Cost of a human life – Ajay Pandita’s life

Abstract

Ten days after his death, this article pays homage to a brave Kashmiri, Ajay Pandita, who fell to the bullets of unidentified gunmen, described as terrorists by the local police, outside his home in Kashmir on 8 June 2020. On the 10th day, Kashmiri Pandits observe the 10th Day Kriya, which marks the most important day of funeral. Ajay could be described as an unarmed Kashmiri soldier who worked for the development of his village in Kashmir and stood for the Kashmiri values of communal harmony, brotherhood and coherence. He was a local politician in his mid-forties and a village head. This article provides an insight into his life and death. Ajay belonged to the exiled Kashmiri Pandit community. In 1996, when he was about 21, he had returned home to Kashmir, six years after his exodus in 1990. His family is the only Pandit family that has been living amongst about 150 Muslim families in his Lukbawan village, in Anantnag district of Kashmir. Two years ago, with encouragement and support from his Muslim brethren, he stood for local body elections and was elected unopposed as the sarpanch (the village head) of his village and two other villages. Since the abrogation of Article 370 of Indian Constitution by the current Indian Government, in August 2019, he had been increasingly feeling insecure and vehemently pleading with the local police and the state government for providing him with a security cover, which he never received. In fairness to Ajay, and considering the sensitive issue of Kashmir and the Kashmiri Pandits, this article refers to a number of newspaper reports, articles and interviews, based on which a number of important questions have been raised. Did Ajay’s patriotism lead to his death? Did his valour and bravery get the better of him? Was he like an unarmed solider, without any security personnel to shield him? Apart from his family and Kashmir, has anyone else lost in his untimely death? Who could be the possible beneficiaries? Will Ajay ever receive justice?

Introduction

Is it possible to put a cost to a human life? The answer is yes and no, both. In terms of monetary value, it may be possible to do so, but solely for compensation purposes, and the cost will logically depend on the background of the person – age, social and professional standing, level of education, income etc. In terms of the ‘natural gift of life’ itself, however, every life is invaluable, because no matter how rich one may be or how much medical effort one makes to revive a life, the loss is permanent once a person dies. Also, how can one quantify the suffering of and, therefore, the value of true compensation for the family members of a person who dies naturally or is killed; in particular, if the deceased is a young person like Ajay Pandita, who was killed on 8 June 2020, in Kashmir, by unidentified killers? He was the sarpanch (the village head) of Lukbawan village in Larkipora, located in Anantnag district of Kashmir, India. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and parents.

From Deccan Chronicle, dated 7 December 2016 (Retrofit: What is the cost of a human life in India?), the following wording is reproduced, albeit in an unrelated case but from a similar setting:

Are we following standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Does the textbook need to evolve …? Of course it does … guerrilla wars need a different kind of approach and tactics. And sharper vigil … There is a quantum surge in the threat analysis and for the pawns in this moral chess game …? … In fact, since the much-hyped surgical strike, more than that 25 jawans and officers of the security forces have died.”

Taking the case of the Sahara Group chief, Mr Subrata Roy, the above article attempts to quantity the cost of freedom, as an analogy with the cost of life. Undoubtedly, life means freedom; and without freedom, a life may not be worth living.

“As a continuum, let us look at the price of liberty. What is the price of liberty in India? For a rich man, it could be as much as Rs 200 crores as prognosticated by the Supreme Court in Subrata Roy’s case. For a poor man wrongly accused, languishing in jail for years with no one to fight his case, the price of liberty is zero. And out of mind is out of sight in India. In the curious case of Sahara’s Roy, he has to cough up Rs 200 crores for every month that he stays out of Tihar, this is after spending two years incarcerated … the Supreme Court asked him to deposit Rs 600 crores more by February 6 next year in the Sebi-Sahara refund account to remain out of jail, and if he fails to do, he would have to return to prison …

[As per The Economic Times, dated 31 January 2019 (Supreme Court directs Sahara chief Subrata Roy to appear before it on February 28), Sahara has repeatedly claimed that it had repaid most of the depositors directly and Rs 15,000 crore of the principal amount to the regulator.]

So, what should be the monetary value of Ajay life? And also, can one quantify the monetary value of his dreams and aspirations? He was in his forties and had everything to look forward to?

On 15 June 2020, The Tribune reported ‘J&K administration announces Rs 20 lakh relief for sarpanch Ajay Pandita’s family’. The newspaper also announced: ‘Lt Governor handed over the ex-gratia relief to the next of kin of martyred Sarpanch’, which was illustrated by a photograph showing Ajay’s family standing with the Lt Governor, Girish Chandra Murmu, and seemingly receiving a cheque. The Lt Governor is reported to have paid homage to Ajay, acknowledging his supreme sacrifice and ‘hoping’ the perpetrator of the dastardly act desists from committing such crimes against humanity in the future.

The relief announced by the Lt Governor for Ajay’s family amounts to Rs 20 lakh (Two million Indian Rupees), which is equivalent to USD$ 26,300. The compensation amounts to about USD$ 63 per month (i.e. Rs 4,760) at today’s conversion rate, assuming Ajay would have lived for at least another 35 good years. Does that compensation reflect the true value of Ajay’s life? Certainly not!

Regardless of the petty compensation announced, the humanity owes Ajay an explanation as to why his life was suddenly cut short. As part of the explanation, therefore, a number of important questions must be answered:

  • Why was Ajay killed?
  • Who is responsible for his death?
  • Who must be held accountable?
  • In his death, who has lost?
  • In his death, who may have possibly gained?
  • Will he ever receive justice?

Half-hearted commentaries don’t produce meaningful results. In fairness to Ajay, and considering the sensitive issue of Kashmir and the Kashmiri Pandits, this article provides a detailed commentary on the subject matter on the basis of a number of newspaper reports, articles and interviews, based on which a number of important questions have been raised herein. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that, in this polarised world of ours – where ‘show me the person and I’ll show you the rules’ and ‘might is right’ are the order of the day – the answers to these questions will undoubtedly be subjective, as most answers are in the present day and age. One must not, however, ignore a useful saying: ‘The loudest person in the room is the weakest’.

The greatest question of all, therefore, is if these questions can or will ever be answered honestly by various stakeholders, without bringing in a range of social and political prejudices and biases?

Why and when did Ajay return to the valley?

Ajay had returned to Kashmir in 1996, six years after the mass exodus of Pandits. The family has a house in Jammu also. In the last 24 years, why was Ajay not targeted? Why was he targeted now? What has changed? Aren’t there any other Pandits living in Kashmir? Will they also be targeted?  Did the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution contribute to his death? Did the abrogation of Article 370 further alienate Kashmiri Pandits from their Muslim brethren?

Hindustan Times, dated 9 June 2020, has quoted Ajay’s father, Mr Dwarika Nath Pandita, as saying: “In 1996, we returned to Kashmir and re-started our lives. At that time, Ajay was around 21 years old. He took bank loans and reconstructed our orchards and house … He used to say that it is our home...” Mr Pandita is also reported to have said that ‘Ajay always rejected his suggestions that they should leave Kashmir because the situation was not normal’.

Let us first look at the number of Kashmir Pandits who were killed in Kashmir three decades ago and those who are still living there. It must be noted that there is no consensus between different agencies on the actual numbers and, thus, the numbers are debated even three decades after the exodus.

