'The people of Jammu and Kashmir are your own people. Do not use them as cannon fodder in your laboratory.'
"The exodus of Pandits happened in 1990 -- and it is happening once again. In 1990 when the exodus happened, the V P Singh government was in power supported by the BJP. Today once again, the BJP is in power and migration is taking place," says Satish Mahaldar, chairman of the J&K Peace Forum and chairman, Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of Migrants.
"Heads need to roll and replaced with those who know how to handle this conflict," the Kashmiri Pandit leader tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in a phone interview.
The Kashmiri Pandits are angry, distraught and are protesting against at the spate of killings of members of their community. What are their worries, fears at the moment?
It is a black day for Kashmir and the nation. The exodus of Pandits happened in 1990 -- and it is happening once again.
In 1990 when the exodus happened, the V P Singh government was in power supported by the BJP. Today once again, the BJP is in power and migration is taking place.
Heads must roll from top to bottom and be replaced with those who understand the conflict.
Both Rahul Bhat [a clerk at the Chadoora tehsil office in Badgaon killed by terrorists on May 12] and Rajni Bala [a teacher gunned down at her school in Kulgam district on May 30] had repeatedly requested their HODs (heads of departments) and the deputy commissioner for transfer and relocation to a safe place.
Bhat's wife said his application was torn and thrown in the garbage.
Rajni Bala's husband has also said that they repeatedly went to the CEO (chief education officer) in the district and requested for a transfer.
In J&K there has been no accountability for the past 30 years. It is time to make people accountable.
What are the job opportunities for Pandits employed under the prime minister's special package and what measure of relief has it brought to Pandits in Kashmir?
The administration is discriminatory towards the minorities in terms of promotions and salaries. For example, the junior engineers appointed in 2010 under the PM package are still at the same post while those who applied in the open category have reached the level of deputy chief engineer.
Their salary is fixed at Rs 14,000 with a probation for two years.
A Delhi-based skilled worker is getting Rs 26,000 whereas a PM package employee in J&K is getting Rs 14,000; s/he is also supposed to sign a bond.
The lieutenant governor and administration say they have a cell for the redressal of problems faced by the Pandits. I challenge anyone in India to send an e-mail to the LG's office or J&K administration office and see if they get a response!
A helpline has been created to provide help for the concerns and complaints of the minorities two days ago.
After 32 years!
What are some of the measures desired by the Pandits for their safety and security?
Kashmir is a playground for Asia. There are different players from the region playing a dirty game in this playground.
For 32 years, the officers and bureaucrats of Kashmir are doing an experiment and treating the people as cannon fodder.
They have been unable to analyse this conflict and do not know what to do. They talk about employment and about governance, but what is happening on the ground is a contrast.
Bureaucrats, the ministry of home affairs and people at the helm do not know the root and proximate causes of this problem and what is triggering the problem.
The number of tourists coming to Kashmir is not an indicator that all is normal.
Abrogation of Article 370 was a party's agenda. They did it and congratulations to them, but that has not brought normalcy to Kashmir.
Heads need to roll among the bureaucrats who do not know how to handle this conflict. Graduates in Kashmir have knowledge about the conflict, but bureaucrats do not.
One million CRPF personnel are deployed in the Valley to deal with law and order and militancy. The CRPF is better geared to deal with civil issues rather than terrorists and are getting killed in the conflict.
Young boys are recruited as personal security officers with salaries between Rs 6,000-Rs 15,000. They do not have appropriate training and several have been killed in attacks by terrorists.
It is not about the BJP or Congress, or whether we need a Hindu or Muslim chief minister - my plea is that for the sake of the nation, please save your own people.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir are your own people. Do not use them as cannon fodder in your laboratory.
The home minister has called a meeting to discuss the spate of killings and the security situation in Kashmir.
That itself shows that the home minister is not aware about what is going on in Kashmir. Will there be meetings held after every such incident and some new jumla be spouted?
What immediate measures can be taken on the ground?
The local people do not trust the government. We need people on the ground who understand the conflict.
There are so many issues like economic opportunities, grievances, resource allocation, cultural bias, systematic discrimination, lack of political participation, poor governance, human rights abuses, narco trafficking etc.
The present relief and rehabilitation package was provided by Dr Manmohan Singh's government. It was a four-point programme -- employment was one aspect of that programme.
The remaining three points have not been touched upon as yet -- and even the employment aspect is not complete even after 8 years of the present government.
Those under the PM package suffer discrimination in terms of salaries, promotions, hierarchy.
The accommodation provided to them by the government is also woeful. The flats are very small for an entire family. In spite of being recently constructed, many flats are already falling apart. The government has to understand and correct their mistakes.
Let me give another example of the experiments that happen in Kashmir and how out of touch the government is: After the Abrogation of Article 370, a railway officer from Baroda House [HQ Northern Railway] was appointed secretary for commerce. What expertise will a railway officer have about commerce?
These are some of the things that constitute the tip of the iceberg. I urge the government to take this issue and understand it, look at the root and proximate causes for terrorism and see the factors triggering and exacerbating the problem.
The Pandits are protesting for relocation and are leaving Kashmir. What should the government be doing to ally their genuine fears?
The Government of India has to come up with a solution. Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh, the MP from Udhampur in J&K, was on a 3-day visit to Kashmir, but did not visit the minorities.
It is time for the PMO, HM to visit Kashmir and interact with people, understand their problems, take up their problems as SOS.
The government has indicated that over 25 Union ministers will visit J&K in the next two months.
The did the same also after abrogation of Article 370.
Do you believe terrorists have changed tactics by attacking soft targets?
Once again I will say, Kashmir is a playground for Asia. There are different players playing in this playground, every player is using his own equipment. The regional players are participating in a tournament in Kashmir with strong local support.
Unless there is local support, can anyone come from outside and play in my playground?
We are fooling ourselves by changing the goggles.
What has changed for the Pandits after the abrogation of Article 370?
The blunt answer is, things are as they were pre-2019. What we sustained pre-2019, we are doing the same post-2019.
In the business of conflict and war unless we walk the talk, things will not improve.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com