Kashmir violence raises fears of return to bloody sectarian past

Asia's Tech News Daily

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today Paramilitary soldiers stand guard during a gunfight between suspected rebels and Indian security forces in November 2020. (AP pic)

SRINAGAR: When Supinder Kaur, a 46-year-old Sikh mother of two, made breakfast before heading to a local school where she served as principal, she had no idea it would be the last meal she would make for her family.

Kaur was shot dead just hours after saying goodbye to her seven-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

Militants stormed her school on the outskirts of Srinagar on Oct 7, checked the IDs of teachers and staff to look for their religions, then shot Kaur along with her Hindu colleague Deepak Chand inside the school.

This was among a spate of attacks that have killed at least 30 civilians this year, including religious minorities, in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparking fears among locals there that the region is sliding back to the sectarian violence in the 1990s.

At that time, armed revolts against Indian rule in Kashmir were at a peak and similar killings by local insurgents forced thousands of local Hindus to flee the Muslim-majority region.

The rise in violence also comes after prime minister Narendra Modi stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status in 2019, which critics and some human rights groups say was intended to reduce the Muslim majority there by helping Hindus move into the area.

The killings at the school in Srinagar, the summer capital of India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, was the third such attack within a week targeting non-Muslims.

Since Oct 2, nine people have been killed in the valley which includes another Hindu, three nonlocal laborers from other part of India, and three Muslims. Locals, especially Hindus, now feel fearful and have stopped going out.

Relatives mourn around the body of Supinder Kaur, a school principal, who was shot and killed by suspected militants in Srinagar on Oct 7.

Koul, a Hindu in his early 30s living in Srinagar, who did not want to give his full name out of fear for his safety, said the incidents were reminiscent of the violence of the 1990s when about 650 Kashmiri Hindus were killed, leading to the mass exodus.

Koul’s family was among the 800 or so who did not leave the region, staying on the belief that their Muslim neighbours would safeguard them against any harm. But the recent events have once again made them fear for their lives and consider their options – including fleeing.

“We are stuck in between. Had we left then in the 1990s, we might have been settled by now. But this time, leaving the valley is a tough decision. All we can do for now is to lock our door because of fear and stay inside,” he said.

He said the entire Hindu community living in the valley was numb with fear from the killings and, despite appeals from the government as well as civil society members, many were exploring options to leave the valley.

The Resistance Front, a little-known militant group that has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks, sent a warning to non-Muslims in Kashmir in an online statement: “We want to make it crystal clear that outsider domicile holders, stooges and collaborators, whatsoever their religion, won’t be spared.”

Citizens for Justice and Peace, an organisation of local Hindus, has launched an online petition asking Manoj Sinha, the lieutenant governor of Kashmir, to protect minorities in the valley.

Sanjay Tickoo, who heads Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, or KPSS, which looks after the affairs of local Hindus, says the attacks have triggered a wave of fear among the community.

“It feels like the 1990s are back, but this is our home, where else can we go?” said Tickoo.

Indian security forces keep guard atop armoured vehicles outside a government school where Kaur was attacked on Oct 7.

The local Sikh community is also tense after the attacks, but Jagmohan Raina, a social worker and chairman of the All-Party Sikh Coordination Committee, which advocates for 150,000 Sikhs in the region, called the killings unfortunate, adding “they will continue to look for answers”.

“We have decided that the minority who work in government offices will stay at home and not attend duties unless the authorities take steps to keep them safe and secure. We also need support from the majority community in Kashmir,” Raina said.

Two mosques in Srinagar during Friday prayers on Oct 8 requested the public to protect Hindus and abstain from any action that is likely to create fear among Hindus living in the valley.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a pro-freedom separatist leader, also condemned the killings.

“When militarisation is pursued as a state policy (of New Delhi) to handle a live and lingering conflict rather than seeking conflict resolution, bloodshed and loss of precious human lives is the consequence,” the leader said in a statement.

The Ministry of Home Affairs recently said nearly 3,800 Hindu families, who left in the 1990s, returned to Kashmir since 2010 under the government packages for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants to the valley. These families were also provided jobs and housing.

Authorities in the region have bolstered security in minority areas and taken other measures to assuage fears, pleading with them not to leave. Officials have asked members of the minority community in remote areas to move to safer locations till the situation improves.

“We have been launching operations along with other security. We appeal to the general public, especially the minority community, not to panic,” Vijay Kumar, inspector general of the region’s police said after the recent attacks.

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