Based on a news report from Huffpost, dated 10 June 2020:

  • According to Mr Sanjay Tickoo, the head of the Srinagar-based Kashmiri Pandit organisation, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), about 75,000 Kashmiri Pandit families (i.e. around 325,000 people) lived in Kashmir prior to their exodus in 1989 and 808 Pandit families still left in Kashmir. Reportedly, Mr Tickoo did not leave the valley in 1990.
  • A 2008 survey by the KPSS indicates 399 Kashmiri Pandits were killed in Kashmir, mostly during the first year of the insurgency.

Based on an article by Aliza Noor, published in the Quint, dated 19 January 2020:

  • A report by the Jammu and Kashmir government states that 219 members of the Pandit community, out of the 1,400 Hindus, were killed from 1989 to 2004, but none thereafter.
  • Panun Kashmir, a political group of Pandits, claims 1,341 Pandits were killed since 1990.
  • Political scientist, Alexander Evans, has estimated that 95 percent of the Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley – between 150,000 and 160,000 – left in 1990.
  •  A 2010 report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of Norwegian Refugee Council suggests over 250,000 Pandits were displaced since 1990.
  • A CIA report states 300,000 people were displaced from the state.

The Print, dated 2 December 2019, has reported that, on the basis of a survey carried out by Mr Sanjay Tickoo (of KPSS), 808 Pandit families live in Kashmir, at 292 different locations.

Author and journalist, Mr Shivam Vij (‘SV’), has raised a number of important points in an interesting article, Why Kashmiri Pandits may never return to the Valley, in The Print, dated 2 December 2019, about the situation in Kashmir and if Kashmiri Pandits are afraid of going to Kashmir.

In fairness to Mr Vij, as well as the sensitivities involved with the subject matter, his article must be read in full, through the online link provided in the references of this article. In the context of this article, however, some excerpts of the article are reproduced herein to provide the readers with some idea about the ground reality in Kashmir, and how politicians and diplomats describe it to the world:

On 2 August this year, the government of Jammu and Kashmir (under President’s rule) cancelled the annual Amarnath Yatra … The security situation must have been really, really bad because this was the first time the Amarnath Yatra was cancelled altogether. Yet, the security situation was good enough for the Narendra Modi government to make Article 370 null and void, as also Article 35A, divide the state into two union territories and place hundreds of pro-India political actors in jail … Yet no Hindu – absolutely no one – seems to have cried hoarse about the hurt to Hindu sentiments … Similarly, the political discourse around the issue of Kashmiri Pandits is replete with political hypocrisy.

In his article, Mr Vij has, has commented on a video clip in which Mr Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s Consul General in New York, seemed to have addressed a private gathering of Kashmiri Pandits wherein he has allegedly made a number of assertions that may either be factually wrong or showing a lack of understanding of the history and culture of Kashmir. When challenged, Mr Chakravorty is reported to have claimed that his remarks had been taken out of context.

SV: ‘First, he says, “I believe in our lifetime we will have our land back, our people will have to go back, because not everybody can live in the United States. Our Kashmiri Pandit brethren are living in camps, in Jammu, in Delhi, on the streets…” A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth … In both Jammu and in Delhi, they have been moved into proper houses … One could argue about the size and upkeep of the flats given to them, but if facts matter, they are not camps. And no one is certainly living on the streets.’

[Author: It seems Mr Chakravorty could have (wrongly) been referring to how a considerable number of exiled Pandits had lived, at both Jammu and Delhi, in the early part of 1990.]

SV: ‘Let us tackle another claim by Mr Chakravorty. The claim is that Pandits are not returning to the Kashmir Valley because of fear. He says in the video, “You will not go because of fear of life, but I think that fear will go away.” If Kashmiri Pandit refugees are unable to return to live in Kashmir due to fear, how is it that 808 Kashmiri Pandit families (or around 3,000 to 4,000 people) still live in the Valley in 292 different locations? That’s the count done by the Srinagar-based Sanjay Tickoo of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti. If fear is the reason, how is it that thousands of Kashmiri Pandits visit the Valley, on holidays and personal trips, or for pilgrimages such as the annual Kheer Bhawani festival in Tulmulla?’

[Author: Mr Vij is correct in his assertion. In the past one decade or so, and prior to the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits would visit the valley every year, as tourists, for spending both winter and summer holidays, and as pilgrims, visiting Amarnath, Kheer Bhawani, Zeeth Yaer  and many other traditional shrines and places of worship.]

SV: ‘Cruel and inhuman as the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was, being a refugee is a complicated matter. Kashmiri Pandit refugees may be able to physically relocate to their old homes, but they can’t go back in time. A resilient, educated, well-connected community, the Pandit refugees have got education and jobs and are now spread across India and the world. Would a Kashmiri Pandit refugee’s son or daughter working in a corporate job want to return to the family home in the old city of Srinagar? Why would someone leave a corporate job in Mumbai unless they could find an equivalent job in Srinagar?’

[Author: This is also correct. Exodus of Kashmir Pandits happened three decades ago. Since then, barring those 30,000 to 35,000 people living in the government-provided camp accommodations in Jammu, they seem to have reasonably settled down well across the globe. There was no other option for them except to strive hard and reclaim their lives. It is not prudent, therefore, for any settled family to uproot itself and move back to its home, especially if the home continues to be disturbed. Such unreasonable expectations from any Kashmiri Pandit family are totally unrealistic and quite unfair. They have immensely suffered in the past – which is beyond words – and they can’t be expected to keep suffering for the same loss, which is practically irreparable. They have lost one complete generation since their exodus. Yes, if their home is back in order and peaceful, some of them may consider moving back to the valley, albeit still with an element of risk and apprehension.]

SV: ‘Arvind Gigoo is a retired English lecturer from Kashmir … moved to Jammu after the exodus in 1991. Over several meetings in Jammu and Delhi, between 2010-2012, I asked him why he never thought of returning and living in his home in Srinagar. He explained that his friends were now all in Jammu. It’s the same reason why he doesn’t live with his son in Delhi, the writer Siddhartha Gigoo. When Arvind Gigoo went back to Srinagar after many years, he felt like an outsider … But the most important reason he couldn’t imagine going back to living in Srinagar was comfort. The old house, the old way of living, the old kind of toilets, the dirty old lanes. He was comfortable living in a more modern house in Jammu. He eventually sold the Srinagar house — something many Pandits did.

So, when we speak of the “return” of Pandits, it is not a physical relocation we need to think of. Pandits cannot return to a Kashmir that is pre-1989, because it does not exist anymore.’

[Author: It seems Mr Arvind Gigoo has reflected the general thought of many Kashmiri Pandits of his generation and those of a generation after him.]

SV: ‘Now that we have debunked the myth of security fears preventing Pandits from returning to the Valley, let us look at Sandeep Chakravorty’s Israel model that drew applause from the audience. This model basically implies creating a special enclave for Pandits. So, there could be a Hindu Kashmir and a Muslim Kashmir, physically demarcated … The idea is an old one; it used to be known as “Panun Kashmir”. Interestingly, the BJP never endorsed it, though one doesn’t know what the BJP of Modi-Shah thinks. The removal of Article 35A has so far not been followed up with any reassurance that the Modi government will not settle Indians in the Kashmir Valley. So, if the plan is to bring about a demographic change in the Valley … then the Israel model is not what we are looking at. Instead, we are looking at the China model.’

[Author: Mr Vij’sthoughts make immense sense from practical considerations. The valley must not be divided in the similar way as the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was divided in late 2019. The two Kashmiri communities are interwoven in terms of their common history, identity and culture. As such, they must not be separated – physically or spiritually – if Kashmir has to become peaceful and prosperous. Such divisions potentially push India back to its past several decades ago.]

