Viral Audio Clips Voicing Concern Over Silent Departure From Kashmir

Kashmiri Pandit families return to Jagti migrant camp in Jammu. Photo Courtesy, Daily Excelsior

“At least 30 percent of families have left the Sheikhpora migrant colony and others have already packed their things to temporarily migrate from the valley.”

Srinagar: Following the recent spate of civilian killings in Kashmir, some audio clips going viral on social media sites are hinting at fresh exodus from the Kashmir valley.

Even though the authorities are sending out regular assuring appeals to the Kashmiri Pandits, these clips whose authenticity couldn’t be verified immediately are only highlighting the fear-psychosis in the minority community.

One such audio went viral on October 9 where an anxious Kashmiri Pandit woman is calling for an end to the migration.

“I’m Rajni Daembi, a Sarpanch from Srinagar,” a female voice says. “Rather than taunting each other, you [Pandits] need to go to Lal Chowk and protest there in order to gain control of Kashmir. If you fail to benefit from this opportunity, then you’ll lose Kashmir.”

These viral audios are surfacing in the wake of targeted killings of two Kashmiri Pandits among seven other civilians in the past one week.

In the face of these attacks, the J&K administration has issued several orders allowing migrant government employees to abstain from work for a fortnight.

“These orders clearly tell that there’s a looming threat for the minority community in Kashmir,” Sandeep Koul, a senior member of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), told Kashmir Observer.

“The same threat has already driven out over 500 KPs from Budgam, Anantnag and Pulwama.”

The threat perception first gripped the community on October 5, when owner of Kashmir’s popular pharmacy Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead inside his Iqbal Park outlet. Barely 35 hours later, Sikh school principal Supinder Kaur and a Hindu teacher Deepak Chand were shot dead at point-blank range inside a government school in Srinagar.

“The emerging situation has once again raised apprehensions of the similar situation that occurred during the 1990s, which led to the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits,” Koul added.

Despite police and politicians allaying fears of the KPs, Sanjay Tickoo, KPSS president, said that the recent killings have already unnerved the community.

“Around 40 families have quietly left the valley on Thursday and Friday from Sheikhpora Migrant Colony,” Tickoo told Kashmir Observer. “They’ve migrated to Jammu.”

Sheikhpora Migrant Colony

Notably, in one of the first audios leaked on the social media, a Kashmiri Pandit man can be heard enquiring from a Pandit woman of Sheikhpora about the growing fear and migration in the colony.

“Several other families have already booked a cab for Saturday to leave,” Tickoo said. “We don’t know when they will return back to Kashmir but for now, leaving the valley is the only option available with them because due to fear they can’t even step out of their homes in the valley.”

Most of these migrants are those who got employment and flats in Kashmir under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Programme in 2010-11.

“Many such KP families have temporarily migrated to Jammu in their own cars,” Surindar Hakhoo, a Kashmiri Pandit, told Kashmir Observer.  

“I’m unable to decide whether to stay here or leave for Jammu because my Muslims neighbours have been repeatedly providing immense support since these attacks and urging me not to leave.”

Given the unprecedented condition, said Vinod Bhat, a 39-year-old migrant resident of Sheikhpora colony, no one can compromise on their family’s safety. “At least 30 percent of families have left the migrant colony and others have already packed their belongings to temporarily migrate from the valley,” he said.

The premature and triumphalist claims about normalcy in Kashmir, said Satish Mahaldar, Chairman Reconciliation Return and Rehabilitation of Migrant, got exposed two months ago “when it was informed to the LG office in writing by Kashmiri Pandits that there are rumors that minorities in Kashmir will be targeted. Unfortunately our inputs were ignored”.

A PTI Report From Vessu Camp

Vessu migrant camp in Qazigund area of South Kashmir which houses around 380 families became an epicentre of administrative actions Friday morning when Anantnag Deputy Commissioner Piyush Singla along with police officers pleaded the families not to leave the transit camp.

"He assured us complete security and requested us not to move to Jammu," said Sunny Raina, President of Vessu camp package employee association.

The organisation, which has 4,284 employees, had written a letter to the chief secretary expressing fear for their lives.

"In a state of extreme fear and panic, we bring to your kind notice that the whole of the minority populace of Kashmiri Pandits dispensing their duties in Kashmir feels scared of the emerging grave, anti-minority situation in Kashmir.

"Due to recent brutal and gruesome selective killings of members of Hindu community, all employees who belong to the same community feel insecure and frightened," they wrote.

"The emerging situation reminds us of the similar situation that of decade 1990s, which led to the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits," the memorandum said, adding the same loss of lives cannot be afforded by the community again.

Raina argues that while the camps where they stay are completely secure, there are several hundred employees residing outside these camps and have to attend to their duties in far flung areas.

"It seems that the administration is not capable enough to provide security to all the employees and therefore, we have asked the chief secretary to exempt us from the duties till the situation returns to normal," he said.

Raina said that while 20 percent of 380 families had left on Thursday, some families moved out even Friday before the Deputy Commissioner came to the camp.

Vinod Raina, who is the President of PM package employee's association at Mattan, an area in South Kashmir's Anantnag district, says that around 250 people living outside the transit camps have left for Jammu since the attack on the minority community started a few days back.

"When the news of killing of teachers in Srinagar reached, our fellow colleagues belonging to Muslim community escorted us back to the camp.

The bonhomie between the two communities is strong and I hope it stays like that," says Raina, who was employed as a teacher in 2010.

He said that some of the migrant employees staying outside transit camps have already shifted their base to Jammu.

"This is sad," says another employee who did not wish to be named.

"And the pace at which the government has been functioning for the last few years is not encouraging."

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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