By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar, Jan 17 (IANS) Not many Kashmiri Pandit targets of militants have been as fortunate as Satish Kumar Tickoo (name changed).
He escaped death by a whisker on that fateful day in January 1990 when a ‘notorious hitman’ of the militants waited for him on the road in Kani Kadal locality of downtown Srinagar.
Tickoo was a bank officer and as such his movements could be anticipated with arithmetical accuracy. He would leave his home each day around 8.30 a.m. and would return around 7 p.m.
The hitman was waiting for Tickoo to come out on the road so that he could have a closer shot. Tickoo was about to hit the main road after passing through the narrow lane that led to his home.
Suddenly, he remembered. He had forgotten the keys of the bank’s vault at home. He turned back to get the keys.
“I must have reached back to my home to collect the keys at around 8.20 a.m. when I entered my home, I heard gunshots fired somewhere in the close vicinity. I was there with my wife, son and daughter. We locked ourselves inside.”
“For nearly two hours there was silence everywhere. Finally a Muslim neighbour knocked at our door. He wanted to know whether I was at home or had left for the bank. I asked what had happened outside. He said some militants had shot and killed a Pandit neighbour who was working in the Telecom Department.”
“I knew, they had mistaken the poor chap for me. I had received warnings before this incident to pack and leave the Valley. I knew destiny had intervened to save me. We did not pack much. There were security forces all around. I came out and told them my story and requested them to remain around till we left out home. That was the last time I saw the place where I, my brothers and parents were born,” Tickoo said, recollecting the trauma.
He has retired from the bank and is now settled in the US where his daughter is married. His son died at the young age of 32.
“He had a brain tumour and despite the best care in America, nothing could save him. We could not immerse his ashes at Sadipora in Srinagar’s outskirts where the family had been doing the immersion for ages. For me everything has ended. Nothing can bring back Kashmir or my son to me,” he says in a choked voice.
Ticko could well be the archetypal victim of the madness that has plagued Kashmir for more than three decades.
Scores of local Pandits were killed during this period. Initially, the militant groups would call these killings of “informers of security forces”. This facade did not last long and everybody came to know that the local Pandits were targeted for being a minority that would logically neither support ‘Azadi’ nor the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.
Nothing has been achieved through the bloody violence that has claimed thousands of Muslim youth as well.
Not all those killed were militants. Many of them were killed in ‘collateral damage’, ‘crossfire’, and ‘torture’.
The net result has been that J&K has lost its special status and also the exclusive rights of the locals on land and jobs.
The separatist campaign is no longer the same as it used to be in 1990s. Trade, tourism, handicrafts, horticulture, industries and all other genuine avenues of self-employment have suffered.
Development is picking up at a snail’s pace.
The affluent families have sent their children to places outside J&K and also gradually shifted their core business activities to metropolitan cities.
Migration of local Pandits has finally come as a curse for their local Muslim brethren as well. Both have suffered immensely.
For Kashmiri Pandits, the exodus was unimaginable. The small community of four to five lakhs is struggling to keep its tradition and heritage intact. Unless they are able to return to their homeland and live peacefully as they did in the past, the local Pandit community could face the final challenge of losing their identity forever.