Friday, July 12, 2024
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Dance of human killing in Kashmir

By Mool Raj

This is happening in spite of the fact that traditional nexus between politicians and the Police is absent while the former State remains as UT It was not until 17th July 2021 that Satpal’s murder conspiracy was exposed by the Police and security agencies with the arrest of Sofi Akbar, Secretary of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). Akbar and his cohorts had created a website where they would expose targets who would subsequently be killed by locally recruited LeT/ISI recruits using handguns. A new class of terrorists, called the “Over Ground Workers” (OGW) was born, and in this case this particular group of OGW’s had fingered Shujaat Bukhari (journalist) killed in June 2018, Babar Qadri (advocate) killed in September 2020, and finally Satpal Nischal (goldsmith businessman) killed on the New Year’s Day 2021. The message was clear. The targeted killings were being facilitated by a select group of anti-national officials, on public payroll, working in the valley, picking up from a wide canvass of targets ranging from members of the Press, legal profession and the business community. The website on which Bukhari’s and Qadri’s name appeared also included other names, including two non-migrant Pandits, but fortunately the plot was uncovered before they became the next victims.The hunt for the OGW’s is complicated by the inter-agency rivalries as was evident during the Hyderpora encounter that took place on 14th-15th November 2021, where various police and military officials initially gave conflicting statements, and the local civil society, with covert support from bureaucracy and overt support from local politicians, tried their best to debunk the facts on the ground. Hyderpora encounter of November 2021 is a clear proof of how the discredited politicians of the valley are linking with anti-national elements within the local civil society and bureaucracy for political gains. This is happening in spite of the fact that traditional nexus between politicians and the Police is absent while the former State remains a UT. However, the effectiveness of the police force is somewhat degraded by a lack of full support from lower ranks to the non-local IPS cadre in-charge of the districts. The UT security upgrade requires a new policing architecture.

The response of the local bureaucracy to the yearning of Pandits for their return to the valley therefore should not be a surprise. While the efforts to put together a return and rehabilitation package for displaced Kashmiri Pandits began in 1997 with the formation of a committee headed by Mr. M. L. Kaul (Additional Chief Secretary, J&K), it was not until 2004, when an inter-ministerial committee, headed by Ms. Sushma Choudhary, was constituted at the direction of the Manmohan Singh Government, that the relief and rehabilitation effort for Pandits went into a high gear. Even though Pandits by then had patiently waited for fourteen (14) years for the relief and rehabilitation policy, it took another four years before the “PM Relief Package” was finally announced with great fanfare and expectations in 2008. Its announcement was a triumph for the State bureaucracy and politicians – the rehabilitation and relief of Pandits would not be part of the State budget and finances -but would come directly from the Central Government funds, and yet the Statewould retain full authority and control overdisbursement of such funds. In other words, the State controlled the progress, or the lack of it, in pursuing relief and rehabilitation of Pandits.

Not surprisingly, the valley politicians and bureaucracy thwarted all attempts to ensure speedy return and rehabilitation of migrant Pandits under the PM package. By employing bureaucratic inertia (“red tape”) and disingenuous means to slow the process of filling up posts sanctioned for migrants, by creating excruciating delays in constructing housing quarters (called “Transit Room Tenements”) in the valley, and by the anemic pace of recovery of illegally occupied Pandit properties including orchards, the bureaucrat-politician nexus ensured little progress towards the return of Pandits to the valley. In this regard, nothing has changed even as the State became a UT, proving in a way that valley bureaucrats still hold full control and authority over the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.
The period of time from when Syed Ali Geelani took over as the supreme resistance leader in 2003 to until his seclusion due to failing health in 2019 (16 years), not a single Kashmiri Pandit was a victim of target killings. In fact, the new phase of targeted killing of Pandits began with the assassination of Mr. Ajay Pandita, a Sarpanch from the Anantnag district, on 8th June 2020, in the same month that Mr. Geelani removed himself from politics all together. He died nearly 14 months later.

