Accounts by J&K Pandits rip BJP’s Valley veneer

Muzaffar Raina   

A public interaction between BJP leaders and Kashmiri Pandit and Dalit employees from Jammu who have left the Valley following a spate in targeted killings turned into an embarrassment for the party, with the participants’ accounts shredding its all-is-well line in Kashmir. Speaker after speaker at Thursday’s live-streamed meeting in Jammu described how the situation had worsened in recent years, belying the government’s claims of a reign of peace and development following the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019.

A Pandit employee asked whether the BJP was not ashamed that 20-odd Hindus had been killed by militants in the past one year. Another suggested the party crush the Pandit employees under JCB machines if it cannot relocate them to Jammu.  The employees have been agitating for official relocation (transfer) to Jammu but the government has rebuffed their pleas and withheld their salaries for refusing to rejoin their duties in the Valley.

“I (fear I) will go back (to Kashmir) on two feet and return on four shoulders. I have two small daughters; what will happen to them?” a woman employee told the BJP leaders. The participants said their Muslim landlords had shown no hostility all these years but some had in recent months asked them to leave, fearing the militants might otherwise target them as well.  

Militants have targeted Hindu residents and migrant labourers in Kashmir following the scrapping of the special status, with the killings rising this year. This has prompted an exodus by thousands of Pandit employees, posted in the Valley under a return and rehabilitation scheme, and Dalit employees from Jammu, recruited to reserved posts.

Recently, with these employees’ agitation for relocation turning into a national embarrassment for the BJP, the party reopened its channels of communication with them. On Thursday, the party’s Jammu and Kashmir chief Ravinder Raina and other senior leaders interacted with representatives of these employees at the party office in Jammu, with the event livestreamed on the BJP’s social media handles. The employees reiterated their demand for relocation, many of them accusing the government of failing to protect Hindus in the Valley. An employee emphasised that many of the participants had served in the Valley for 10 to 15 years and never before sought relocation.

“This is not an issue of some pay anomaly. Life is priceless; we can’t risk our lives. Tell us, did we ever come to you in the last 12 years (seeking relocation)? We never complained before,” he said. Another Pandit employee accused the government of killing the employees with “pens” while the militants were killing them with “guns”, alluding to the hardship caused by the government’s act of withholding their salaries for months. An employee said she could not afford her children’s school fees any more.

A Dalit woman said she had been posted in the Valley for 15 years and would easily have stayed on for a few more years had the situation not deteriorated so much. “The killing of (Dalit schoolteacher) Rajni Bala (by militants early this year) was not a joke…. She was killed in her school,” she said, asking the BJP leaders to imagine the plight of Bala’s school-going daughter when she learnt of her mother’s murder.

Raina agreed that the participants’ demands were “genuine” but said that lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha had the final say.  “I agree that what you have said is right. Have faith, the BJP is with you,” he said. The BJP leader added that secure accommodation and a safe environment were a must and that nobody should be sent back to Kashmir forcibly. “I agree with you that a comprehensive policy was needed,” he said.

Raina said the salaries should be released and a transfer policy worked out. He then shifted to familiar territory, blaming Pakistan for the killings. The central government is believed to be firmly opposed to relocating the employees to Jammu lest it be seen as an admission of failure.