Why are terrorists targeting Kashmiri Pandits who were rehabilitated under the PM's special package?
Does a 36-year-old Kashmiri Pandit, appointed as a class IV orderly under Prime Minister’s special rehabilitation package for the displaced population in 2010 and promoted as a Junior Assistant in the Jammu and Kashmir Government’s Revenue Department in 2020, pose a threat to the militants’ political cause? Yes, because Rahul Bhat had grown exceptionally popular among the resident Muslims in Budgam on account of his dedication to duty, conduct and mannerism.
“He was the most intelligent, hardworking, dutiful and people-friendly official of my staff”, Nusrat Aziz, formerly Tehsildar of Budgam and currently Tehsildar of Anantnag, said. “His performance was wonderful for all the 18 months of his duty in my office, particularly during the lockdown after J&K’s reorganization in August 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic. He handled much of our work at Srinagar airport”.
“Last year, when he was posted in Budgam, he got my Economically Weaker Section (EWS) certificate prepared within a few days. It remains valid for a government job application for one year. This year, when Bhat had been transferred, the Revenue officials in Budgam wasted my two months with the formalities. They don’t understand a word of the concerned Government Order. I am still waiting for the certificate which may take two more weeks. We all miss Rahul Bhat badly”, Mujtaba Hussain of Budgam, looking for a government job, said.
A demonstration of Kashmiri Pandits protesting the killing of Rahul Bhat near the migrant transit camp Sheikhpura Budgam being dispersed by Police and security forces with baton charge and tear gas. The demonstrators seeking justice shouted slogans against the govt & the BJP. pic.twitter.com/46oSD6QcXv— Ahmed Ali Fayyaz (@ahmedalifayyaz) May 13, 2022
Bhat was gunned down reportedly by two local terrorists, Aquib Shergujri and Lateef Rather, at his office at Chadoora, in Budgam district, on Thursday, May 12. Terror outfit, ‘Kashmir Tigers’, which according to official is a front for the jihadist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad, claimed responsibility of Bhat’s assassination and alleged that he was “neck-deep in corruption”. The residents and Bhat’s colleagues do not endorse the allegation.
Bhat’s attributes made him the militants’ first target in Chadoora—the first among 4,000-odd recruits under PM’s package in Kashmir since 2010. His public image ran contrary to what the militants and separatists have been spreading about the Kashmiri Pandits since August 2019. He unwittingly neutralised their narrative.
Ahead of Bhat’s posting in Chadoora, Justice Sanjay Dhar of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court struck down the ‘distress sale’ of some land measuring 7 kanals and 5 marlas, owned by two resident Pandits, Madusudan Razdan and Ashok Razdan at Ropora Namtahal, Chadoora. The District Magistrate of Budgam as custodia legis of the displaced Pandit properties issued orders of dispossession and the Muslim buyers lost a multi-million property.
Such judicial and executive orders terminating the disputed sale deeds after 20-30 years for alleged violations of the Jammu and Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997, have created a level of mistrust between the resident Muslims and the displaced Pandits in the last two years. The losing buyers may not necessarily conspire with the insurgents but the possibilities of the militants exploiting such a situation are not ruled out.
Under such circumstances, it sounds dangerously indiscreet to transfer and post the Pandit employees of the PM’s package at the valley’s most vulnerable places like Chadoora. This is the place where Hizbul Mujahideen terror Khalid-e-Sani spread a wave of terror with multiple killings in 1997-2000, where a Station House Officer was shot dead in broad daylight and where hundreds of civilians, beginning with ex-MLA Mir Mustafa, have been killed in the last 32 years.
Some social media posts of the separatist ecosystem, intercepted by the Police, have identified the migrant employees of the Revenue and Sales Tax departments as the first priority targets. A narrative has been created that these officials are issuing domicile certificates to outsiders, helping the Pandits retrieve their lands from the Muslim buyers and planning to restore cinema and liquor businesses which have been closed down by militants in January 1990.
