In a shocking series of incidents, at least seven Hindus are killed by terrorists in and around Srinagar in just the last five days, reviving the gruesome memories of the 1990s Hindu genocide. The shocking attacks by Pak backed terrorists had some prior signals that gave rise to the suspicion that Paki terrorists are using locals to hide and plan the attacks against Hindus. Hindus are so minuscule a minority in the Kashmir valley that they can be easily identified and cornered, and killed with no resistance from them.
This correspondent visited the Kashmir valley recently with few other journalist friends. When we visited, we saw the army presence in Srinagar and on highways. Local police have also set up Nakabandi in many places. While interacting with the locals, we could sense an uneasiness when we mention Kashmiri Pandits or the 1990 genocide. There are different reactions when interacting with the locals – if we behave like journalists, the same set of people respond differently than they would respond to us when we behave like pure tourists.
We sensed interesting anxiety among locals while dealing with us. As tourists, they wanted to welcome us full-heartedly. But as Hindus, we sensed they are uneasy and non-committal. They want the money earned through tourism but don't want to cede the upper hand gained thru the militancy and Hindu genocide, even if the genocide was Pak sponsored. Some of them are proud of the local heritage – which was once thriving Hindu culture, with around two thousand big ancient temples. Srinagar is itself situated around the Shankaracharya mountain. Many ancient temples are in Srinagar itself.
We wanted to visit Kheer Bhavani temple, Saraswati temple, and other places but were fully discouraged by the locals saying it's currently very unsafe to visit them. We could only visit Shankaracharya Tekadi (mountain) at the centre of the city in the vicinity of Dal lake, only because it is heavily guarded by para-military. The local drivers were happy to take us to Shankaracharya tekadi. But the same drivers were not ready to take us to the Saraswati temple in downtown Srinagar. They said the area is too dangerous to visit, don't even go near it. They also discouraged us from visiting the Kheer Bhavani temple, 26 km from Srinagar, Sonamarg road.
When we asked them to take us to Lal Chowk, the centre of political activity in the city, many refused straightforwardly. Some others asked why we wanted to visit the place. When we said to see the Lal Chowk and the famous Ghanta Ghar, the clock tower at the centre of the Lal Chowk, they refused to take us there. But when we said that we wanted to visit the market at Lal Chowk, cloth market and electronics market, they readily took us there!
We met a Kashmiri Muslim person in the market whose entire family of 15 people's lives in Goa, as they cannot find a livelihood in Kashmir valley. But the same person advised us against visiting Saraswati Mandir, saying the place is dangerous!
Many of the drivers, the small traders and hotel workers, shikara pedalers in Dal lake, many other locals who are in various professions we interacted during our stay were uneasy while talking about the Hindu genocide in the valley. They seem to know perfectly that the Muslim majority of Kashmir valley will starve to death if the roads to Srinagar would have blocked, just like the Jammu people did a few years ago when Amarnath Yatra was attacked. A private tourist cab driver who wanted us, not to mention his name, told us that Kashmir valley doesn't have any crop produce other than rice and apples. Entire grocery has to be acquired from Jammu or the other parts of the country via Jammu. And the Kashmiri people are foodies. They like to eat various delicacies a lot.
Farooq, a hotel manager in Srinagar, told us that the militancy had taken its toll on the local crop production and weaving business. The production of Kashmir's special Srinagar saffron is at the lowest now, as the business is down because of the fear of militancy. Even the entire Kashmiri weaver community has shifted its base either to the Jammu region or to Panjab. That means the legendary Kashmiri shawls and carpets are no longer being produced in Kashmir valley, Farooq told us. One of the Delhi journalists who often visits the valley confirmed the fact. To our surprise, when we visited the Srinagar market, we were shown Kashmiri shawls that were branded with a Punjabi company "Oswal" logo over them!
A local Kashmiri Muslim senior police officer stationed at a police station near Kangan near Sonamarg told us on the condition of anonymity that there are some elements among the valley locals who still shelter the Pakistani terrorists. But many locals are now disillusioned about the Paki sponsored dream of Azadi, as they are now aware of the economic consequences of terrorism. "The prosperity of this region depends entirely upon the tourism, which has been harmed because of the terrorism and unrest created by Paki elements. The locals are now not ready to support Paki elements. The locals now want the tourism to prosper, the visiters come to experience the calm and serene beauty of Himalayas. They are now aware of the competition posed by the north-eastern states, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in the sector of Himalayan tourism."
Our overall understanding thru the interaction with the locals is that they are fully aware of what they are losing because of the Pakistani terrorism in the valley. But they are solidly afraid of speaking against it as they fear some elements are sheltering Pakistani terrorists. They did not accept it openly, but gave us sufficient hints while conversing. But many of the locals we talked, said that they are ready to welcome back the Kashmiri Pandit community in the valley, as they rightly belong there.
Still, we see the calculated killings of Hindu private professionals in Srinagar. "They might try to create fear among the Hindus who want to settle in the valley after article 370 is removed last year," a rickshaw driver named Salim told us at a tea stall in the vicinity of Dal lake. But he outrightly rejected our argument that the local Muslim community supports terrorism.
(Names have been changed to protect the identity of the local persons.)
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Mumbai)