The killing of Rahul Bhat has exposed chinks in the Modi government’s Kashmir policies and raises questions about its claim that normality has been restored in the valley.
There is nothing normal in the valley and the Centre, which is under the impression that it has an impermeable policy in place on Kashmir, seems to be seriously faltering. Rahul Bhat, a 35-year-old Kashmiri Pandit working in the Union territory’s Revenue Department, was eliminated by two men, whom the police said were terrorists. The killers effortlessly accessed Bhat’s office room, pumped five bullets into him and then left as easily as they came.
Bhat’s family has made some very serious allegations. These are: i) he was desperately trying for a transfer from a far-flung area where he was posted, which the Divisional Commissioner was denying; ii) he had expressed apprehensions about his security, which were ignored; iii) he was denied a promotion; and iv) after the killing, neither the DC, nor Bhat’s colleagues cared to meet his family or come out in their support.
The question is: Why? And the answer, perhaps, can be found in the incidents that took place after Bhat’s killing.
Scores of Kashmiri Pandit government employees took to the streets seeking a meeting with Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha. All they wanted was to convey to him their concerns about their own security. Employed under the PM’s package, the Kashmiri Pandits have been working in a difficult environment in the offices, including an all-pervasive fear of antagonising any colleague or officer or neighbour. Even a little slip on their part can make them a target.
The protesting employees wanted to share these concerns with Sinha. They were marching peacefully and raising slogans for Rahul Bhat when the J&K Police suddenly showered them with tear gas shells, brutally lathi-charged them and thrashed some of them.
Towards the evening, the gates of their transit home colony in Sheikhpura were closed by the police and the Kashmiri Pandits were not allowed to move out. All this while, the Lt. Governor was some 45 km away in Sopore-Baramulla attending some local functions. And then he preferred to go to Jammu instead of meeting the anguished minority community to listen to them.
The local administration must stop ignoring the concerns of the minority community. Many have been posted in remote areas where the security of the minority community is a matter of serious concern.
After the killing of Deep Chand, a government school teacher in Srinagar in October 2021, it was decided to step up the security provided to the minorities and transfer those working in remote areas to district centres. But nothing of this happened and instead, several employees, including Bhat, were posted far away.
Many of these employees and community members are living in rented accommodation in villages, a fact that has been brought to the notice of the administration and security officials. The pleas have been continually ignored. Transfers are not being done and even promotions that are due are withheld. Despite the Pandit employees taking up these issues, the treatment meted out to them has been that of neglect, which their leaders say is deliberate.
The insensitivity of the local administration has been exposed in the case of Bal Krishan, a Kashmiri Pandit, who was shot at in a Shopian village on April 5. Some leaders of the community have alleged that when Bal Krishan’s family approached the Divisional Commissioner for help to temporarily shift them out from the area, the officer categorically denied them any consideration.
A Flawed Package
Rahul Bhat was one of the hundreds of Kashmiri Pandit migrants who took up jobs in Kashmir under the PM Package. Time and again these employees have been demanding the revocation of the “unconstitutional bond” they were “forced to sign” at the time when they were appointed. The terms of the bond make it mandatory for them to serve only in Kashmir.
Because of this bond, the Pandit employees have been alleging that they are being exploited by the J&K administration, which is using them as “scapegoats”.
They say it is a “bondage package” and point out that if the administration was really serious about improving their economic condition, then this package should be implemented in Jammu and not in Kashmir. The Pandit community members claim the scheme has failed and has made them cannon fodder.
If the local administration has not been lending its support to the minority Hindus, the Central Government and the ruling party have been equally negligent. None of the BJP MPs or Central ministers touring the UT has ever visited the migrant camps where the beleaguered community continues to live.
The community has been demanding rehabilitation; the Centre has not even been able to formulate any policy on the matter. Three decades (including the nearly eight years of Modi rule) after the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, the Centre is fumbling with its Kashmir policy.
Waiting for Justice
It does not know how to rehabilitate the minorities back in their place of origin; it has failed to investigate the terror crimes committed on them; and it has not been able to decide on forming an SIT or Commission to probe the exodus.
The government has also failed to protect the land, houses, temples and other religious institutions of the Kashmiri Hindus from being encroached upon or grabbed. It has also failed to implement the Distress Sales Act, which was meant to provide for the preservation and protection of Kashmiri Pandit-owned property and supporting their owners so that they were not forced to make distress sales.
It is a minuscule minority in Kashmir, whose existence is now under threat, yet the Centre has not been able to take any step to ensure the safety of the original inhabitants of the valley and preserve a culture whose roots go deep into history.
The J&K Delimitation Commission has failed to provide any space to the community as was evident from the gazette issued on May 5. A press note released by the Commission mentioned two nominations for the migrants, but the absence of the provision in the gazette seemed like a cruel joke.
The plight of the Kashmiri Pandits has been a poll plank for right-wingers, but when it comes to action, the determination to do something meaningful seems to desert these self-proclaimed supporters of the community.
For the Modi government, the parameter for the return of normality in Kashmir is the number of tourists visiting the valley. The ease with which the terrorists are killing Kashmiri Pandits, non-locals or Muslims belies the government’s claims.
There’s no normality yet in Kashmir. The genocide has not ended. Rahul Bhat’s killing has made it amply clear it is continuing as it was in 1989-1990, when the administration was absent, politicians were biased and the political will was lacking. Kashmir continues to suffer. (Agency)