SV: ‘And yet, there is an Indian model we have forgotten. This model died in Kashmir the day Jawaharlal Nehru had Sheikh Abdullah arrested, and maybe it’s too late to revive it. The Indian model is one of “integration”. The only meaningful way Kashmiri Pandits could “return” to Kashmir is if the wall of suspicion and mistrust between Pandits and Muslims was brought down. This could be done through a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation exercise …

 ‘… Sandeep Chakravorty is embarrassingly ill-informed. He betrays his ignorance of Kashmir when he says, “We all have to keep the Kashmiri culture alive. The Kashmiri culture is the Indian culture is the Hindu culture. I feel as much Kashmiri as anybody else.

To know what Kashmiri culture is/was, he should Google and read up why a Kashmiri Muslim family is at the centre of the Amarnath Yatra. He could read a few books on the now-discredited idea of Kashmiriyat, of syncretism in the Valley … Kashmiri, Hindu, and Indian are not the same thing. They could co-exist …’

[Author: Mr Vij’s suggestions about the Indian model are valid. Also, one must know Kashmir and Kashmiris well enough to avoid making misleading and surficial comments about them and their unique culture.]

Why was Ajay vehemently pleading for his security?

Ajay had vehemently been seeking security from the government for quite some time but, unfortunately, his request had been seemingly ignored. Why? It seems he did not feel safe particularly after Article 370 was abrogated on 5 August 2019. Why was he not feeling safe? Despite that and his father’s repeated suggestions to leave, as reported in Hindustan Times, dated 9 June 2020, why had he decided not to leave the valley? Was he ‘hoping’ nothing would happen to him? If yes, was his hope based on the trust that he had earned with his fellow Kashmiri people living in his Muslim dominated village?

  • Hindustan Times, dated 9 June 2020, has quoted Mr Vinod Pandit, the Chairman of All Parties Migrant Coordination Committee (APMCC), who had condemned the killing: “He was always under threat for being a sarpanch, and especially because he was a Kashmiri Pandit. Why did the government withdraw his security? Why play with minority lives in Kashmir? A probe is needed.
  • The Hindu, dated 9 June 2020, has reported that, in December 2019, in an interview with a Jammu-based news channel, Mercury Times, Ajay had said that, during the panchayat elections on 2018, the local people from his village, especially from the Muslim community, had taken a considerable risk in coming out and voting for him but the administration had failed him: “The Central government makes tall claims about panch and sarpanches on TV; they shoot from our shoulders … I am an elected person but I am helpless … I want to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah… can’t they see this? The UT administration never met the sarpanches, do they know who Ajay Bharti is? When I am not safe, how I can say my people are safe … The administration treats us untouchables.”

Reportedly, Ajay had also raised an alarm about the safety of sarpanches in Kashmir after the killing of another sarpanch, Syed Rafiq Ahmed, and a government employee, Sheikh Zahoor, both Muslims, on 28 November 2019.

Did Ajay’s affiliation with the Congress party contribute to his lack of security?

Initially, on social media, when it was claimed that Ajay belonged to the ruling BJP of India, there was quite a bit of emotional furore amongst the social media users who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community. But, ostensibly, the noise quietened gradually when it was announced, by the mass electronic media, that he belonged to Indian National Congress (INC). Could that be a reason why he was not provided any security cover by the current government despite his repeated requests, even after his emotional request on television about 6 months ago?

The Kashmir Walla’s report, dated 10 June 2020, is summarised below:

  • ‘In a haunting interview with a Jammu-based news channel, Mr. Ajay Pandita had complained about the lack of security: “Does the lieutenant governor know who Ajay Bharti is? He doesn’t. We have stood for elections. We will be looted. We will die. And they will say the situation is good …”’
  • ‘Last August, when the Government of India abrogated J & K’s special status, security cover from various politicians and protected sites – including temples and shrines – were withdrawn. The police picket in the Mata Siddh Lakshmi temple in Lukbawan was also withdrawn … In a meeting with elected village representatives in September, the union minister of home affairs, Amit Shah, had promised them security cover and an insurance scheme of two lakh rupees, both of which continue to elude many sarpanches and panches nearly a year later.’
  • Mr Nana Jee Wattal – a Congress sarpanch from the Kashmiri Pandit community – who had been assigned a personal guard for over a decade till last year when his security cover was removed, has said: “We are happy that BJP sarpanches are getting security and accommodation … But the government has made us scapegoats,” adding that Mr. Pandita’s assassination should not be linked to his belonging to the Pandit community: “Other sarpanches who have been killed were Muslims. Anyone working on a grassroots level for nationalism, secularism and democracy is a target.
  • Mr Sanjay Tickoo, a resident of downtown Srinagar and the president of the KPSS, has said: “Militants are not lenient towards anyone participating in the political process.

Who has claimed the responsibility for Ajay’s killing?

On 9 June 2020, The Hindu reported that a newly formed militant organisation, The Resistance Front (‘TRF’), has taken the responsibility: ‘TRF is promoted by Pakistan and was created in August last after the revocation of Article 370 in J&K’.

Some excerpts of The Hindu news report are reproduced: “The Director General of Police (DGP) said they have identified the two local Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorists who killed Pandita at Lokbawan village around 6 p.m. on Monday … The terrorists have done this deliberately. He was targeted because he was part of the government machinery and democratic process and a member of the minority community has been killed after many years. …it shows the communal mindset of our neighbour.”

The Hindu has also quoted the DGP: ‘The TRF is nothing but a front of the Pakistan backed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). They only want to mislead. We have identified the terrorists who carried out the attack; they are from the Hizb.

Mr. Pandita’s family has said ‘that he had been seeking police protection but his requests were not acted upon by the local police’. Surprisingly, however, the DGP has claimed that he was not aware of any such request. Interestingly, the earliest mentions about the TRF appear in articles published initially by Outlook, dated 27 April 2020 (updated on 8 May 2020), followed by The Economic Times, dated 29 April 2020:  

  • Outlook notably reported that TRF was floated three months back (i.e. sometimes in February 2020): ‘What is the reality of the TRF or The Resistance Front – the newly-floated militant outfit of Kashmir, which has claimed a series of terror attacks in Kashmir since it was floated three months back.’
  • The Economic Times definitively reported: ‘Newly formed ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF) is like old wine in new bottle … created to give Pakistan deniability from action under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is an amalgamation of existing terror groups operating in Kashmir, according to the assessment of the security establishment … The Resistance Front … is actively supported by Pakistan and consists of existing terror groups Hizbul Mujahidin, Jaish-e-Mohammad, LeT and Al-Badr, informed sources in the security establishment believe …’
  • OpIndia,, dated 9 June 2020, has reported: ‘LeT’s new proxy group TRF takes responsibilitysaysno ‘political stooges’ will be spared. The TRF had reportedly also threatened that “No one will be spared who is hand in glove with the occupational regime and strengthen their illegal occupation. Innocents won’t be touched, so don’t drag this with religion.

Some important questions arise: It seems the TRF was born sometime in February 2020, about 6 months after the abrogation of Article 370. Who is its face? Is it a real organisation? Is it really a secular organisation? Is it likely to target other Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley or only those people, regardless of their religious background, whom they see speaking on behalf of the Indian government and acting for the Indian interest in the valley? Who funds it apart from the usual suspects? What was the need for its creation if there are already a number of such organisations operating in the valley?

How did Ajay’s family members react?

