Several Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley have been on a fast-unto-death since the last four days. For past several weeks, leaders of the community have been petitioning the government to provide 808 Pandit families, who chose to stay on despite adverse circumstances, with financial assistance and jobs, but no action has been taken so far.
Since the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A, after which, many businesses wound up due to law and order crisis, curfew and communication blockade, a lot of Kashmiri Pandits lost their jobs.
Subsequently, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the remaining families, already living under mounting debts and increasingly difficult situations, to the brink.
Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), is one of the people on a fast-unto-death. He said the community has never been in such dire financial stress.
"I don't know how, and whether at all, we will be able to survive the winters. We have a situation where, with the onset of winter, our people don't have money to buy warm clothes. Grocery shop owners have stopped extending credit to our families. There are 454 families where the breadwinners used to work in the private sector. Those families are languishing right now and people in the administration are not ready to listen to us," Tickoo said from 200-year-old Ganpatyar Temple in Srinagar where he is staging the protest.
He gave examples of several Kashmiri Pandit families who have been pushed to the edge by financial distress.
"There is a boy from his community living in Kulgam. He is a post-graduate. To support his family after it lost all sources of income, he was working as a labourer in an apple orchard on a daily wage of Rs 700. But now with the season having ended, he's having trouble finding a source to support his family of five, which includes his six-year-old specially-abled daughter," Tickoo said.
There are many such cases of desperation, he added, across the Valley. "Kashmiri Hindus living in the Valley have become non-entities for the BJP which used to praise our sacrifices in its political rallies," he added.
Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley, he said, are not demanding charity from the government. “All we are asking the government is to give jobs to people of our community based on their qualifications and provide financial assistance to us. This is not a favour. The Ministry of Home Affairs and high court have already recommended these measures more than once. People here are already cutting down on their rations. I don’t know how long we will be able to survive with such apathy from the government towards us,” Tickoo added.
KPSS had called off a similar hunger-strike in September after the administration agreed to address their demands. According to a statement issued by the outfit, it was forced to resort to fast-unto-death as local bureaucrats stalled efforts to grant financial assistance to the community members.