fake” and said that the departures were part of an annual routine of Pandits leaving for Jammu at the end of the harvest season or the beginning of winter.
“The government has made it a point of prestige (by refusing to listen to the Pandits’ pleas for migrant status). I say with regret, there is no attention paid to them…. The genocide is continuing unabated,” Chrungoo told The Telegraph.
He said the government had frozen registrations to discourage fresh migration. “They (Pandit families) cannot be made sacrificial goats (to prove things are normal),” he added.
Chrungoo said the thousands of Pandit employees appointed in Kashmir under the return and rehab policy should also be relocated to Jammu.
The government has so far refused to relocate those who have fled to Jammu, although they have been boycotting their offices and protesting since May. Many of them claim their salaries have been withheld.
A 2020 parliamentary panel report had put the number of registered migrant families from the Valley at 64,827, including 60,489 Hindu families, 2,609 Muslim families and 1,729 Sikh families.
They receive a Rs 10,000 monthly cash assistance and other allowances, besides free accommodation.