In Ajay’s absence now, the reaction of family members can be considered to be very important to provide vital clues for understanding (a) Ajay, as a person; (b) the actual overall ground situation in Kashmir and, in particular, the situation that he may have possibly created for himself; and (c) the possible reasons why he could have been killed.

Did his pseudonym, ‘Bharti’ (which means ‘Indian’) contribute to his death? Was he known to be (publicly) using a language similar to that used by his family members after his death? If yes, is it a brainer to understand that he could have possibly been irking the Kashmiri separatists? In that case, should the Indian intelligence agencies not have known his vulnerability and provided him with necessary security – as they do to other prominent separatist leaders – especially when he had been himself pleading for it for several months now? Did his patriotism (towards India) lead to his death? Did his valour and bravery eventually get the better of him? Was he like an unarmed solider, without any security personnel to protect him? Did the security agencies deliberately wait for him to be targeted? Was he seen as bait? 

  • On 9 June 2020, Hindustan Times quoted Ajay’s father, Mr Dwarika Nath Pandita: “My son was a lion … a true patriot … He used to say that it is our home. He used ‘Bharti’ in his name to show his love for the country. Some anti-nationals are behind his killing. They shot him in his back. He was a lion. My son has sacrificed his life for the country … There are forces, who don’t want Pandits to return and my son fell to the bullets of such ideology. We are not afraid, but will return and fulfil my son’s mission.
  • Hindustan Times also quoted Ajay’s brother, Mr Vijay Pandita, who is reported to have lit his pyre at Jammu: “We won’t leave Kashmir but I have a demand that the government should first create a regiment of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley … He was helpful to all. He loved his roots and always extended a helping hand to the needy. After becoming sarpanch, he had decided to work for the welfare of Muslim villagers.

On 10 June 2020, Huffington (HuffPost India) reported that Mr Dwarika Nath Pandita had spoken to them over phone. Reportedly, Mr Pandita had heard the shots ring out at five in the evening. “I heard my daughter screaming … I ran outside and I spotted my son in a pool of bloodWe were living happily. The villagers used to treat him like their own brother. It was just due to militancy, he was killed … He always wanted to develop his village. He wanted to uplift this area that has remained under-developed for decades … God knows why they didn’t provide him security … I cannot explain to you the pain … What worse can be for a father who was carrying his dead son’s body for cremation? … I kept looking at his face and thinking what was his fault?

While describing himself as a foot soldier of the Congress Party, Mr Pandita is also reported to have said that Ajay’s political career was tragically cut short for no apparent reason. Two years after his family had returned to Kashmir, Ajay had contested the Urban Local Bodies polls as a Congress Party candidate and was elected the sarpanch of three villages – Lukhbhawan, Lirkipora and Mugalpora of Doru constituency, in Anantnag.

As per his father, after winning the 2018 election, Ajay had requested the Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag, Mr Mohammad Younis Malik, for security but received no response. Reportedly, the current Deputy Commissioner in Anantnag, KK Sidha has told Huffpost that no such request for security from Ajay had come to his attention.

  • On 12 June 2020, Outlook reported an interview of Ajay’s daughter, Ms Niyanta Pandita, with IANS (Indo-Asian News Service) in which she is reported to have said that she will follow the footsteps of her brave father who was not dependent on any political party but a true patriot, one who loved his country and worked for the upliftment of the people. She has also called the killers as cowards, for they had shot Ajay from behind and did not have the courage to face him, adding that the family will soon move from Jammu back to Kashmir. The following are some excerpts of what she is reported to have said:

“My father was brave and I too have to be brave, we will not allow anybody to snatch our right … They could have shot him in the chest, but they fired from the back at his head, it is simply a case of cowardice … We are a family of lions, we are not scared of anybody. But everybody is concerned about family’s safety. My father wasn’t scared for himself, but was concerned about his family, everybody is bothered about his family and strives for their safety and protection … Whatever the government deems right regarding giving security to sarpanchs, it must do that, I don’t want a similar tragedy repeated in Kashmir.”

Niyanta is also reported to have said that her father had contested the election on the insistence of the local people, who had then elected him as the Sarpanch.

“They trusted him, I don’t say that every person is bad there, but there are some bad people also, otherwise, how would they know when he left the block, reached the home, and went outside when he was fired … People of India are killed in India, it is a shame, I want justice must be done as soon as possible.”

As per Niyanta, after a Sarpanch was killed Kashmir in November 2019, her father had demanded security cover from the government – as he had a family to look after – but none had been provided. Despite that, he was not scared to speak out and work for his people. She reminded the government that ‘people’s concerns must not be taken lightly otherwise the results could be very bad’.

What did Ajay’s neighbours say?

On 10 June 2020, The Kashmir Walla reported that Lukbawan is an isolated village where about 150 families live. The village is enveloped by hills, with a dense cover of walnut trees. Ajay’s family is reported to be the sole Kashmiri Pandit family living in the village. Reportedly, Lukbawan had never witnessed any such violent incident before. Muslim residents are known to perform ablutions in the pond attached to the village temple, and offer their prayers in its lawn. Ajay would also frequently visit the local mosque.

Ajay had reportedly joined active politics after quitting his job at the public broadcaster, Doordarshan. In the December 2018 village panchayat elections, reportedly, he had defeated another Kashmiri Pandit – currently a resident of Jammu – who had visited the village only once, on the voting day – representing the BJP.

Apart from his father, wife and two daughters, Ajay’s sister and two nieces also lived in their home in Lukbawan. On the evening of 8 June 2020, the sounds of two gunshots had reportedly startled the sleepy village. A local resident, who has informed the villagers had fled in fear after Ajay was shot, saying: “Two men rode on a bike and fired at him, he was eating a mango at the time. He would usually come to the shop to buy cigarettes, and would hang around for some time.”

Reportedly, a car passing by had transported him and his sister to the Government Medical College, about ten kilometres away, where he was declared brought dead on arrival. Reportedly, the adults of the family had left for the hospital immediately after he was attacked, whereas the police had driven his children to Jammu later that night.

Two days after Ajay’s death, on 10 June 2020, security forces from the nearby army camp are reported to have arrived in his village and when one of the soldiers had asked his neighbour, Mr Ghulam Mohammad Magloo, “Are you okay?’, Mr Magloohad cried: “The village is mourning.

Mr Bashir Ahmad, an elderly neighbour, a carpenter by profession, had said: “Sorui kenh go khatam (everything is finished) … We have not eaten anything since his death … Those who have killed him are beasts … We are still in disbelief …”, adding: “He used to tell me Hindus want to go to swarg, and Muslims want to go to jannat, but God is in here’”, pointing to his heart.

As per Huffpost, dated 10 June 2020, Ajay’s neighbours had reported that bullets had ripped through his left shoulder and chest.

  • Mr Shahid Aslam, a grocer, is reported to have said that Ajay was buying cigarettes and fruits at the time when two men, dressed as civilians, had shot him twice at a close range: “He fell down and was in a pool of blood. I ran from the spot and entered a nearby house for help.”
  • Mr Ghulam Mohammad Mugloo had said: “He was like my son, humble and friendly. It feels like we lost one of our own … last night, our entire family could not sleep. The entire village is mourning his death. This shouldn’t have happened.
  • Mr Bashir Ahmad had said: “Recently, he renovated a water channel in the village that is helping in watering the orchards.

