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‘Won’t quit govt jobs’ — Kashmiri Hindus fleeing Valley after killings say ‘we want safety’

Hundreds of Kashmiri Hindu govt employees have left the Kashmir Valley over the last 10 days in the light of alleged targeted killings by terrorists, and returned to Jammu.

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Jammu: In 2018, Sandeep Bhat’s pursuit of a government job finally yielded results. He was appointed as a school teacher at Manigam village in Kashmir’s Anantnag district. While Bhat moved to a rented accommodation in Mattan, a town located around 10 km from his workplace, his wife and two children stayed back at their permanent residence on the outskirts of Jammu city.

Four years later, on 3 June 2022, Bhat packed his bag, left Anantnag and journeyed overnight to return to his family in Jammu — his departure driven by fears about his life.

Following alleged targeted killings of Kashmiri Hindu government employees over the past few weeks, many migrants have left the Valley.

“Our lives are in danger,” said Bhat Saturday speaking to ThePrint. “It is shameful that most people who protested so much over The Kashmir Files movie are not showing the same kind of solidarity with us in such tough times.”

Vikas Hangloo, 34, employed with the power department of Kashmir, too, returned to Jammu on 3 June under similar circumstances.

Working in Kashmir’s Srinagar district since 2010, Hangloo was among the first batch of people from outside the Valley who got a government job in Kashmir under a special employment package announced by then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as part of a long-term rehabilitation plan for Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out of the Valley in the early 1990s.

Vikee Pandita, another school teacher working in Anantnag, returned to Jammu on 2 June after having worked there for 12 years.

Bhat, Hangloo and Pandita are among the hundreds of Kashmiri Hindu government employees who have left the Kashmir Valley over the last 10 days in the light of the targeted killings, and returned to the Jammu region.

Government records show that as many as 5,928 government employees from the Jammu region are posted in Kashmir.

A senior government official, who wished to not be named, said that around 2,500 to 3,000 of these have returned to Jammu in the past 10 days.

However, according to the All PM Package Employees Coordination Committee, a union of Jammu division residents posted in government jobs in the Valley, of which Hangloo is a co-founder, this number is as high as 5,000.

Hangloo told ThePrint that his first 10 years in the Valley were “mostly fine”. There were some isolated incidents of militants attacking civilians, violent protests triggered by the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani, and turmoil caused by the Union government scrapping Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir. But, he added, the “kind of fear that we are experiencing now is unprecedented”.

And while they wait in their Jammu homes for the government to give in to their demand to be relocated to safer postings and fight for their rights, they know one thing — they are not giving up their government jobs. “All we are demanding is safety and security,” said Bhat.

Also read: No threat to Dogras’ — Kashmir Hindu teacher killed was scared but ‘told to resume duty’

Valley of Fear

Bhat and Hangloo said that Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley have been anxious since October last year when terrorists shot dead two school employees — one a Hindu and the other a Sikh — in Srinagar.

“We have been begging for transfers to safe zones and telling the government that we fear for our lives. But all our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Now, with the recent killings, the situation has gone out of hand. We had no option but to leave,” said Bhat.

On 31 May, a Dogra school teacher, identified as Rajni Bala, was allegedly shot dead by terrorists at her workplace in Kulgam district’s Gopalpora area. She was a resident of Samba district in Jammu division.

Bala’s killing took place 19 days after that of Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit who worked at the tehsildar office in Kashmir’s Budgam district and was allegedly shot dead by terrorists. He was a resident of Durga Nagar in Jammu.

According to a media report, the police believe these could be cases of targeted killings where terrorists specifically went looking for those on a hit list.

The killings of Bhat and Bala triggered widespread protests by Hindus in the Valley, who raised concerns over their own safety and security.

People like Bhat, Hangloo and Pandita were all living away from their families while working in the Valley. “Kashmir was always a place that entailed immense risk to life. So, most people in Jammu who get government jobs there leave families behind. But, in the long run, many of them plan to move with families. Now moving with family will not happen for many years to come, even if the employees are forced to return to their postings,” said Pandita.

While Bhat and Hangloo lived in rented accommodations in Kashmir, Pandita lived in one of the transit camps set up by the government and shared a three-room house with seven others.

“Most Muslim landlords are protective of their tenants. But the bigger question here is: Are even Muslims safe in the Kashmir valley today? It does not seem so,” said Bhat.

Also read: ‘Locked up like animals’ – Pandits want to flee Kashmir, hope it’s their last exodus

Uncertain futures

A large number of the employees who have returned have their residences in and around the camps set up for Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s, which have, over the years, turned into lower-income-group residential colonies on the outskirts of Jammu city — Buta Nagar Colony, Muthi Camp, Jagti Township and Nagrota Colony, among others. ThePrint visited these areas Saturday.

There is a palpable sense of grief and fear among the people. “We are being identified and killed. Who would not fear such a situation? And there is grief because these incidents remind us of the exodus that happened in the 1990s,” said Sunil Pandita, a resident of Jagti Township.

Many who have returned from the Valley in the past few days are organising protests in Jammu — much like the ones being organised in the Valley by the few hundreds who remain there — with demands that include being temporarily relocated to Jammu until the situation is under control in Kashmir.

At this point, the returnees can’t see far into the future, but are clear that they are not giving up their government jobs at any cost.

They don’t know what they will do if the government does not agree to their relocation demand but they are willing to fight for their rights. “We did not join to give up…. Right to live is a fundamental human right,” said Bhat.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Fauji or LeT, Hizbul worker? A Kashmir man’s identity comes under cloud after being shot dead


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