Attacks on Pandits: Bridge the divide
The killing of government employee Rahul Bhat in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district last week marked a disturbing escalation in violence against Kashmiri Pandits and struck panic in the hearts of a community still struggling with the horrors of an exodus. Bhat, who moved to the Valley under a decades-old government rehabilitation scheme for Kashmiri Pandits forced to leave the region, was gunned down in his workplace, uncovering a serious breach of safety protocols and underlining how fragile the social, political and security atmosphere continues to be in Kashmir.
Till last year, government data showed 3,800 people took up jobs under the rehabilitation scheme, and 520 candidates returned to Kashmir for these jobs since the nullification of Article 370. The scheme also included financial incentives for housing, cash relief and transit accommodation. Yet, the killing of Bhat – he was the second Pandit targeted in two months after a medical shop owner was shot at and injured in April – and the protests that swept the region show that a fraught social atmosphere and lack of political initiatives are seriously hindering the rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.
Since the scrapping of the region’s special status, the administration, police and security forces have focussed on eliminating militancy. The government told Parliament last year that terror incidents fell since the effective abrogation of Article 370. But the targeting of Pandits, their continued residence in temporary transit camps, and the pervasive fear and panic among community members indicate an urgent need for political initiatives and attempts to bridge the sectarian divide, and a cessation of rhetoric that can exacerbate communal emotions. Of course, local communities in the region have an active role to play, as do local politicians who must assure vulnerable Pandits of their safety and repair broken trust. But the lead must be taken by the administration to ensure that no innocent lives are lost to terrorists again.