Some excerpts of the Huffpost news report are reproduced below:

  • No militant group had claimed responsibility for murdering Pandita at the time this report was published.
  • In conflict-ridden Kashmir, those who engage with the Indian state – party workers, village chiefs and policemen – are hunted by militants and often have strained relations with their fellow Kashmiris.
  • In a press conference, Anil Sharma, president of the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Conference said that 18 village chiefs had been killed in attacks staged by militants, but he did not say since when.
  • Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir were held in 2011 after a gap of 33 years.
  • Pandita is the second village chief killed by militants since August, last year … Rafiq Shah, a village chief, was killed when militants hurled a grenade and opened fire at a government event in Anantnag on 26 November 2019. The constant threat to their lives has many village chiefs in Kashmir perennially looking over their shoulder, moving from one location to another, and staying for prolonged periods in safe houses in Srinagar. These village chiefs, who risk their lives by participating in the grass-root level election, a powerful symbol of Indian democracy, have always criticised the authorities for not providing them with adequate protection.
  • Pandita, who contested the village election as a Congress Party candidate in October 2018, was a member of the only Kashmiri Pandit family in Lukhbawan. 

How did various Kashmiri Pandit organisations react?

On 9 June 2020, The Hindu reported Kashmiri Pandit organisations had termed the ‘planned murder of sarpanch as an attempt to trigger fear psychosis among the minorities in the valley’ and urged the Central Government to provide security to Kashmiri Pandits and other minority community members living in Kashmir.

  • All Parties Migrant Coordination Committee (APMCC):  It is a planned attack by Islamic terrorists to target minority Kashmiri Pandit community in Kashmir valley to trigger fear psychosis among them like they did in 1990s. We condemn the killing of a Kashmir Pandit … This is a clear threat to KPs by terrorists and their overground workers… Nothing has changed for KPs since 1990 in Kashmir.”

APMCC’s Chairman, Mr Vinod Pandita, is also reported to have said: ‘several terrorist outfits have threatened to “blow up” KPs if they return to the proposed colony for Pandits’.

  • All State Kashmiri Pandit Conference (ASKPC): Terrorists involved in the killing be neutralised within 24 hours. Their General Secretary Mr TK Bhat is reported to have said: “It is a deliberate plan to target KPs to create fear among them. We condemn this cowardice act.”

Mr Bhat is also reported to have said that the ‘abrogation of Article 370 had generated a hope among the minority KPs that they could return to Kashmir, but this killing was a plan to stop their rehabilitation in the valley.

  • Panun Kashmir (PK): ‘It was a continuance of genocide and ethnic cleansing of minority community members in the Valley’.
  • All India Kashmiri Pandit Conference (AIKPC): It as ‘an act of cowardice as 22 terrorists were killed in past 24 hours’.
  • All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS) is reported to have demanded security to the minority community members.
  • Sampoorn Kashmir Sanghathan (SKS) is reported to have condemned the killing and demanded immediate action against the killers.
  • Mr KK Khosa, president of Kashmiri Pandit Sabha (KPS), Jammu, has said: “Shocking beyond words. May God grant peace to the departed soul! Highly reprehensible act. Community continues to be a soft target. We demand beefing up of security to all our political leaders and elected representatives”
  • Youth All India Kashmiri Samaj (YAIKS) has demanded action against the killers.
  • On 9 June 2020, Hindustan Times has quoted Dr Mahesh Kaul, a prominent writer on Kashmir and a community leader: Ajay’s murder was ‘part of a jihad to eliminate Kashmiri Pandits at different levels.’

All above messages carry standard wording and are nothing new. Such messages, of expressed shock and condolences, are routinely conveyed by these organisations and by many other prominent individuals when a person is killed in similar situations. But do they really matter? What does change, except a token payment of meagre compensation is paid to the family of the deceased, and advertised?

A life is gone. Did these Kashmiri Pandit organisations ever support Ajay and ask for his security from the government, as well as the security for other Kashmiri Pandit sarpanches in the valley? Do they have one voice? Are they united and fighting for the same cause? If not, why not?

Lip sympathies don’t ever bring people back from dead. Lip sympathies don’t matter to anyone except to the sympathizers, individually, mainly for their political ambitions.

How did the Indian political parties react?

On 8 June 2020, Hindustan Timesreported: Ajay Pandita alias Bharti, a 40-year-old Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch … was shot dead by terrorists on Monday evening … at around 6 pm, police said … Bharti, who was affiliated with the Congress, was taken to a hospital but did not survive, police said … Locals said the family of the sarpanch had migrated from south Kashmir in early 1990s but returned around two years back. He successfully contested the panchayat polls.”

Ajay’s death started political tweeting from various prominent Kashmir and Indian politicians. As per Hindustan Times:

  • Indian National Congress (INC) party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “My condolences to the family and friends of Ajay Pandita, who sacrificed his life for the democratic process in Kashmir. We stand with you in this time of grief. Violence will never win.”
  • Indian Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said: “It is a desperate attempt by anti-national elements to defeat the process of grassroots democracy, which is sought to be established in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
  • Former Chief Minister Mr Omar Abdullah – from National Conference party – called it a “terror attack on a grassroots political worker”.
  • On behalf of Kashmir’s PDP President Mehbooba Mufti, her daughter Iltija Mufti, tweeted: “Condolences to the family. Shrinking political space in Kashmir has made party workers all the more vulnerable. They are stuck between punitive actions of a vindictive government & militants on the other end.”
  • Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir said: “Bharti had no security cover and sought a judicial inquiry. The party also demanded a judicial inquiry into the gruesome incident.”
  • Kashmir Zone Police tweeted: “Today at about 1800hrs some unknown #terrorists fired upon one #Congress Sarpanch identified as Ajay Pandit at #Lokbawan #Anantnag who later on #succumbed to his injuries at hospital. #Police is on the spot. Further details shall follow. @JmuKmrPolice”
  • Salman Nizami (INC’s Politician/Columnist/Former Journalist/Gandhian) tweeted: “Congress Sarpanch Ajay Bharti had been pleading for security. Yet BJP Govt denied him security. This when the BJP-RSS miss no opportunity to exploit the Kashmiri Pandit issue. What hypocrites. They are morally responsible for Ajay’s death!”

On 9 June 2020, The Hindu reported:

  • Mr GA Mir, the President of J&K Pradesh Congress committee, claiming ‘when Pandita expressed his desire to contest the sarpanch election, the entire village stood in his support: “The villagers said no one will contest against him and he won the elections. For the past seven-eight months, he had been saying that since he is the lone member from the minority community in the area he has sought police security. The party also appealed to provide police protection to him. Had he got police protection, this incident wouldn’t have occurred.”
  •  “Pandita, who was elected unopposed as the sarpanch … used to live in Jammu with his family and often visited Anantnag. He was one of the few to return to his village six years after the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in early 90s.
  •  In the panchayat elections of 2018 in Jammu and Kashmir, a total of 27,281 candidates were elected but 12,776 seats were still vacant.

As noted earlier, all above messages mark just standard formalities and no meaningful follow-up. They don’t really matter to anyone except to the politicians themselves, for their political purposes. Did these people ever ask for security for Ajay from the government? Lip sympathies don’t ever bring people back from dead.

Will these politicians now work and help to provide the necessary security cover to other sarpanches in the valley, regardless of whether they are affiliated to the Congress party or the BJP?

 [Note: A sarpanch is elected by the village-level constitutional body of local self-government, called Gram Sabha, which retains decision-making power for five years. The sarpanch, along with other elected members (called commissioners or panch), constitute the gram panchayat, which the sarpanch heads.

