Back in the 1990s when we were leaving everything behind in order to save ourselves, our women and children, we hadn’t thought we were leaving for good. The general feeling was that everyone will be back when things calm down. 32 years have passed since then and yet we are still nowhere close to going back.
Repeated promises were made by successive governments about resettling the Kashmiri Pandit community back but as years went by, so did these false promises. Then in 2008, after nearly 20 years of our exodus from the Valley, government jobs were created for migrant Hindus in an attempt to start a process of bringing us back to Kashmir under the “Prime Minister’s Employment Package”. Today, more than 4000 Hindu employees are working for the J&K government under the package in more than 40 state departments.
Post 1990, Hindus in Kashmir have been living in fear because of the dreaded memories of the exodus. After the abrogation of Article 370, Hindus (Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri) have been repeatedly targeted and killed in an attempt to create panic and terrorise them to leave the Valley. In the recent spree of terror attacks in Kashmir, among the Hindus targeted, are the employees of the state government working under the PM package. They are being killed by the terrorists in cold blood.
Last year, two Hindu employees of the state government were shot dead inside their school in Srinagar. Terrorists stormed into the school and specifically targeted teacher Deepak Chand and principal Supinder Kour after checking their identity cards.
This year, it started in April with the killing of Satish Singh, a Dogra Hindu, who was shot dead at his home in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Then in May, Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Hindu employee working under the PM package, was gunned down right inside his Budgam office, leaving behind his grieving wife and two children. A series of targeted killings began after his murder.
Weeks after Rahul’s killing, another Hindu employee of the state government, school teacher Rajni Bala, was shot dead right outside her school gate in Kulgam.
Less than a week after Bala’s death, Vijay Kumar, a bank manager (not PM package) who hailed from Rajasthan, was shot dead inside the bank in Kulgam district.
Following the killings, widespread protests rocked cities like Baramulla, Ganderbal, Anantnag, Budgam, Srinagar and Jammu, with the protestors demanding relocation to the Jammu region until the situation in Kashmir is safe and conducive for them to come back.
Since Rahul’s killing in June, more than 4000 employees of the PM package, working for the administration of LG Manoj Sinha, are in protest for nearly 200 days and are not willing to go back until their demands are fulfilled. While no heed has been paid to the plight of these employees, they have also been deprived of their salaries.
While some of the departments have released salaries till the month of September, most of the employees have not been paid since July.
In September, the office of the deputy labour commissioner, Kashmir, issued a notice asking for the attendance record of the absent employees and seeking an explanation for their absence. In October, a similar notice was issued by a government high school in Kupwara, asking for an explanation for the absence of Hindu employees not taking classes.
In November, the office of the Baramulla tehsil supply officer, and the office of the Anantnag sales tax department, issued notices asking the absent employees to return to their duties and explain the reason for their absence.
There are more than 40 state departments that come under the administration of lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha. While issues and orders like the above were released by a few departments independently, there has not been a single communication from his administration asking the protesting employees to resume their duties.
The readers should imagine:
— On one hand, these employees are being targeted and killed by terrorists, the state and security agencies have no clue how to save their lives.
— There has been no formal order by the J&K administration asking the employees to resume their duties.
— No formal order by the administration means no one wants to take responsibility for these employees once they’re back.
— On the other hand, the salaries of these employees have been stopped, leaving them with the only choice of starvation.
Such is the insensitivity shown by the current government towards these employees — most of them Kashmiri Pandits. There was a hope that the state might show some sensitivity and release the salaries of these Hindu employees on the festival of Deepawali, but no such order ever came. These actions are seen as pressure tactics by the government to bring these employees back to Kashmir.
The decades-long suffering and pain of the Hindu community were brushed under the carpet by successive governments since our exodus in the 1990s. For about 32 years, there was not even a genuine debate about our genocide, let alone acknowledging it or rehabilitating us back.
In March 2022, an attempt was made to show the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus on celluloid. ‘The Kashmir Files’ rattled the entire Left cabal in India and abroad, calling the film to be government propaganda aimed at spreading hate against Muslims.
Two days ago, an Israeli filmmaker, Nadav Lapid, created an uproar on social media and among political circles when he called the film “vulgar” propaganda. Lapid was the head of the jury at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which was held in Goa. Coming from a man belonging to the Jewish community which has been a victim of Islamist terror for a long time, Lapid’s comments came as a shock to millions of Indians. But to us, as a community, nothing of this sort comes as a surprise or a shock when all three branches of the Indian state, including the judiciary, have failed us. “Too much time has passed” is what the Supreme Court of India said on the issue of getting justice for Kashmiri Hindus.
What is happening with thousands of Hindu employees under the so-called “Hindu Sarkar” is beyond insensitive. It’s cold and merciless. Caught in the crossfire of terrorism and politics, these 4000 employees have children and families to protect and feed. Every time there are elections, we are used as fodder to gain political traction, lofty promises are made to gather votes but as soon as the elections are over, we are forgotten. This has always been the modus operandi of all political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
These killings and the government’s insensitivity have rubbed salt in our wounds and made us think about whether the doors to return home are closed forever. Or maybe, they were always closed. We feel like cannon fodder, we feel like the sacrificial lambs of the Indian state, nothing more.