India: Bigotry And Terror In J&K

On June 4, 2022, two non-local labourers were injured when militants lobbed a grenade at Aglar Zainapora in Shopian District. The religious identities of the injured are not available.

On June 2, a Bank Manager of Ellaquai Dehati Bank, Branch Kulgam and a labourer, both non-locals, were killed in two separate militant attacks Kulgam and Budgam Districts respectively. While Bank Manager, Vijay Kumar, was a resident of Hanumangarh in Rajasthan, labourer Dilkhush Kumar belonged to Purnia in Bihar. Another labourer who suffered injuries in the Budgam attack was identified as Guri from Punjab.

On May 30, a Hindu female school teacher, identified as Rajni Bhalla, wife of Raj Kumar, a resident of Samba town of Jammu District, was shot dead by terrorists at a High School in the Gopalpora area of Kulgam District.

On May 17, a 52-year-old man, identified as Ranjit Singh, son of Krishan Lal of Rajouri District, was killed while three others – Govinder Singh and Ravi Kumar of Khatua District, and Govind Singh of Rajouri District – were injured after terrorists lobbed a grenade inside a newly-opened wine shop in the Dewan Bagh area of Baramulla District.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in the first five months and five days of the current year, at least 14 incidents targeting persons of minority communities (both locals and non-locals) have been reported from across Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). In these incidents, at least eight Hindus, including two non-locals, have been killed and another 27 persons of the minority communities have sustained injuries. According to Government data, 11 persons from minority communities in the Union Territory were killed in 2021, three in 2020, six in 2019, three in 2018 and 11 in 2017. The data does not indicate how many of these were non-locals.

Another Government dataset indicates that 14 Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus had been killed by the terrorists in J&K from August 5, 2019, (the date on which Article 370 was rendered inoperative) to March 24, 2022. According to SATP, another six Hindus, including one Kashmiri Pandit, have been killed since then (data till June 5, 2022), bringing the total to 20. During the corresponding period preceding, 17 Hindus, including Kashmiri Pandits, were killed.

The militants have also been targeting women. A female Hindu school teacher, Rajni Bhalla, a resident of Samba town of Jammu was shot dead by terrorists at a High School in the Gopalpora area of Kulgam District on May 30, 2022. Kashmiri TV actress Amreen Bhat was shot dead by terrorists near her residence at Hushroo in the Chadoora area of Budgam District on May 25, 2022. Amreen Bhatt’s 10-year-old nephew was also injured in the attack. Principal Satinder Kour, a Sikh, and teacher Deepak Chand (a Hindu), of Government Boys School, Sangam, were killed inside the school on October 7, 2021.

Grass-root level political leaders of major political parties, in particular the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the Centre and also controls the Union Territory through the Lieutenant Governor, are also being targeted. At least 17 political leaders/workers of various political parties, including 13, from the BJP alone, have been killed since January 2020.

Attacks targeting off-duty Security Force (SF) personnel and their family members have also increased. Most recently, on May 24, 2022, terrorists shot dead a J&K Police constable, as they opened fire outside his house in the Soura area of Srinagar, when he was leaving home to drop his minor daughter for tuition. The child also sustained bullet injuries, but survived the attack.

Evidently, Pakistan-backed terrorist groups, after failing to push Kashmir back into the chaos of the 1990s and early 2000s, and suffering major losses at the hands of the Indian SFs, now appear to be focusing on targeted killings to instil fear among the masses. Talking about this particular challenge on March 22, 2022, J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh stated that the targeted killings would remain a challenge in the Union Territory as long as “there is presence of gun, militants and involvement of Pakistan.”

While these targeted killings are indeed a concern, what is more worrisome, but largely being ignored, is the fact that, as against 78 fatalities (seven civilians, 11 SF personnel and 60 terrorists) in the first five months and five days of 2021, Kashmir has recorded 133 fatalities (20 civilians, 18 SF personnel and 95 terrorists) in the current year. Civilian fatalities have thus increased almost three-fold, while SF deaths have gone up by 63.63 per cent, while terrorist fatalities are up 31.6 per cent.