There are about 250,000 gram panchayats in India, of which about 4,500 are in Jammu and Kashmir. It is understood that gram panchayat (village level) elections are not fought on any political party symbols; nevertheless, candidates do receive support from political parties.]

Was Ajay killed because he was a Kashmiri Pandit?

The following two articles provide important clues for answering this question. In fairness – to the subject matter and the respected authors – it would be prudent if these two articles are read in full, using online links provided in the references at the end of this write-up. Some excerpts from these two articles are reproduced herein for the benefit of the readers by maintaining the continuity of this article.

  • Aliza Noor, The Quint, dated 19 January 2020, ‘How, 30 Yrs Ago, Kashmiri Pandits Became Refugees in Their Country’:

It was the cold, bitter and terrifying night of 19 January 1990 when the life of Kashmiri Pandits spiralled into one of the worst nightmares in the Valley. In the midst of political rivalries, radical Islamisation and militant insurgency, the Kashmiri Pandits — the Hindu minority community in the Valley — were driven out in one of the most unprecedented exoduses in India’s history. Their plight is an intricate and difficult one to tell. One that is rife with murders, gang rapes, grenade blasts, encounters, arrests, disappearances, myriad slogans in favour of freedom from India, for Pakistan, in favour of extremists and against Pandits’ brethren … 30 years later, the events … are still debated, with their experience being brought up every now and then to fight political battles … The manner in which the state and the key players systematically worked in the direction of the exodus is crucial to understand.’

The article squarely blames Mohammad Abdullah Sheikh – the first Prime Minster of Jammu and Kashmir after the state’s accession to India in 1947 – for initiating the Islamisation of Kashmir when, in 1980, his government renamed about 2,500 villages from their original Kashmiri (possibly Sanskrit) names to new (Islamic) names. Interestingly, in his autobiography, Atish-e-Chinar, Sheikh Abdullah is alleged to have referred to Kashmiri Pandits as ‘mukhbir’ (informers) of the Indian government. Allegedly, Mohammad Abdullah Sheikh was pushed by the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, to take the necessary measures for the integration of the state with India (via ‘The 1975 Accord’), which did not sit well with the separatists (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, ‘JKLF’) who, subsequently, started insurgency in the state after 1987.

Later, the article talks about the alleged rigging of the 1987 state elections, which gave birth to the Muslim United Front (‘MUF’), who propagated their idea of the Islamic resistance movement, with assistance from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who created and sponsored another  terrorist group, Hizbul-Mujahideen (‘HM’). The militants from both groups allegedly spread anti-Pandit sentiments, convincing many Kashmiris of the need to cleanse the Kashmir valley of its Pandit population. The article talks about the murder of lawyer and BJP leader, Mr Tika Lal Tapoo outside his home, on 14 September 1989, and three weeks later, killing of retired Judge Nikalanth Ganjoo in broad daylight, which had instilled fears in the Pandit community. 

Aliza has also spoken how newspapers, posters, and mosques in Kashmir had issued declarations which had given Pandits three options to consider –  Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, quit Kashmir or perish). Reportedly, a note published in Aftab, a local Urdu daily, had threatened Pandits to leave, issuing a warning: “If you do not obey, we will start with your children. Kashmir Liberation, Zindabad.”

The article recalls how, around 9 pm on 19 January 1990, the Kashmir Valley had reverberated with war-cries and pro-Pakistan slogans through loudspeakers. Reportedly, tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims – young, old and women – had come out on the streets and shouted slogans like “death to India” and “death to kafirs”, which continued till morning. As a result, the Pandits were left to defend themselves when the police deserted their posts. Reportedly, the Gawkadal massacre had taken took place on 21 January 1990, in which the Indian security forces had fired at protesters, killing at least 50 people.

Mr Lassa Kaul, the Station Director of Doordarshan Srinagar, was shot dead in his office chair on 13 February 1990. Pandit Sarwanand Koul Premi, a renowned Kashmiri poet, and his son were killed near their house. In February 1990, a young social-worker, Satish Tikkoo, was also killed. Reportedly, many Kashmiri Pandit women were also kidnapped, raped and murdered through this period.

About the exodus of the Pandit community, the article says:

‘Fear-stricken, the hapless Pandits had no option but to leave … They engaged in whatever means of transport they could manage … ending up in refugee camps  … To the radical forces, it was perceived as the fruition of the Valley’s ethnic cleansing. The sentiment was that Pandits had now been banished from their birthplace – not just for the future few decades, but for all times to come … Thousands of Kashmiri Pandit refugees settled into small rooms and abject conditions in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi provided to them by the state government. Many of them hoped to return to their ancestral land but failed to do so.

On the two significant events that took place in India betweenAugust 2019 and January 2020 – i.e. the abrogation of Article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (‘CAA’) – the author claims the Kashmiri Pandit community had exhibited two contrastingly different responses. The author claims that 64 Kashmiri Pandits had unequivocally condemned the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian government on the grounds that it was done without undertaking any consultation process with the people of the state. However, Panun Kashmir had supported theCAA and the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) at a time when the nation was witnessing widespread protests against them between December 2019 and January 2020.

On the plight of Kashmiri Pandits the author concludes:

‘Several Pandits feel it is yet another tool using their plight for political gains, pandering to the majoritarian forces in the country. Their trauma is often used to engage in whataboutery, even as efforts to create effective political discourse and debate around their rehabilitation policies are nowhere in sight. Kashmiri Pandits may have been able to physically relocate, but they cannot go back in time.’

  • Dr Simrit Kahlon (SK), News Intervention, dated 10 June 2020, ‘Ajay Pandita’s sacrifice will not go in vain, other Pandit families will relocate in Kashmir Valley’:

SK:Ajay Pandita was a member of the Congress party and Sarpanch of his Village. He and his family had migrated in early 1990’s but returned to their native land around two years back … Responsibility for killing has been claimed by the ‘Terrorist Resistance Front’ (TRF), a new terrorist organisation created by foreign powers … Creation of TRF was necessary since terrorist numbers are too small for individual functioning. Pakistan’s involvement in the decision to carry out the killing comes across quite clearly … The situation for terrorists in Kashmir is so bad that Pakistan was forced to send a desperate request to China to create an issue along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to divert attention from Kashmir. China, on its part, is so badly compromised by the non-starter China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its own vulnerabilities in the post-COVID environment that it actually went ahead with the misadventure … The terrorists, now under extreme pressure, needed to strike urgently and thus killed mercilessly the innocent Ajay Pandita and Danish Najar.

[Author: The above wording sounds quite definitive but is not exactly correct. The slain leader had contested the Panchayat election two years back but he is reported to have returned to the valley in 1996, as claimed by his father and other newspapers. Furthermore, the author seems to have full information about the TRF and why its creation was necessary. With great conviction, rather speculatively to an extent, the author has claimed the killing was designed and carried out by ‘foreign’ powers, curiously linking the incident with China, LAC and the CPEC. Has any criminal investigation been undertaken and its report made public?]

SK:While the apprehensions of Kashmiri Pandit community are absolutely justified, one needs to keep in mind the fact that terrorists are indiscriminate in their choice of targets … Terrorists have killed Hindus, Muslims,  Sikhs and others without remorse all through the period of terrorism. Kashmiri Muslims have lost as much to terrorism, if not more, as have the Kashmiri Pandits. The need, therefore, is to fight the enemy together without giving it an opportunity to cause division on religious and community lines.

[Author: The above wording thankfully sounds quite realistic and can be deemed useful for ushering in some reconciliation and cooling down tempers on either side.]

