Srinagar, October 14: A string of recent targeted killings of civilians in Kashmir has inspired fear among minority communities in the Valley, with many saying that the situation is reminiscent of that in the 1990s, which saw an exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley.

Following the fresh attacks on minorities, around 150 families have packed their bags and left the Valley. Among those who returned to Jammu are government employees, who are currently staying away from their work because of security concerns and are seeking transfers.

Some families staying behind in Kashmir have been provided with tight security and were issued verbal instructions not to venture out after the evening. For example, these days many minority shops and business establishments in Srinagar close immediately after dark.

Aditya Raj Kaul, a journalist, tweeted on October 7: “Most minority establishments in Srinagar, Kashmir, today shut by 7pm. This is near heart of the city, metres away from Lalchowk. Need of the hour is for LG @manojsinha_ and all top officials to go on ground and be with Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs. Don’t let another exodus happen.”

Ravinder Pandita, founder of Save Sharda Committee, told Moneycontrol that during the past two weeks 150 families have returned to Jammu. “I believe these assailants who have killed civilians are connected to the land mafia because these days the government is acting tough against land grabbers who had illegally occupied the land of Pandits since 1990.”

Between October 2 and 7, 2021, a series of civilian killings rattled the Kashmir Valley. Out of seven victims, two were Kashmiri Pandits, three were Muslim, one was a Sikh woman and one a non-local Hindu.

According to the police, 28 civilians have been killed this year so far, of which seven were non-Muslims.

People in the Valley question if this is an early sign of the fallout of events in Afghanistan? However, Pandits believe that the killings are not new but have been happening since 1989.

“These attacks have been happening for the last 30 years. For instance, in March 2003, more than 20 Kashmiri Pandits were killed at Nadimarg, a remote village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The intention is to do ethnic-cleansing of minorities, mostly Kashmiri Pandits,” said Ashwani Kumar Churungoo, president of Panun Kashmir, an organisation founded by Pandits in 1990.

"But this time, there will be no exodus like in the '90s because those who had left Kashmir are mostly government employees posted in the Valley. Once the situation returns to normal they will go back," Churungoo added. Talking to Moneycontrol, Churungoo suggested that neutralization of militancy and support of Muslim majority will help stem the attacks on minorities.

BJP state general secretary J&K Ladakh Ashok Koul said that the onus to protect Pandits in Kashmir is on Muslims. “No doubt the situation has been bad but it will improve. However, Muslim majority has to play a vital role to bring confidence in Pandits so that they will stay in the Valley,” Koul said.

Among the 150 families who returned to Jammu was a 36-year-old senior government employee posted in central Kashmir. “On October 11, when I left the Valley, I recounted the memories of 1989 when the exodus took place and we left Kashmir," he said on condition of anonymity. "It was raining cats and dogs when I along with my family boarded a bus to Jammu. The latest situation has created fear psychosis due to which most of the Pandits have developed mental illnesses,” said the employee who was posted in Kashmir in 2010.

He added that Pandits are reluctant to return to the Valley because of the security situation in Kashmir. “The latest militant attacks have aggravated the fear among Pandits. Therefore, I urge the government to transfer Pandit employees to Jammu so that they live peacefully.”

Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, called it the return of 1990, the year which saw migration of Pandits from the Valley in large numbers. “Such is the fearful situation that I call my brother who is staying in Kashmir after every hour to see if he is fine.”

Tickoo, however, quickly added that the mobile phone communication and extensive support from the majority community has this time pacified Pandits who are now thinking of returning to their homes in the Valley.

Tickoo’s organisation represents over 800 Kashmiri Pandit families that chose to stay in the Valley at the height of militancy. He added that out of 4,000 employees, nearly 2,000 have temporarily left the Valley after a series of attacks this month.

During 1989-90, lakhs of Pandits were compelled to leave the Valley (they moved mainly to Jammu), after some members of the community were targeted following the eruption of militancy in 1989.

But about 800 families had decided to stay back despite the troubled security situation. Most of these families had returned to the Valley under a rehabilitation policy announced by the then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005.

Among them was a 68-year-old chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, who earlier this month was shot dead by militants near his medical shop at Iqbal Park in Srinagar.

Following Bindroo’s killing, his son Dr Siddharth Bindroo told mediapersons: “My father gave his four decades to the service of Kashmir without expecting anything in return. He was engaged with his business and was killed for no reason.”

Earlier this month on October 7, a Sikh principal and her Pandit colleague were shot dead inside their school in the Eidgah area of Srinagar. Two days before this incident, on October 5, three civilians – ML Bindroo; Virendra Paswan, a street food vendor from Bihar; and Mohammad Shafi Lone, a taxi driver in north Kashmir’s Bandipora – were killed in three separate militant attacks. On October 2, two civilians, Majid Ahmad Gojri and Mohammad Shafi Dar, were killed in two separate militant attacks.

Five of the six attacks happened in Srinagar city, where militant activities have intensified after revocation of Article 370.

The Resistance Front (TRF) militant outfit, which as per police came into existence after the J&K lost Article 370, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Meanwhile, political parties accused the government and said the situation in J&K has gone from bad to worse.

For now, the government seems to be adopting reactive policies instead of taking preventive measures. To nab the attackers, J&K police, led by Army and paramilitary troopers, carried out raids and detained more than 900 youths - especially those booked previously in militant and stone-throwing cases have been picked up in various districts of Kashmir.

In the meantime, security forces have also launched multiple anti-militancy operations in Srinagar, Bandipora, Shopian, Awantipora and Anantnag police districts where within 72 hours, 13 militants were killed in six encounters.

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