All his life, Sanjay Tickoo stood for Kashmiri Hindus, his unflinching determination made him look politicians and bureaucrats in the eye for the cause of his community. But since the targeted civilian killings in Kashmir, Tickoo has been in a ‘protective’ captivity for over a week.
“There is tremendous unease and fear in the air,” says Tickoo, 53, stretching his legs in a dimly-lit room of an adjunct building of a famous temple in Srinagar. The temple and the area around it have been his restricted territory for the last seven days. A CRPF picket behind loops of a razor wire — throws a narrow passage that can allow one person at one time — is guarding the old complex. The troopers maintain a visitors’ register and take down details of the entrants.
“I have always been free. I have fought in the streets but look today, they have cut a VIP out of me with lot of security protocol,” says Tickoo, looking partly pensive and irritated.
As the head of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, Tickoo has been fighting for the rights of the minority population who stayed in the Valley during the peak of militancy. In his 30-year voluntarism, Tickoo has been a force behind the restoration and revival of old temples that were rendered defunct after the Pandit exodus. He has filed petitions in courts challenging many temple trusts to stop selling land unauthorisedly besides seeking jobs and education quotas for the internally displaced members of his community. Tickoo was instrumental in reviving the Dussehra festivals in Kashmir during hightened militancy.
But after the killing of the four minority members — Sikh teacher Supinder Kaur, Chemist ML Bindroo, Jammu teacher Deepak Chand, Virender Paswan, a street vendor from Bihar, Tickoo has been rendered immobile.
Last week, he was called from his home and ensconced in a local temple secured by the CRPF. A free bird all his life and even in the height of militancy, he has been now told to not breach the protocol. “Top police officials say there is a threat to your life,” he says.
Tickoo witnessed the large-scale exodus of his community members in 1990 but his family and 800 others decided to stay put and live with the majority community. He admits the recent targeted killings have instilled a sense of fear and uncertainty among them and the 4,000 Kashmir Pandit (KP) employees recruited under the Prime Minister’s package to serve in Kashmir. Nearly 2,000 more were expected to join by November but the recent killings perhaps may have had some bearing on the recruitment.
Another, Avinash, (name changed) and his wife have been working as teachers in the Valley for the last two years. The couple with their 6-month-old baby live at the gated and highly secure Sheikhpora government quarters along with 400-odd families, mostly the recruits through a special package. The 20-odd identical multi-storeyed blocks stand tall on the large campus that is further secured by a high fencing and guarded every hour by the local police and paramilitary.
But Avinash still feels insecure. He serves in Budgam and his wife in a remote village of Kupwara. He told News 18, “The government has assured us security at the flats (but) it cannot provide us protection while we rejoin work. The officials have told us to wait for a fortnight and not join, but what next? We have to go back to work.” He further said “we will continue to be vulnerable”. More than 100 families have left for Jammu and many more are caught in a dilemma.
Though the administration has assured the Pandit community of providing enhanced security, the fear is palpable even in the gated colonies like Sheikhpora. “We are getting constant calls from parents, relatives and friends to come back to Jammu. We are undecided what to do,” a young teacher said, refusing to give his identity. “Even this colony is muted,” he added, rushing into the building.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration, under pressure from the minorities and the Central government, has been assuring the community of protection. The administration under Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has asked the employees to return and report to duty.
“They have asked us to report back and join duty in a fortnight, and assured of a tighter security,” said an inmate at Sheikhpopra.
Tickoo said, “I was trying to seek appointment with the L-G office about the security concerns of the community but never got a reply. I even wrote a letter flagging the issue but the government was procrastinating.”
A senior official, however, said the safety of minorities is a top priority and there won’t be any compromise.
Meanwhile, the police and army have launched a massive crackdown on militants and their “sympathisers’’. Government sources say the police and other security agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have detained more than 900 youth for questioning in order to prevent more attacks on the civilians.
As many as seven civilians, eight militants and five armymen have been killed in the last 14 days. In the series of encounters after the civilian killings, the police say they have killed eight militants from The Resistance Front, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammad. The NIA, police and CRPF have been conducting continuous raids for the last one week.
“The pursuit will continue,” said an official.