Of the 16 minority community members—school teachers, street vendors, non-local workers and traders—killed in terror attacks after August 2019, five were Kashmiri Pandits. Sarpanch Ajay Pandita Bharti was shot dead at Luka Bhawan in Anantnag on 9 June 2020. Chairman Municipal Committee Tral Rakesh Pandita was gunned down at Tral on 2 June 2021. Chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead at his pharmacy in Srinagar on 5 October 2021. Chemist Bal Krishen aka Sonu was left critically injured at Chotigam Shopian on 4 April 2022. Revenue official Rahul Bhat fell to the terrorists’ bullets at Chadoora on 12 May 2022.
The victims also included three non-Kashmiri Hindus living in Kashmir for decades: Jeweller Sat Pal Nischal (killed on 1 January 2021), Krishna Dhaba owner’s son Akash Mehra (28 February 2021) and resident Rajput Satish Kumar Singh who was shot dead in Kulgam on 13 April 2022.
The first migrant colony was established in Kashmir 20 years back at Sheikhpora, Budgam. In 2010, the first batch of the PM’s package beneficiaries was accommodated at Sheikhpora. Bhat was one among them. He and his family had survived the first massacre of the resident Pandits when seven of the minority community members were killed at Sangrampora in March 1997.
While some like Bhat’s family escaped to Jammu, others were settled at the district headquarters of Budgam. Bhat is the first from Sheikhpora to fall to the terrorists’ bullet.
In the last 12 years, around 4,000 migrants have been appointed in different government services under the PM's special rehabilitation package. Some of them live at private rented houses in Srinagar and other places but most of them have been accommodated at so-called Migrant Transit Camps at Sheikhpora Budgam, Haal Pulwama, Vessu Kulgam, Mattan Anantnag, Nutnusa Kupwara and Veerwan Baramulla. At several places, their presence at public offices and schools is being seen as an indicator of normality and an epitaph on the separatist militancy.
Hundreds of such employees are also living in privately rented houses in Srinagar, around 50 in Sheikhpora-Humhama.
A candle light march for the slain Kashmiri Pandit Rahul Bhat at Migrant Transit Camp Sheikhpura Budgam tonight. pic.twitter.com/Tf0HjWNnwQ— Ahmed Ali Fayyaz (@ahmedalifayyaz) May 14, 2022
According to official statistics, 2,105 displaced Pandits have got government jobs under the PM’s special package and returned to Kashmir after 5 August 2019. The Central government said in reply to a question in the Parliament on 6 April 2022 that 14 Hindus, including 4 Pandits, had been attacked and killed in Kashmir since 5 August 2019. Eleven of them were killed in 2021 alone. The Government disclosed that 34 Hindus had been killed in terror attacks in the previous 5 years.
The first written threat post-2019 circulated through letters in Baramulla in the middle of April 2022. The visibly scared community submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla, seeking security for their life and posting at safe places. However, the first killing occurred in Budgam.
Around 600 migrants were given appointment orders during the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit on 23-24 October 2021. Appointment orders for around 500 Sub Inspectors and Assistant Compilers in Sales Tax and Fund Office Kashmir were issued on 24 October 2021. While the terrorists are hounding for them in the field, authorities have spent seven long months to complete their verification and service books. They have not received any salary in the last seven months.
Out of a total of 6,000 posts announced under the PM Package, nearly 3,800 Kashmiri Migrants were rehabilitated with government jobs in Kashmir till March 2021. Of these, 520 candidates returned to Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. Such announcements indicate change of atmosphere in Kashmir but simultaneously make these appointees, posted in distant towns and villages, vulnerable to terror attacks. Out of the 6,000 dwelling units approved at an estimated cost of Rs 920 crore, 1025 have been constructed at safe places till March 2021 and 1,488 were still under construction.
It was only after Bhat’s assassination that LG Manoj Sinha announced that all the migrant employees would remain posted at district and tehsil headquarters.