Ajay Pandita: 30 years on, Pandits still unsafe in Valley
30 years ago, Kashmiri Pandits fled the Valley, in search of peace as their native place was burnt and destroyed by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Among them was a retired school teacher, Dwarika Nath Pandita. This Monday, Pandita, who managed to lead a quiet life for several years, lost his son Ajay Pandita to terrorists. With his death, the memories of the dark days returned instantly.
The beginning: Bike-borne terrorists shot Ajay dead at close range
On Monday, Ajay, the Sarpanch of Lukbawan village in Anantnag district of South Kashmir, was shot at close range by bike-borne terrorists. A grocer, Shahid Aslam, narrated to HuffPost he saw two men, dressed as civilians, shooting him dead. "He fell down and was in a pool of blood," he added. Subsequently, Ajay was rushed to a hospital but couldn't be saved.
His father revealed Ajay was called out of the house
"Someone came and informed Ajay that he needed his signature on a form. Ajay stepped out and met with a hail of bullets. We shifted him to hospital but he succumbed to his injuries," Pandita Sr. told reporters, according to The Pioneer.
No outfit claimed responsibility but police think Hizbul was involved
Though no one claimed responsibility for the killing, J&K Police Chief Dilbagh Singh believes Hizbul Mujahideen is behind it. Soon, Pradesh Congress Committee President Ghulam Ahmad Mir asked Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu to get the cold-blooded murder investigated. "Pandita was a member of Congress and this is the second killing of a Congress Sarpanch in this area in the recent past," he told media.
Notably, Ajay's family survived exodus, returned home years later
Ajay's was the only Kashmiri Pandit family residing in the area. They had fled during the 1990 exodus but returned. "After spending around seven years in Jammu, we returned to Kashmir Valley in 1996-97," Pandita Sr. said. Remembering his son, he said Ajay was patriotic and didn't want to abandon his motherland. Ajay contested and won the 2018 Panchayat polls.
The son rebuilt their family home, revived the destroyed orchids
After initially living in rented accommodation for some years, the family shifted to their own home. "No one from the government came forward to help us in any way when we returned to our home and hearth. Ajay raised loans and helped me revive our orchards, ruined during peak days of militancy," Pandita Sr. recalled. My son was brave, he announced with pride.
Would live and die here: Ajay had told his family
"My son wasn't afraid of anyone. He would say if security personnel can perform duties in Kashmir valley and sacrifice their lives for the nation why should we run away. I will live and die here in my native village," Pandita Sr. told about Ajay.
Locals mourned the demise of their son and leader
The grassroots leader was cremated in Jammu on Tuesday, with relatives and close friends paying rich tributes. A neighbor Ghulam Mohammad Mugloo said Ajay was like his son. "The entire village is mourning his death. This shouldn't have happened," he said. Another local, Bashir Ahmad, said Ajay renovated the water channel, effectively helping farmers water their orchards. The leader only thought about village's development.
Bereaved daughter remembered her brave father
Ajay leaves behind his parents, wife, and two daughters. One of his daughters, Niyanta Pandita, said her father was a brave man. "They shot my father at the back. They knew nothing would happen to Ajay Pandita, so they had to attack from the back," she fumed. Separately, Pandita Sr. also said he would always regret that his son was shot from behind.
"Cowards shot my father"
#WATCH: "They shot my father at the back... they are cowards," says Niyanta Pandita, daughter of Ajay Pandita, the Congress Sarpanch who was shot dead by terrorists in Anantnag on June 8. #JammuAndKashmir pic.twitter.com/eDBsMFz0u1— ANI (@ANI) June 11, 2020
Shaken by Ajay's death, village chiefs demanded security
In militancy-ridden Kashmir, those participating in democratic practices constantly look over their shoulders. And Ajay's murder emboldened their fears. On Wednesday, at least half a dozen village chiefs gathered at Exhibition Ground demanding security, reminding that they participated in polls despite threats. Manoj Pandita, the Sarpanch of halqa Lajoora in Kakapora block, Pulwama, asked why no one from the administration visited Ajay's family yet.
Manoj revealed Ajay wanted security, made requests, but in vain
"Some of us were provided accommodation without security in Srinagar and left vulnerable to the attacks. The slain Sarpanch repeatedly demanded security but his pleas were ignored time and again which ultimately cost his life," Manoj lamented.