The data clearly militates against Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s claim, on April 22, 2022, that India, under the present Government, “has achieved a huge success in finding a permanent solution to three problems – terrorism in Kashmir, Left Wing Extremism, and Narcotics and Armed Groups in the North East…” Shah had based his assertion on the fact that there has been substantial decline in terrorist attacks from 417 in 2018 to 255 in 2019, 244 in 2020 and 229 in 2021, and that fatalities had gone down from 452 (86 civilians, 95 SF personnel and 271 terrorists) in 2018 to 274 (36 civilians, 45 SF personnel and 193 terrorists) in 2021. Conveniently ignored, for obvious political reasons, was the fact that the essential source terrorism in J&K – Pakistan’s involvement – remain entirely un-addressed, and no decisive success has been secured to neutralise this threat.

Meanwhile, the targeting of the minority communities in the Union Territory – both locals and non-locals – certainly calls into question the entire rationale of the policy to ‘rehabilitate’ Kashmiri Pandits in the Union Territory.

On March 17, 2020, the Government had informed Parliament that 64,951 families who had migrated due to the onset of militancy in J&K in 1990, were residing in Jammu and elsewhere in the country; and that 3,000 State Government jobs had been created by the Centre for these ‘migrants.’ Information provided by the Government of J&K indicates that the selection process has been concluded with respect of 1,781 posts and 604 candidates had joined in different departments as on February 22, 2020. These jobs are in addition to the 3,000 State Government jobs approved under the Pradhan Mantri Reconstruction Package – 2008 (PMRP-2008), against which 2,905 posts had been filled. The construction of 6,000 units of transit accommodation for 3,000 Kashmiri migrants employed under PMRP-2008 and for 3,000 additional migrants under the Prime Minister’s Development Package – 2015 (PMDP-2015) had been sanctioned, and 849 flats had already been constructed. On April 6, 2022, the Government confirmed in Parliament that, after the revocation of Article 370, some 2,105 migrants had returned to the Valley and taken up jobs provided under PMDP-2015: 841 in 2020-21 and 1,264 in 2021-22.

Crucially, for the BJP, a ‘muscular Kashmir policy’ and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits has been a major political issue and electoral platform across the country.

The protracted Central rule in the Union Territory is also a source of resentment, and another challenge for the Government is to hold elections and fulfil its promise to restore the State Assembly, a promise that was made shortly after the revocation of Article 370. Though the Government has reiterated this promise again and again, most recently, on February 21, 2022, when Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared: “The delimitation exercise is about to get over. After that, within six-eight months, the elections will be held. There is no confusion.”

On June 2, 2022, the J&K Delimitation Commission, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai submitted its final order for the Union Territory. The Delimitation Commission recommended seven additional constituencies — six for Jammu and one for Kashmir. The commission took the total number of seats in the Union Territory to 90 from the 83. This increase the number of seats in the Jammu Division to 43 from 37, and that in the Kashmir Valley to 47 from 46. The delimitation exercise has also created further resentment in the Valley, where the majority believes that inconsistent criteria have been applied between the two regions, to create the larger number of new constituencies in the Jammu region, reinforcing suspicions, as one commentator notes that “the Bharatiya Janata Party is undermining democracy, in a bid to institutionalise Hindu-majoritarian rule.”

There were also strong apprehensions that trouble makers would try to create disturbances after the award of a life sentence to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik, but these have failed to materialize, at least till the time of writing. On May 25, 2022, a Special National Investigation Agency court in New Delhi sentenced Malik to life imprisonment in a 2017 case related to “terror funding” in J&K. Malik was arrested in the case in April 2019. A day later after the sentencing, on May 26, 2022, Police arrested at least 10 people shouting anti-India slogans outside Malik’s residence. The youth were arrested for “anti-national sloganeering & stone pelting outside home of Yasin Malik.” No such protests have been reported thereafter, though concerns remain that there may be efforts by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to orchestrate disturbances and street violence. Street violence has been kept under control since August 5, 2019.

The communal agenda of the Pakistan-backed terrorists in the Valley, and the polarizing politics of the ruling BJP are putting the gains made by the SFs in the Union Territory at some risk. While there is little possibility of the much-fantasized return to the enveloping terrorism of the 1990s in J&K, disruptive escalations that obstruct a movement towards a constructive political resolution of the Union Territory’s many problems remain a reality. It is, consequently, incumbent on the BJP-led Government, on the one hand, to sustain the focused SF operations that have substantially weakened the terrorists and, on the other, to create an environment in J&K and across the country, where religious bigotry is not the part of mainstream politics. If national politics progressively mirrors the exclusionary vision of the Islamist extremists and terrorists in J&K, no comprehensive solution to the crisis in the Union Territory can ever be realized.