Srinagar: Prominent civil society groups of Kashmiri Hindus have expressed concern over increasing violence in Jammu and Kashmir, stating that the region is slipping back to the hostile 1990s when insurgency was at its peak.
The groups of Kashmiri Hindus – or Kashmiri Pandits – said that the safety of minorities is at stake while the administration is unable to secure the population. The renewed fear among the minorities in the region comes days after an unverified letter, allegedly from a nondescript militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI), was circulated online.
The letter was addressed to representatives of the migrant camps in Kashmir, asking them to leave the valley or face harm.
President Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) Sanjay Tickoo said that the issuance of the letter and the target killings of non-Muslims are reminiscent of the 1990s era.
“In 1990, religious minorities were backstabbed and forced to leave Kashmir Valley by creating a hostile environment. A similar condition is created in 2022 to force Kashmiri Pandits/Kashmiri Hindus to leave Kashmir Valley," Tickoo said.
In a statement, the KPSS said even those involved in creating the environment of fear were always small in number. Still, the collective silence maintained by the rest creates a trust deficit between the communities.
Tickoo also accused the authorities of mishandling the situation and failing to provide security to the minority community.
“The safety of minorities is at stake, and the government is least bothered by the situation. This clearly shows that the administration is not interested in saving minorities or incompetent to handle the situation," Tickoo said.
The letter from LeI, believed to be the outfit splintered from Hizbul Mujahideen in 2015 after infighting that ended in the killing of most of LeI cadres, has added to the concerns amongst the fearful community.
Also terming it a return of the 1990s is Satish Mahaldar, the Jammu Kashmir Peace Forum chairman. Mahaldar said the minority community, especially the pandit community, is engulfed in "violence and death".
“I urge brethren from the majority population to come forward and protect the existence and the ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities and encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity," Mahaldar said.
Abandoned Houses of migrant Pandits in Hawal village of Pulwama, South Kashmir. | Photo: Kamran Yousuf
There have been several attacks in Kashmir since October last year in which members of the minority communities were also targeted. In October, which turned out to be the deadliest, over 40 killings were reported, of which 13 were civilians. The killings triggered the migration of around 350 migrant families of Kashmiri Hindus who also fled the valley in the wake of the attacks.
The attacks believed to be carried out by The Resistance Front (TRF), however, also targeted panchayat members, policemen, and non-local workers who also began to shift outside as the attacks happened. Such attacks were again reported in March, in which the individuals from these groups were again targeted.
In April, there were at least five attacks in which seven civilians were injured, and a non-local driver was killed in one incident outside his Kulgam residence. The latest victim of the targeted attacks was identified as Manzoor Ahmad Bangroo, a sarpanch who was killed on Friday.
Recently, a Bollywood movie, 'The Kashmir Files' released in March, divided opinions about the communal harmony in the region, many claiming that the minorities were targeted systematically. However, others, including the mainstream political leadership, argued that all the communities were victimised by violence.
In its latest report on Saturday, the Concerned Citizens Group (CCG) said that they were conveyed by civil society groups that the film seeks to slander, vilify and delegitimise the valley's majority community's pain and suffering of three decades, during which period tens of thousands of youths were killed. "Every family lost a member and has a story to tell. All Kashmiris have suffered, and all need justice," the report said.
The report added that after the official promotion of the film ‘The Kashmir Files’, not only had the remaining Kashmiri Pandits become unsafe in the valley, even mainstream politicians feared for their lives.
“If Kashmiri Pandits are unsafe, do you think pro-India politicians are safe? I think we would be the first in the line of fire of the militants here. And we have become equally unsafe in the rest of India. Anything can be engineered. Anyone can shoot us – all it needs is an emotionally provoked person and one bullet," a mainstream political leader said in the report.