A spate of targeted civilian killings in Kashmir has led to the exodus of several Kashmiri Pandits living in transit camps.
Dozens of families – many government employees who returned to the Valley after being given jobs under the Prime Minister’s special employment scheme for Kashmiri migrants – have quietly left accommodations.
A scared Vinod Bhat, a schoolteacher, did not go to work today. He says his school told him to stay away for a week because of the recent attacks. Yesterday, a principal and a teacher at a government-run Srinagar school were shot dead.
The Sheikhpora neighbourhood – home to the minority Kashmiri Pandit community, to which Mr Bhat belongs – now wears a near-abandoned look. It is guarded by CRPF forces but that doesn’t inspire Mr Bhat or other Pandit families with confidence.
“I’m scared. I have small children, my mother and wife. For them I have to leave,” he said.
Vinod Bhat, 39, returned to the Valley 10 years ago after getting a job under the PM’s special scheme. In all that time, he said he had never felt unsafe. Now, after the attacks, around a third of the neighbourhood have left.
“Thirty per cent must have left… they are leaving quietly. Who will stay here in such an atmosphere?” he asked.
Around 400 Pandit families had been living in Sheikhpora but, since yesterday, the area resembles a ghost town.
The story is the same in other Pandit settlements, where families have left for Jammu.
“Our entire family is going to Jammu because of the worsening situation here. Two-three Pandits have been killed… we can’t take the risk anymore,” Khushi said.
Over the last five days seven civilians have been killed in Kashmir.
One was a Sikh school principal, Supunder Kour.
Today hundreds of Sikhs joined her funeral procession and took out a protest march, shouting slogans against the TRF (The Resistance Front, a terror outfit J&K Police say is to blame for her killing) and demanding justice.
Sikh leaders will decide on what to do after meeting other gurdwara committees.
“It is not that we will leave Kashmir… we feel like staying here (but) there is uncertainty. We all will sit and discuss,” Jagdish Singh Azad, a Sikh leader, said.
Both Sikhs and Pandits have found support in local Muslim communities, many of whom joined the mourners and urged them to stay.
Some of those targeted over the recent days were Muslims.
“Please don’t leave. We will fight it together. We have been fighting this war together for last 30 years, and we have fight it again. My appeal is don’t come under pressure or give in to propaganda,” Nasir Sogami, a National Conference leader, said.
Police have said that of the 28 civilians killed since January, seven are non-Muslims.
While Muslims have usually been the targets of such attacks, the fact that a Kashmiri Pandit, a Sikh and two non-local Hindus have now been killed has led to outrage
The killings have also alarmed the authorities – enough for Home Minister Amit Shah to hold a high-level meet yesterday and reportedly pull up local officials.
Sources say the police are clueless and have launched a massive crackdown to see if they can uncover something. Dozens of youth have been rounded up for questioning, but that approach has its own problems.
The biggest challenge now is to prevent further attacks and stop the exodus of Pandits, who are leaving the Valley out of fear.