SK: “A vast majority of Kashmiri Muslims are eager to see the return of their Pandit brothers. The security forces have the security situation in the Valley well under control. This is the best time for Kashmiri Pandit community to move in and reclaim what is theirs.”

[Author: The above wording does not seem to be realistic. The majority of Pandit population is scattered and has settled across India and around the globe. Why would they unsettle themselves yet again and move back to their home, which is still is disorder and unstable. If at all anyone would be willing to return to settle back in the valley, and for all right reasons, as a resident and not as a seasonal summer or winter tourist, it will be from that five to ten percent of Kashmiri Pandits, who currently live in the government-provided migrant flats at Jammu. It seems the author may not have much idea about the current state of mind of Kashmir Pandits. Furthermore, had the security forces brought the situation in the valley well under control, the Kashmiris living in the valley would have been enjoying all the rights and the privileges that are enjoyed by the Indian citizens living in the rest of the country, of course, barring the COVID-19 lockdown.

The situation in Kashmir is far from stable. The valley has been under a continued lockdown since the abrogation of Article 370 in the first week of August 2019, imposed initially for preventing unrest in the valley and later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 16 June 2020, India Today, quoting the Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police (DGP), reported: ‘27 terrorists have been killed by security forces in the past 17 days in the valley, causing frustration among militants who are now targeting innocent people.’ The DGP has also said, ‘terrorists are hitting innocent and soft targets, which has not only annoyed the government but also the people of the Kashmir valley’. When he was asked about the lack of security for Ajay, he is reported to have said that security is subject to the daily drill, adding: “The concerns of the people, who feel insecure, are being addressed. Individual security is subject to the review of the security review committee of the union territory. They are examining this issue.

Furthermore, India and China are currently in the midst of serious border issues in Ladakh (part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir), where violent clashes between the forces of two nuclear-armed neighbours – who are the world’s two most populated countries – have resulted in deaths of scores of soldiers on either side. On 17 June 2020, Guardian reported: ‘At least 20 died after soldiers fought with clubs and rocks along the disputed border, making de-escalation hard for the nuclear states.’ Some excerpts of the news are reproduced herein, which reflect the seriousness of the matter and the degree of volatility in the region:

‘India has confirmed that it lost at least 20 of its men in a clash with Chinese soldiers … It is the first fatal confrontation since 1975 and the most serious since 1967 … There is a long history of such encounters ever since the two nations fought a short war there in 1962 … Thus far at least, both Indian and Chinese forces have stuck to an agreement not to carry firearms on patrol near the LAC  … Over the decades, China has been more assertive than India in building infrastructure around the LAC, with roads and bunkers. In recent years, India has been trying to catch up … Neither government wants this to escalate but the fact that there has been significant loss of life, at least on the Indian side, makes the situation much harder to defuse. “Now domestic politics and public opinion, especially nationalist pressure to avenge their deaths and escalate, becomes a dangerous force,” Vipin Narang, a security studies professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. “It will be hard for India at least, with a relatively open media, to de-escalate as easily now.”’

So, in the light of India’s prevenient geo-political issues with its neighbours and constant reports of militancy in Kashmir, the current living conditions in the Kashmir valley cannot be considered as normal and stable enough to lure Kashmiri Pandits back to their home. They left the valley three decades ago as individual families and it is their right to choose if, when and how to return. They are not herd, who can be loaded on trucks, transported to the valley and lodged in designated secured areas, surrounded by armed security personnel, barbed wires and security towers. Being educated and dignified citizens, they are expected to judge the living conditions in the valley before taking any decision. It is not unreasonable to expect that their return to the valley will possible happen only when their Muslim brethren in the valley start living in peaceful conditions – as other Indian citizens do in the rest of India –  without the fear of gun or sudden lockdowns or loss of freedom of expression.’  

SK: “The concept of a separate area being earmarked for them would, in military terms, be reflective of a siege mentality that would prove to be counterproductive in the long run. The community should aim at accessing the whole of Kashmir as it did earlier and not get constricted into a ghetto … New Delhi can help by remaining sensitive to the vulnerabilities of the minority community in Kashmir … Once the vulnerability is addressed and the ghetto mentality discarded, innovative solutions for enhancing security will present themselves … One hundred percent security is not assured to anybody anywhere in the world and should not be expected in this case too. Let the sacrifice of Ajay Pandita not go in vain; if more people take a courageous step like him and his family, the terrorists will be defeated in their own game.”

[Author: The author thankfully appears to be quite prudent in the above wording. It would have, however, been useful if the term ‘minority’ was defined in the above paragraph. Note that the ‘majority community’ in the valley is also the ‘minority community’ in India as a whole. Also, the word ‘terrorist’ is subjective and should have been defined. Cambridge dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/terrorist) defines the term as ‘someone who uses violent action, or threats of violent action, for political purposes.’ Can politicians be also defined as ‘terrorists’ if they indulge in similar activities or exhibit similar behaviours even though they may not actually wield a gun? What may appear as an act of terrorism to one side may be seen as an act of freedom-fighting by the other side.]

Conclusion

To conclude this article, it is important to attempt an answer to an outstanding question: “Who has lost due to Ajay’s death and who could have benefited.” The answer to this question needs very delicate response, considering the sensitivities involved from all sides, especially without having any evidence to support it. The readers will need to answer the following questions themselves as every answer will have an opposite answer.

Did Ajay’s patriotism lead to his death? Did his valour and bravery eventually get the better of him? Was he like an unarmed solider, without any security personnel to protect him when he needed protection? Is his death a loss to anyone except to his family and Kashmir as a whole? How many members of his Kashmiri Pandit community had ever heard about him or knew him personally? Was he a acting like a lone ranger? Did the Kashmiri Pandit community – standing under a common umbrella – ever support him and unanimously ask for his security when he was still alive and asking for security? After his emotional interview to a Jammu-based television channel, in December 2019, did the leadership of the Kashmiri Pandit community lend its unequivocal support to his plea? Will he ever receive justice?

Hopefully, time may one day reveal the beneficiaries from his death.

There must be absolutely no doubt that Ajay was extremely brave and courageous. But it is also commonly advised: ‘Discretion is the better part of valour’, which literally means ‘it is wise to be careful and avoid unnecessary risks and dangerous situations’. This is the mantra that most Kashmiri Pandits practically follow, as demonstrated by them when they exiled themselves three decades ago and, thereafter, in their general reluctance to return home to the valley. It is another thing that many Kashmiris and Indians have called them cowards. But they were not cowards, they were wise. In Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part I), when Prince Hal sees the cowardly Falstaff fallen on the battlefield as if he were dead, he assumes Falstaff has been killed. But after Prince Hal departs the scene, Falstaff rationalises his act: “The better part of Valour, is Discretion; in the which better part, I haue saued my life.” Kashmiri Pandits, known to be a literary community, would have understood Shakespeare.

It is noteworthy that, within a few days of the killing, conclusions have already been made at the local police and the government level, which have also been announced to the world, possibly without undertaking any criminal investigation, about the killers, their organisation(s) and the country that supports them. The names of the killers and their party-head have not been announced. The killers were understood to be on the run at the time of writing this article, on 17 June 2020.

