Targeted civilian killings in Kashmir have led to the exodus of many 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 the residence.
A scared school teacher Vinod Bhat did not go to work today. He says that his school had asked him to stay away for a week because of the recent attacks. Yesterday, a principal and a teacher were shot dead in a government school in Srinagar.
The Sheikhpora neighborhood – home to the minority Kashmiri Pandit community to which Mr Bhat belongs – now appears almost abandoned. It is guarded by CRPF forces, but it does not inspire confidence in Mr. Bhat or other Pandit families.
“I am scared. I have young children, my mother and wife. I have to go for them,” he said.
Vinod Bhat, 39, returned to the Valley 10 years ago after getting a job under the PM’s special scheme. Throughout that time, he said he never felt insecure. Now, after the attacks, about a third have left the neighborhood.
“Thirty percent must have gone… They are leaving quietly. Who will be here in such an environment?” He asked.
Around 400 Pandit families were living in Sheikhpora, but since yesterday this area is like a ghost town.
It is the same story in other Pandit settlements, where the families have left for Jammu.
Khushi said, “Our entire family is moving to Jammu because of the deteriorating situation here. Two-three Pandits have been killed… We cannot take any more risk.”
Seven civilians have been killed in Kashmir in the last five days.
One was Sunder Kaur, the principal of a Sikh school.
Hundreds of Sikhs attended his funeral today and took out a protest march, raising slogans against TRF (The Resistance Front, a terrorist organization the Jammu and Kashmir Police says is responsible for his murder) and demanding justice.
The Sikh leader will decide what to do after meeting other Gurdwara committees.
Jagdish Singh Azad, a Sikh leader, said, “It is not that we will leave Kashmir… We feel like staying here (but) there is uncertainty. We will all sit down and discuss.”
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 in recent days were Muslims.
“Please don’t give up. We will fight this together. We have been fighting this war together for the last 30 years, and we have fought it again. My appeal is don’t give in to pressure or get into propaganda,” Nasser Sogami National A leader of the conference said.
Police have said that of the 28 civilians killed since January, seven are non-Muslims.
While Muslims have usually been the target of such attacks, the fact that now a Kashmiri Pandit, a Sikh and two non-local Hindus have been killed has caused outrage.
The killings have also worried officials – enough for Home Minister Amit Shah to hold a high-level meeting tomorrow and reportedly drag down local officials.
Sources say that the police are clueless and have launched a massive crackdown to see if they can uncover anything. Dozens of young people have been rounded up for questioning, but that approach has its own problems.
Now the biggest challenge is to prevent further attacks and to stop the exodus of Pandits, who are leaving the Valley in fear.