Govt orders to hold salaries of Kashmiri Pandits on strike in valley

Cracking down on agitating Kashmiri pandits, who have been demanding their relocation to safer places outside the valley, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has issued orders to stop their salaries prompting an angry reaction from the employees who threatened to intensify their agitation.

The employees have been staging a dharna since May this year when one of the employees, Rahul Bhat, was shot dead by militants in broad daylight inside his office in Budgam in Central Kashmir.

After several back-channel talks with the agitating employees, the labor department of Kashmir and additional deputy commissioner, Anantnag, had on Wednesday issued orders to stop the salaries of Kashmiri migrant employees on strike in the valley.

In his order, Deputy Labour Commissioner (DLC) Kashmir Ahmad Hussain Bhat directed the assistant labor commissioners across districts in the Kashmir valley to stop the salaries of these employees for September.

Bhat sought the leave accounts of all the employees of the department and said: “Further, salary for the month of September 2022 should not be drawn in respect of those PM package employees, who have remained absent during the month of September.”

A similar order has been issued by the ADC Anantnag.

As many as 3,000 Kashmiri pandit youths had been accommodated under the Prime Minister’s Special Package in 2012.

Irate over the orders, striking employees intensified their agitation, which entered 133rd day on Thursday, calling the order a harassment and arm-twisting move to break their agitation.

Amid slogans of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, ‘We Want Justice’, and ‘We Want Relocation’, hundreds of employees held protests under the banner of All Migrant (Displaced) Employees Association Kashmir (AMEAK) one of the organisations spearheading the agitation.

“It is a step towards harassment of the community. It is a conspiracy against us. We honestly performed our duty for the last ten years in Kashmir until the selective killings of our employees, like Rahul Bhat, threatened the life and dignity of our community employees in the valley,” a protester told reporters.

“What is our crime? We have taught children of the majority community with utmost sincerity for ten years. Why are we being targeted and killed,” said another employee.

The employees said that “on the one hand they are getting letters with death threats from terror outfits, and on the other, they are being forced to come to work and risk becoming sitting ducks for the militants to target”.

“Please provide us security which is your prime duty. Why are you threatening us with these orders? We are not afraid of stopping of our salaries or anything else. If our lives are threatened, we will leave jobs, said one of the leaders of the agitation. We want to tell the government you cannot torture us and our families,” he said, as per the report.

The Kashmiri Pandit employees recruited under the Prime Minister’s special rehabilitation package and posted in different parts of the Kashmir valley said they were soft targets for the militants and the government has failed to protect them.

Hundreds of the employees have already returned to Jammu and are holding regular protests at the office of the relief commissioner, while their colleagues in the valley are on protest at their camps, despite repeated attempts by the government to end the impasse with the assurance of their relocation to safer zones within the valley.