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'Fear at The Top of My Mind': Terror-stricken J&K Kashmiri Pandit Employees Not Buoyed by Govt's Words

By: Mufti Islah


Last Updated: May 17, 2022, 21:48 IST


Since the killing of Rahul Bhat, the Kashmiri Pandit employees have held simultaneous protests in all the districts of the Valley. Pic/News18

Since the killing of Rahul Bhat, the Kashmiri Pandit employees have held simultaneous protests in all the districts of the Valley. Pic/News18

Speaking to News18, protesting employees welcomed the relief given to slain Rahul Bhat's family but said they were not willing to work in the Valley

Teachers Shivani Pandita and Ajay Raina shudder to think of rejoining their duties in Pulwama after the killing of Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employee in Chadoora.

Pandita teaches at Lethpora — not far from the 2018 suicide bombing site where 40 CRPF men were killed. Raina serves at a school in Samboora, a village that has witnessed many encounters in the past. Both the places are 10 kilometres apart but they admit the areas become tense whenever any militancy incident occurs in the Valley.

“I don’t think I would be able to return to my school. Its location is such that it is easy to keep a watch on us from the top of the road. I am more scared after Rahul’s killing. I just can’t focus on my job,” she said, appearing disturbed.

Raina agrees. He says he is afraid to turn up at the school.

“Our Muslim colleagues say we will stand by you, but can they do anything when someone whips a pistol from his pocket and fires?” he said.

Raina is candid and says over the last few weeks he concentrates more on the school gate than the blackboard. “I suspect every stranger who walks past the gate. My eyes are fixed on their pockets thinking what if they take out a weapon?” he added.

A few weeks ago, when minorities were targeted across the Valley, he was scared stiff when a sturdy man made an entry into the school wearing a scooter helmet.

“For a moment my heart began to pound heavily but it turned out he was a parent of a student,” he said. “Fear is at the top of my mind all the time.”

Raina, Shivani, her friends Dr Aabha, Shweta, and Vikas Raina have been staging a sit-in near the Badami Bagh military cantonment with scores of Prime Minister’s special package employees for the last six days. More than 4,000 Pandits have been specifically recruited into government services on the condition that they will serve in Kashmir. The employees have signed a bond that they will keep their jobs if they serve in all the 10 districts of the Valley.

Since the killing of Bhat, the employees have held simultaneous protests in all the districts of the Valley. At Badamibagh, the protesters held aloft placards that read “We are not animals but human beings” and “Relocate all minority employees to outside Valley in risk-free areas like Jammu, Chandigarh and Delhi”. The employees have been putting pressure on the government to move them out of the Valley till their security concerns are addressed and they are not killed like Bhat.

“We have the right to life and the right to livelihood, but life is more important. We are prepared to work tirelessly and with dedication but we don’t want to die of bullets,” Vikas Raina, a teacher, told News 18. Raina demanded as a first step the administration should do away with the bond that binds the employment of the KPs to the Valley. “We were fine with it for the last 10 years when no one was harmed but now we are being selectively targeted in offices and schools. Should we get killed for this bond?” he wondered.

Bhat was killed in the Tehsildar office in Chadoora while two teachers, Supinder Kaur, a Kashmiri Sikh woman, and Deepak Chand, a Dogra from Jammu, were gunned down at a Srinagar school last year. The spate of killings, be it of minorities, migrant labourers, cops and politicians, has spread fear among the KPs living in Kashmir. Bhat’s daylight assassination has shaken the employees given that he was killed in a “relatively secure office”.

To allay the fears of the employees, Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha had recently conceded almost all demands of the package employees in a bid to retain them in the Valley.

In his meeting with BJP and Gupkar Alliance leaders, Sinha said the Pandits would be posted near tehsil and district headquarters and their security would be thoroughly reviewed. His administration had earlier attached the station house officer of Chadoora and promised to punish cops who had sanctioned the cane charge and lobbing of smoke shells on KP protesters on Friday. He also announced a government job in a “safer” Jammu for Bhat’s wife besides taking care of her daughter’s education expenses.

As a follow-up, Kashmir’s divisional commissioner PK Pole and inspector general of police (IGP) Vijay Kumar sat beside the Pandit employees on Tuesday to persuade them to stay put in the Valley. Pole assured that the government was working to provide them with a secure posting within a week’s time while Kumar advised them to be a bit patient “as militancy was on the decline and would be further weakened by relentless security operations”.

“You not staying back in Kashmir would mean terrorists and Pakistan have succeeded in their designs,” he told a gathering even as Pole looked pensive.

“We will bring down the number of militants to less than 50 and then there would be no fear,” he said, adding that an SPO and his brother were killed in Budgam by militants recently and that did not force their families to leave the Valley.

But Vikas Raina, the lead coordinator at Badamibagh, said the killing of militants or Pakistan’s designs to effect the migration of employees should not be mixed up with the security issue.

“We are not soldiers who can fight. We are small employees who are willing to work anywhere provided we are made to feel secure. Under these circumstances we don’t feel secure,” he said. “If the J&K government gives us in writing that no harm will come to any employee we will rethink.”

The protesting employees have welcomed the relief given to the Bhat family but they are not willing to work in the Valley. “Agreed, the administration would shift some employees to the tehsil and district headquarters but how will it deal with the teachers who are posted in remote corners?” a schoolteacher said to News 18 but refused to give her name.

As of now the stalemate between the employees and administration continues. “We are not rejoining duties in the Valley,” the teacher added.

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first published:May 17, 2022, 21:17 IST
last updated:May 17, 2022, 21:48 IST