The killing of 40-year-old sarpanch Ajay Pandita on June 7 by terrorists was an attempt to instill fear in the minds of the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community, crushing their dreams of a return to their homeland. But the bereaved family has emerged even stronger in their commitment to not leave the Valley.
A day after Pandita was killed in his native village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, his 19-year-old daughter Niyanta Pandita stood firm to tell the world that the tragedy wouldn’t stop her or her family from living in Kashmir. Niyanta’s grandfather is also firmly behind her in the decision.
Fighting tears welling in her eyes, Niyanta appeared on numerous TV channels, to convey the message, winning praise from all quarters.
Niyanta said her father was a ‘lion’ dedicated to the peace and prosperity of his homeland. Her words were no less than the roar of a wounded lioness. "I am devastated but am also proud of my father. Only yesterday (June 7) my father was killed and we are here today, demanding justice with bravery. We understand that there are a lot of things happening in the country but this is the least that can be done for people who are protecting it. What now? Don't we have the risk of being attacked? Still, we’ll go back to Kashmir. No matter what happens. That Kashmir is my father's motherland. We will not be afraid of speaking the truth," an emotional Niyanta said.
Ajay Pandita's body being carried for last rites. (Photo: PTI)
Niyanta should be an inspiration for a new India, an India where displaced Kashmiri Pandits can return to their homeland.
If Pandita’s brutal killing won’t prevent his family from staying in Kashmir, perhaps, no one else should consider staying away as acceptable anymore.
The terror attacks in Kashmir, however, should not be seen through the prism of religion alone.
On November 26, 2019, militants attacked the Union Territory administration’s first public outreach programme after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and killed a sarpanch along with a government officer in the same Anantnag district.
The slain two were identified as Sarpanch Peer Muhammad Rafi and Assistant Agriculture Officer Sheikh Zahoor.
Like Pandita, Rafi was also affiliated with the Indian National Congress.
While the terrorists are dealt with by the forces, the question to ask is what is the nature of security provided to those who stand up to uphold democracy in the restive region but end up getting murdered like sitting ducks?
Successive governments have failed to address the issue of Kashmiri Pandits and facilitate their return home over three decades after they were forced to leave the Valley. While that issue has been pending, governments have also failed to provide security to those who stayed back.
One such family is that of globally acclaimed academic Amitabh Mattoo. Though one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that such a high-profile person from the exiled community would always be on the radar of the terror groups, in March 2019, Jammu and Kashmir government actually withdrew his security cover.
No closures have come for the families who lost their loved ones, since the Pandit killings were never probed properly.
In 2018, the Supreme Court decided to set up a fresh special investigation team (SIT) to look into the 186 anti-Sikh riot cases of 1984, investigations into which had been closed earlier. The verdict led to comparisons of the order with an apex court order passed in 2017.
In July 2017, the apex court rejected a public interest litigation seeking fresh probe into the killing of Pandits.
Three decades on, the killings of Pandits continue to be an unsolved mystery. For the all-resourceful government, it took around 20 long years to merely consolidate contradictory figures of the killings.
As per a first comprehensive report compiled by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2008, from 1989 onwards, 209 Kashmiri Pandits were murdered. As many as 109 were murdered in 1990 alone.
While 140 cases were registered at police stations across Kashmir, chargesheets had been filed in only 24 cases. In 115 cases, the perpetrators are yet to be identified.
Even the first reported killing of a Kashmiri Pandit remains unresolved. According to the police, the first Pandit to be killed was a woman from Budgam named Prabhavati. She was killed in Srinagar on March 14, 1989, by unidentified gunmen, whose identity could never be established.
Realistically speaking, the return of Pandits will not be all hunky-dory. They have to return to the same Kashmir where people from other communities have also been braving challenging situations.
When Niyanta Pandita, the daughter of a man who was virtually backstabbed in Kashmir, is committed to stay connected to her roots, it’s time the others considered returning as well.