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Father of govt staffer shot dead by militants in Budgam worried over safety of Pandits working in Kashmir

'I heard that he has been killed inside the office and if this can happen at a place where security bandobast is in place, then who is safe?' asks Bitta Ji Bhat, father of Rahul Bhat and a retired assistant sub-inspector of police.

Written by Arun Sharma | Jammu |
May 12, 2022 11:44:13 pm
Rahul's father Bitta Ji Bhat (centre wearing blue shirt) sitting in shock along with his sister and other relatives at home in Durga Nagar, Jammu, on Thursday. (Photo: Arun Sharma)

After Rahul Bhat was shot dead on Thursday evening by militants inside the tehsil office in Budgam district where he worked, his father Bitta Ji Bhat, a retired assistant sub-inspector of police, is asking whether employees from the minority community are safe in Kashmir.

“I heard that he has been killed inside the office and if this can happen at a place where security bandobast is in place, then who is safe?” he said, demanding an inquiry into the matter.

He questioned the government’s claims to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, asking “is this how they will take us there?’’. “Whosoever is living there is spending days on his own. The government has totally failed to protect Kashmiri Pandits,’’ he said, adding that militants were selectively killing them.

Bitta Ji, who had been the personal security officer of National Conference leader Ali Mohammad Sagar when the latter was a cabinet minister in the Omar Abdullah government, accused the administration of being unresponsive. “I was attending to my brother at the Narayana Super Specialty Hospital near Katra when around 5pm someone informed me about the incident,’’ he recalled, adding that he immediately rang up the deputy commissioner and the Budgam superintendent of police, but no one responded to his calls.

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“Till now, no one has contacted me,” he said . “Wasn’t it the duty of the Budgam deputy commissioner to inform me about my son who was working in the revenue department,’’ he asked.

Rahul was staying with wife and a 6-year-old daughter in government accommodation at Sheikhpora which was constructed for the Kashmiri Pandit employees appointed under the prime minister’s employment package. Appointed under the PM package in 2011, he had his first posting in Budgam.

However, he was transferred to Chadoora two years ago. “I had written a letter to the Budgam deputy commissioner last year to transfer him back to Budgam, but no one listened,’’ Bitta Ji said.

Rahul, according to Bitta Ji’s relatives, had returned to Budgam only two days ago after spending nearly a week in Jammu, where he had come to see his ailing uncle. He had been regularly in touch with his parents and younger brother Sunny Bhat, who is in the police.

While a pall of gloom has descended on the Durga Nagar locality where Rahul’s parents live, his killing came as a shock to the migrant Kashmiri Pandits living in Jammu as a number of them have their wards working in Kashmir following their appointment under the prime minister’s package. A friend of Rahul’s, Sandeep, said the killing would adversely affect the government’s plans to take back the Pandits to the Valley because even those already working there were likely to return to Jammu for safety.

Over a dozen Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by militants in the Valley in less than two years.

A senior BJP and prominent Kashmiri Pandit leader, Ashwani Chrungoo, said Rahul’s killing was a “major security failure on the part of the government,’’ which in his opinion had “converted the employment package to an employee hostage programme’’. He appealed to the government to temporarily shift all Hindu employees from Kashmir to Jammu and delink the employment package from its rehabilitation or resettlement initiatives for Pandits.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had early last month told Kashmiri Pandits that the time for their return to native places had come closer, but also cautioned them against haste for fear of ending up facing further trouble.

Referring to the The Kashmir Files movie, he said, “Some support it while some call it half-truth… But the common man is of the opinion that by presenting the devastating truth, this film has not only presented the pain and agony of the displaced Kashmiris, but shaken us also. Such a feeling is there in the country today and if it is so then next year, we will be in our home…our own land.”

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