Targeted killing of minorities puts Indian Kashmir back on edge

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A spate of targeted killings of mainly non-Muslim minorities in the Kashmir Valley has sent alarm bells ringing for hundreds of fear-stricken Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus who are fleeing to safer places.

Officials say the security situation has deteriorated in Kashmir, where six civilians including a government clerk, a government teacher, a private wine shop employee, a TV artist and a migrant worker have been killed in targeted attacks over the past three weeks.

Grappling with the spate of killings, authorities have started posting employees belonging to minority communities, including Kashmiri Pandits, to “safer locations” within the valley.

Many government employees have been transferred to eight safer zones near the district headquarters in Srinagar, the summer capital.

“Relocate us to anywhere other than Kashmir … in any corner of India. This is not the life we want to be living in fear all the time,” Jai Pandita, a government clerk, told RFI.

Meanwhile Mala Kaul, a government clerk, told RFI: “Everyone here is scared. It was all going fine and then within a few days everything has changed for us. Our children have also stopped going to school.”

Some 3,500 people have left and more plan on leaving within the coming days, says Sanjay Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit activist.

At least 19 civilians have been killed this year in targeted attacks in the region, with police blaming Pakistan-backed militant groups.

Most of the victims were targeted at work, be it a bank manager on his way to the bank, a teacher going to school, or labourers at work or returning home.

Worrying security situation

Security agencies believe "hybrid militants" are behind the attacks, and are using small firearms, sometimes fitted with silencers, to avoid setting off alarm bells.

A hybrid militant has no criminal record in official books, making it difficult for authorities to identify them.

Additionally, security forces are on tenterhooks ahead of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage that begins on 30 June, for which a record number of 800,000 pilgrims are expected to turn up.

India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, held a high-level review meeting on the security situation in the region with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, army chief General Manoj Pande and intelligence chiefs, but no government statement has been made on the issue.

National Conference president and Member of Parliament Farooq Abdullah accused Prime Minister Narender Modi’s government of pursuing a policy of “denialism” on Jammu and Kashmir, accusing it of presenting a rosy picture of the violence-marred region.

“The party which is running the show is living in denial. It wants everyone to keep their heads down and pretend all is well in Kashmir, including Kashmiri Pandits,” said Abdullah.

While the number of civilian killings in recent years is nowhere near that of the 1990s, the increase in such incidents, particularly after the scrapping of Kashmir’s special status, has been cause for alarm.

Kashmir has an estimated 16 million inhabitants and was India’s only Muslim majority state till the government scrapped Kashmir's special status two years ago and split it into two federally administered territories.

Critics say the revocation of its special status and demographic safeguards has weakened India’s security position in the valley.

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