Week after terror threat, sarpanch killing jolts Kashmiri Pandits

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SRINAGAR: The recent killing of Anantnag Congress sarpanch Ajay Pandita, a prominent Kashmiri Pandit voice who had previously never been targeted in the Valley's hotbed of terrorism, is being seen as more than just another act of reprisal by the Lashkar-e-Taiba-backed TRF for setbacks suffered at the hands of security forces.
State intelligence agencies believe the fledgling outfit possibly killed Pandita, alias Bharti, to send out the message that any attempt to resettle West


refugees and the Valmiki community under the new domicile law would be met with bullets. In a statement on June 1, the TRF had warned Indian nationals from outside J&K against using the domicile law to settle in the Valley, saying anyone who does so would be "treated as an agent of RSS and dealt with appropriately".
Chunni Lal, president of the Hindu Welfare Society in Kashmir, said only 808 Kashmiri Pandit families had been living in the Valley since 1990, when the mass exodus started. He said Pandita's killing last Monday at his native village of Lokbawan in Anantnag's Dooru had reopened old wounds and triggered fear of a fresh wave of attacks on the Kashmiri Pandits spread across the four south Kashmir districts.
"There are around 150 Pandit families each in Anantnag and


, while


has 65 and


barely 50," Chunni Lal said. "The security pickets around these clusters were surprisingly removed after BJP came to power in 2014."
Pandita and his family had migrated to Subash Nagar in


in 1990, but he yearned for his ancestral home in Dooru. "Braving threats, he ultimately went back to work for the welfare of villagers of his constituency," Chunni Lal said.
Before the panchayat polls last year, Pandita, who was declared elected unopposed, had rebuilt his home at Dooru and taken loans to restore the apple orchards belonging to his family.
Pandita was in his native village with his retired schoolteacher father, Dwarika Nath Pandita, and his sister when the terrorists struck. "Father, son and daughter were relaxing in the orchards on Monday when Ajay was called by someone for some panchayat-related work. Two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike shot him dead near a shop," a villager said.
Sources said Pandita had recently approached the administration for security cover on the basis of a professional threat assessment.
Shafiq Mir, president of the J&K panchayat conference, refused to read into Pandita's killing last Monday beyond the official line that terrorists have always been a threat to democratically elected representatives. Ruling out any link between the attack and the domicile law that has already given legitimacy to 2.5 lakh people settled in Jammu, he said: "The threat of terror attacks have loomed over our heads since 2011, when the first-ever panchayat polls were held in J&K."
He pointed out that terrorists had killed 18 panchayat members since then.

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