The last phase – the current phase – began in earnest soon after the death of Mr. Geelani, with the balance of power in the resistance class reverting back to local political dynasties, namely, Abdullah’s, Mufti’s, and Lone’s. After the Hyderpora encounter, the bond between the OGW’s and politicians grew tighter, and the shrill in the belligerent statements from politicians grew louder. From targeted killings of Kashmiri Muslim army personnel on leave with their families, to unfortunate Hindu migrants scrapping for a few rupees as “pani puri” sellers, no one is safe from targeted killings anymore. New Tanzeemshave mushroomed that provide the cover that allow OGW’s to operate with impunity, as is evident from a lack of any culpability in the targeted killing of a government employee, Pandit Rahul Bhat, in his Tehsil office, on 12th May 2022.

When the UT Government began to demand accountability for excuses and delays in creating jobs for Pandits or their housing from bureaucrats, and when Government began a new transparent process to facilitate confiscation of illegally occupied Pandit properties, the OGW’s began to strike back, fingering Pandits as targets. The new Tanzeems mostly consist of young operatives and once the blood is spilled, the scope of targets began to enlarge, and now includes Muslim civilians seen as either assisting the enemy or pursuing non-Islamic habits (according to these terrorists)that are also executed by LeT/ISI gunmen.
The Lt. Governor of the Union Territory, Mr. Manoj Sinha, has been lately reiterating his commitment to dismantle terror eco-system in the valley. He has emphasized the need for various security agencies to work together for a better coordination of their activities. Similarly, Mr. Raj Nath Singh, the defense minister, in a recent visit to the UT, blamed the present security situation to a “foreign conspiracy.” All of this may be true, but the UT Government must put in place an intensive security program to search, seek, expose, and arrest OGW’s and their nefarious connections within the local bureaucracy. The activities undertaken so far by the Government is too little and too late, especially where the victim is a Kashmiri Pandit. A case in point is the rapid police action to slap a FIR (102/2022) on the owner of a brick kiln in Chadoora, Budgam, for safety negligence when one of its non-local migrant employees, Dilkhush Kumar, was killed by unknown gunmen on 2nd June 2022. And yet when Pandit Rahul Bhat, an employee of the Revenue Department who was killed by terrorists while at work in the Chadoora Tehsil office on 12 May 2022, no accomplice within or outside of the bureaucracy has been held responsible so far. Equally distressing is the fact that the magistrate who authorized a lathi charge and tear gassing of Pandit marchers from the Shiekhpora housing colony in Budgam, who had congregated peacefully on the day following Rahul Bhat’s murder, has not been reprimanded as yet.

A noted journalist of the valley, Ahmad Ali Fayyaz, has highlighted specific examples of bureaucratic lapses in the Education Department leading to targeted killings of teachers, Supinder Kaur and Deepak Chand, in the Eidgah area of Srinagar on 7th October 2021, and of Rajni Bala in Kulgam on 31st May 2022, and yet no official has been disciplined so far.
On the premise of my analysis, the future of minorities in Kashmir will remain uncertain until the local bureaucracy shuns its overt and covert resistance to the return and rehabilitation of minorities, and assists security forces in destroying the OGW culture in the valley. It should be noted, however, that most local bureaucrats are loyal citizens of India, and the few that are sympathetic to terrorists are unfortunately tolerated in the system out of fear for personal safety by the rest. At the other end, if the political class keeps highlighting religious bigotry and making inflammatory speeches spreading fear and hate, then things will not change for the better either. Currently, the political class has a limited level of authority during the Lt. Governor’s Rule, but if elections return the administrative authority to the old political class, there is every possibility that we may yet see Wandham as and Naadimargs repeated again. In any case, any reversion of the UT to a State (when the local law-and-order authority fully reverts back to elected local politicians) is fraught with danger for minorities of such enormous proportions that I doubt that such a change will happen if the same political class is returned to power in the UT that created the nightmare in the first place.

We hope that Kashmiri Pandits will return back to the valley some day with dignity and in safety. It will need a combination of soft and hard power to bring a compelling change in the situation in Kashmir. But more importantly, it needs tough decisions of the same significance that the Indian Parliament took on 5th and 6th August 2019. Why the Modi Government did not take the next logical step of announcing the return policy for Kashmiri Pandits on the 7th August 2019 is a mystery. Perhaps we may know the answer some day.

(The writer is Lect.Evs.Govt Hr.Sec.School Khellani,Doda,J&K)

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