NEW DELHI: Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir took to the streets for the tenth day in a row on Sunday, demanding relocation from the region and saying the government had failed to provide them security following the killing of a community member.
Scores of minority Hindus in India’s only Muslim-majority region, locally known as Pandits, have been staging protests after militants allegedly killed Rahul Bhat, a Hindu government employee, inside an office complex in Chadoora on May 12.
Police said two militants had entered Bhat’s office and fired at him. He was then taken to hospital, where he later died.
The protests began a day after the fatal incident, and mark the first time Pandits have organized simultaneous demonstrations in the disputed region. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the territory in full and ruling it in part.
“Our main demand is that the government should relocate us outside Kashmir,” Sanjay Tickoo, head of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, told Arab News.
Around 6,000 Kashmiri Pandits employed by the government need to be relocated, Tickoo added.
“The government has failed to secure the lives of the people in Kashmir. All these big talks by the Indian government have failed to bring any positive change in the valley.”
Hundreds of thousands of Pandits were forced out of Kashmir when a revolt erupted against Indian rule in 1989. Many lost homes and livelihoods, and later lived in camps across India.
Officials have worked on resettling Kashmiri Pandits, and thousands returned in 2010 under a government resettlement plan that provided jobs and housing.
In 2019, the government under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomy and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. As push for resettlement continues, some say the government is not doing enough.
“Be it Muslims or Hindus, no one is secure in the valley,” Satish Mahaldar, chairman of Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, told Arab News.
Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and leader of Peoples Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, said the Kashmiri Pandits “have all the reasons” to protest.
“The BJP had claimed that with the abrogation of special status the situation will become normal and Pandits could return safely. But the opposite has happened,” Mufti told Arab News, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
She said the government must “initiate steps for reconciliation” to improve the situation in Kashmir.
Srinagar-based Sandeep Koul, whose family lived for generations in Kashmir and stayed throughout the 1990s violence, said the feeling of insecurity has only deepened in his community.
“We feel more insecure in the valley now than in the 1990s,” Koul told Arab News. “This new Kashmir is not secure for us, it is not secure for anybody.”
Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, a Kashmiri-based BJP leader and a member of the Kashmiri Pandit community, told Arab News: “It is not possible to provide security to each person and every hour.”
But he said he is “with the Kashmiri Pandits at this time of distress.
“Many things have changed in Kashmir valley, but the situation of Kashmiri Pandits has not changed much.”