Nearly 600 Kashmiri Pandits working for the state and central governments are believed to have left the Valley and returned to Jammu, along with their families, in the wake of the violence that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
At least 24 of these employees and their families, who had been staying in a transit camp in Srinagar, reached Jammu on Sunday. Among them was Sushma Bhatt, an employee of the J&K education department, who said they were the last of nearly 100 Kashmiri Pandit staff who had been accommodated in the camp that is now “deserted”.
State government officials declined to confirm the number of such employees who have left the Valley over the last week, but sources put their number at nearly 600 of the total 1,673 employed under Prime Minister’s package for Kashmiri Pandit migrants and posted in Kashmir for various stints from 2010.
Sushma and her husband Ajay returned to the Valley in 2010 for the first time after their parents migrated from Budgam and Tral, respectively, in 1990.
“Ever since we returned, we were targeted with stone-pelting, whenever Pakistan won or lost a cricket match, or during a Hindu festival like Diwali. This time, we finally decided to leave the Valley after mobs made several attempts to storm our camp. They even threw petrol bombs, which injured my two-year-old son,” said Sushma.
Officials said the last such migration by Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was registered in 1996-97 when Assembly elections were held after nearly eight years resulting in the return of the NC government.
When contacted R K Pandita, Relief Commissioner, Jammu, said: “I don’t know the exact number of Kashmiri Pandit employees who have returned to Jammu but some of them have come back.” Pandita also described the latest violence as “a temporary phase”.
Over the last three days, at least 250 employees who returned have been protesting outside the Relief Commissioner’s office, demanding that they be posted in the Jammu region.
Sanjay Pandita, a teacher in Pahalgam, said he left his transit camp in Mattan on the night of July 9. “After the killing of Wani, the situation deteriorated within five minutes, with announcements from loudspeakers atop mosques,” he said. Asked about the announcements, he said, “One does not need to listen, the very first stone pelted on you conveys the message.”