Protest by Kashmiri Pandits Under PM Employee Package Completes 240 Days, No Sign of Relocation
Kashmiri Pandits raise slogans during their protest demanding their relocation after alleged targeted killings of Hindus in J&K, outside Raj Bhawan in Jammu, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. IMage Courtesy: PTI
Kashmiri Pandits who have been part of the PM Employees Package have been protesting in Jammu since June 2022 because of the targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley.
Sweta, a woman in her early thirties was raised in the Army Cantonment in Kashmir, and never had the chance to witness the Valley in its raw self until the year 2016. She was working in the Finance Department and used to look after the salaries of the PM Package Employees in the Valley. Today, she, along with her husband and a four-year-old daughter, is compelled to protest on the streets of Jammu.
The PM Package for Kashmiri Pandits was supposed to be a programme that reinstated the minority Kashmiri Pandits back in Kashmir after their exodus in the 1990s. However, as much as the Package lured the Pandits back, they were not able to sustain themselves there – owing to the targeted killings. In May 2022, Rahul Bhat was killed while he worked at the tehsil office in the Budgam District of Kashmir.
Soon after this, Rajni Bala, a teacher in Kulgam District’s Government High School, was killed outside her workplace. A few days later, Vijay Kumar, a worker at a bank was also targeted and killed. These targeted killings left Kashmiri Pandits feeling unsafe in the Valley. Many have left all their belongings behind to move to Jammu. rescue to them.
Following a few closed-door meetings in Jammu, Kashmiri Pandits have demanded relocation of their allotted posting. Sweta said that she has been leading the protests for the demand and it has now complete about 250 days at a stretch. “A lot has changed since June. We are more determined now but are tired of the false assurances that the members of the ruling regime keep giving us,” she said.
A month or two into the protest, a notice was issued by the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir where he stated that biometric entry was now mandatory for all government employees across the Valley. This meant that the salaries of the Pandits who had relocated now had to be stopped.
“Many families here have to pay the rent both for the house in Kashmir where our belongings are and here in Jammu. The same goes for the education of the kids whose fee we paid back in May in Kashmir, and after coming here, we are paying the fee in Jammu,” explained Sweta. For the ones who have not received their salaries in the past six months, managing health expenses has also been difficult.
Such is the case of Chand, a Kashmiri Pandit who is suffering from liver fibrosis. His wife and daughter both confirmed that he has been under a lot of stress due to their poor financial condition. Chand has not received his salary for the past five months and has now exhausted all his savings.
Many Kashmiri Pandits have now returned to the Valley. Amit Bhat, a middle-aged man from Indranagar is one of them. “Many people who resided in Srinagar and the neighbouring areas chose to return to the Valley thinking that it was the only place where they could find a solution to their problems. Also, because we were financially broke now,” he told NewsClick.
However, the protesting Pandits have alleged that the LG of J&K was using the temporary return of these pandits to project normalcy in the valley. They clarified that their return was due to the fear of loss of job and financial crisis; not because they felt any safer.
“We are not safe here; it is our helplessness that has made us come back to the Valley. Here, the situation is such that we do not even go to the office every day. We just go twice a week. We are also refraining from conversing much with anyone. Every time we step out of the house, we are scared,” said Bhat, who also told NewsClick that the government’s assurances have not mitigated Kashmiri Pandits’ fears.
A Kashmiri Pandit covered under the PM Package said that some departments – sympathising with the situation of the Pandits – were still releasing their salaries without letting the Divisional Administration know about it. This continued for a while until GAD (General Administration Department), the body handling the PM Package employees, declared that biometric attendance during the start of the day and at the end was mandatory. The Pandits claim that this change in policies was in order to curb their protests.
“Until now, at least 2,500 letters have been written in total by individuals to the PMO, but they have received no reply. Meetings with the MPs and other party representatives have also been done but all in vain,” said Sweta. On January 8, a delegation of the BJP from Jammu is scheduled to meet with the Home Ministry officials. The Pandits on January 6 held a protest outside the BJP headquarters at Jammu. This was their third protest outside the headquarters. As of now, no relief or written assurance of relocation has been given to the Pandits, and until that happens, the dream for the 4,500 Kashmiri Pandits to settle in the Valley will remain unfulfilled.
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