This article must end with a short write up on Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1907 – 1931), the iconic Indian freedom fighter and social revolutionary, who was tried by the British in a conspiracy case and hanged till death on 23 March 1931, in a Lahore jail, at the age of 23. Indian Supreme Court has described his trial as ‘contrary to the fundamental doctrine of criminal jurisprudence’, in which the judgement was passed ex-parte, as he was kept away from the court through the trial and given absolutely no opportunity to defend himself. Reportedly, an honorary judge had supervised his execution, as no magistrate was willing to supervise the hanging. After the hanging, the body was quietly removed by the jail authorities, after making a hole in the rear wall of the jail. His body was secretly cremated and ashes thrown into the Sutlej River under the cover of darkness. Did he ever receive justice?

… Bill Koul (Perth, 18 June 2020)

References

Deccan Chronicle, 7 December 2016. ‘Retrofit: What is the cost of a human life in India?’https://www.deccanchronicle.com/amp/opinion/op-ed/071216/retrofit-what-is-the-cost-of-a-human-life-in-india.html

Hindustan Times, 8 June 2020. ‘Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch killed by terrorists in Anantnag, parties condemn attack’, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kashmiri-pandit-sarpanch-killed-by-terrorists-in-anantnag-parties-condemn-attack/story-KaeSpT9BYDYtn0wFHrCSdM.html

Hindustan Times, 9 June 2020. ‘We won’t leave Kashmir’, says family of slain Pandit sarpanch’, https://m.hindustantimes.com/india-news/we-won-t-leave-kashmir-says-family-of-slain-pandit-sarpanch/story-0kDX1akVDdIXo61JrAiUoO_amp.html

Huffpost, 10 June 2020, What Was His Fault?’: Family And Neighbours Mourn Kashmiri Pandit Sarpanch Killed By Suspected Militants, by Kaiser Andrabi, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/amp/entry/village-chief-shot-dead-kashmir-anantnag_in_5ee07925c5b6b9cbc769a26d/

India Today, 16 June 2020. ‘27 terrorists of JeM, LeT, Hizb killed in past 17 days in Kashmir: J&K DGP’, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/27-jem-let-hizb-terrorists-killed-in-past-17-days-kashmir-jk-dgp-1689395-2020-06-16

News Intervention, 10 June 2020. ‘Ajay Pandita’s sacrifice will not go in vain, other Pandit families will relocate in Kashmir Valley’, by Dr Simrit Kahlon, https://www.newsintervention.com/ajay-panditas-sacrifice-will-not-go-in-vain-other-pandit-families-will-relocate-in-kashmir-valley/

The Economic Times, 31 January 2019. ‘Supreme Court directs Sahara chief Subrata Roy to appear before it on February 28’, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/supreme-court-directs-sahara-chief-subrata-roy-to-appear-before-it-on-february-28/articleshow/67773422.cms?from=mdr

The Economic Times, 29 April 2020. ‘The Resistance Front: New name of terror groups in Kashmir’, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/the-resistance-front-new-name-of-terror-groups-in-kashmir/articleshow/75440416.cms?from=mdr

The Guardian, 17 June 2020. ‘Himalayan flashpoint could spiral out of control as India and China face off’, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/16/himalayan-flashpoint-could-spiral-out-of-control-as-india-and-china-face-off

The Hindu, 9 June 2020. ‘Kashmiri Pandits’ organisations condemn killing of sarpanch in Anantnag’, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kashmir-pandits-organisations-condemn-killing-of-sarpanch-in-anantnag/article31784041.ece/amp/

The Hindu, 9 June 2020. ‘Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch killing a targeted one by Hizb, says DGP’, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/pandit-sarpanch-killing-a-targeted-one-by-hizb-says-dgp/article31788607.ece/amp/

The Kashmir Walla, 10 June 2020. “We’re in disbelief”: Ajay Pandita’s killing reminds of Kashmir’s vulnerable grassroots politics’, https://thekashmirwalla.com/2020/06/were-in-disbelief-ajay-panditas-killing-reminds-kashmirs-vulnerable-grassroots-politics/

The Print, 2 December 2019. ‘Why Kashmiri Pandits may never return to the Valley – The only meaningful ‘return’ can be had through truth and reconciliation, by Shivam Vij, https://theprint.in/opinion/why-kashmiri-pandits-may-never-return-to-the-valley/329103/?amp

The Tribune, 15 June 2020, ‘J&K administration announces Rs 20 lakh relief for sarpanch Ajay Pandita’s family’, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/j-k/jk-govt-announces-rs-20-lakh-relief-fund-sarpanch-ajay-panditas-family-97774

The Quint, 19 January 2020. ‘How, 30 Yrs Ago, Kashmiri Pandits Became Refugees in Their Country’, by Aliza Noor, https://www.thequint.com/amp/story/news%2Findia%2Fexodus-of-kashmiri-pandits-january-1990-refugees-in-their-country-valley-pain-separation-trauma-jammu-delhi-camps

OpIndia, 9 June 2020. Kashmir: ‘LeT’s new proxy group TRF takes responsibility for the assassination of Sarpanch Ajay Pandita, says no ‘political stooges’ will be spared’, https://www.opindia.com/2020/06/pakistan-sponsored-terrorists-trf-lashkar-responsibility-sarpanch-assassination/

Outlook, 8 May 2020. ‘What”s the truth behind TRF in Kashmir?’, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/whats-the-truth-behind-trf-in-kashmir/1828587

Outlook, 12 June 2020.My father was brave, I too have to be brave: Niyanta Pandita’, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/amp/my-father-was-brave-i-too-have-to-be-brave-niyanta-pandita/1863912

2 thoughts on “Cost of a human life – Ajay Pandita’s life

  1. Dear Mr Koul,
    The piece is exhaustive on the future of people of Kashmir, post abrogation of article 370. It is painstakingly written covering multiple dimensions of Kashmir imbroglio. The conclusions I could draw from your piece are:
    1. Ajay Pandita’s death will ultimately become a mere number that adds to the number of Killings in Kashmir. Political parties, different Kashmiri pandit organisations, media, columnists and others will forget him in another month’s time. His family, friends will remember for all their lives for what he was for them. May God give courage to his family to bear this irreparable loss. And may his soul rest in peace.
    2. Post abrogations of article 370 and 35A, the situation in Kashmir had turned worse than it was before. It has alienated Kashmiri Muslims, fully and seemingly the alienation is irreversible. The worst thing that has happened post abrogations of the articles is that whatever links, even if they were tenuous, between KMs and KPs have broken completely.
    3. BJP fulfilled their promise to abolish article 370, which has gone very well with their voters. BJP in counts it as their most significant achievement. But, in their achievement, there is nothing for Kashmiris ( KMs and KPs), nor it was ever in the scheme of things. Kashmir was always an emotive issue with BJP. Growing sectarianism serves them to keep it so. Disturbed Kashmir, displaced and delusional KPs and defiant, depressed, delusional and defiled KMs, works electorally better for BJP. So why to disturb the status. Because in finding a political solution, they have to give some concessions to KMs, which in their view will not suit them electorally.
    4. Kashmiri Pandits must stop dreaming of going back to Kashmir and live freely there. Even if they go there under some arrangement of GOI, they will never be accepted by KMs. And chances of communal clashes resulting in deaths can’t be ruled out. This time there would be lesser chances to come back alive from there. The life there would be as uncertain and challenging as people in West Bank have.
    5. KPs had bid final Adieu to Kashmir when they came out on streets dancing for a victory which never was theirs.
    Yours truly

    Ashok Peer

    1. Dear Mr Peer, I sincerely thank you for your honest comments. You may have hit the nail right on its head. Unfortunately, Kashmir continues to lose by losing its young sons. It is an extremely sad situation overall. One would only hope Kashmir regains its lost glory, sooner than later.
      Best regards
      Bill

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