ON OCTOBER 7TH MORNING, terrorists barged into a government school in the heart of Srinagar in Kashmir. According to eyewitnesses whom the police spoke to, all teachers were lined up and their identity cards checked. After singling out two non-Muslims, one a Sikh lady teacher and the other a Hindu teacher from Jammu, the terrorists fired at them with pistols, killing them on the spot.
Less than 48 hours earlier, terrorists had shot dead two other Hindus, a street vendor from Bihar selling golgappas, and a prominent Kashmiri Pandit who ran one of the oldest chemist shops in Srinagar. The man, ML Bindroo, 68, had chosen to brave it out in the Valley in the 1990s, even as most of the Pandits were fleeing as they were being hunted down by Islamist radicals. And now, 30 years later, he became a target in an increasingly homogenised Kashmir where non-Muslims are once again living in fear, with many of them opting out for safety. As this report is being written, several Hindu teachers in Central Kashmir have been directed to leave their accommodation and shift to a security camp nearby.
Chatter about the possibility of attacks on minorities has been doing the rounds in several groups at least since September 21st. That night, a few policemen were posted outside a prominent sweet shop in the Lal Chowk area run by a Hindu; also, a few appeared in a temple nearby and asked for the lights to be switched off. The act of killing the golgappawala could have been random. But even after solid input, there was no attempt to secure the premises of a popular Hindu chemist in the heart of Srinagar, which points to an absolute security failure on the part of the police. The killings of two teachers are shocking as well. That armed terrorists could enter a school in Srinagar city, spend time in identifying two non-Muslims among several Muslim teachers at the school, shoot them dead and walk away with impunity speaks very poorly of security measures put in place. Barring the killing of the Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari in 2018, such brazen murders have not taken place in Srinagar city in a long time.
Why have these minority killings started suddenly? There are several theories doing the rounds in Kashmir currently. One of them is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government had recently started the process of addressing the grievances of migrant Pandits whose properties were illegally occupied in their absence. The Government had also said that Pandits would be able to lay back claims on properties sold under duress in the 1990s. Much of it was more bluster than substance. But many in Kashmir believe that this is one reason why these killings have been triggered. Whatever the reason, the message is clear though: non-Muslims are welcome in Kashmir as long as they come in spurts for shikara rides and carpet buying and then go back. The moment they seek a more stable stake in Kashmir, it will be met with a violent reaction.
Much of it, of course, is also a result of xenophobia perpetrated by many in Kashmiri Muslim society. In the name of preserving the so-called unique relationship of Kashmir with the rest of India, a Kashmiri, according to them, is free to set up a business establishment in any corner of India, including outside some of the holiest Hindu shrines. But a poor man from Bhagalpur cannot set up his meagre business in Kashmir. For him, there is a bullet waiting in the next corner.
Consider a Facebook post by Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, now jailed on terror charges. The who’s who of India’s civil society has spoken about him and shared the carefully orchestrated photo of him in custody with an Orwell book. In the post, he shares a picture of a boy, clearly a non-Kashmiri, with an invisible man’s arm grabbing him at his throat. “Remember these faces. They will come to you as bedsheet sellers, hair collectors. Kick them out,” Sultan’s post says.