The Jammu and Kashmir administration should not force Kashmiri Pandits to work in the Valley without guaranteeing their safety, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Friday in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Gandhi said that doing so would be a “cruel step”.

A group of Kashmiri Pandit government employees recruited under the prime minister’s rehabilitation package in 2008 have been holding protests since May. They have been demanding that they be relocated to safer places outside the Valley.

The protests began after Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit, was shot dead in his office in the Chadoora area of Budgam district on May 12.

In December, two such employees – Boopinder Bhat and Yogesh Pandita – filed a petition before the Central Administrative Tribunal against an order prohibiting their transfer from the Kashmir Valley.

Gandhi, in the letter to Modi, said that there is a “climate of despair” in the Kashmir Valley due to targeted killings of Pandits and citizens from other communities by militants. “Until the situation improves and becomes normal, the government can allocate other administrative and public service roles to Kashmiri Pandits,” he said.

The Congress MP claimed that Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had referred to protesting members of the Pandit community as beggars, and said that the remark was irresponsible.

On December 21, Sinha had warned protestors that no salary will be paid to those “sitting at their homes”.

Gandhi said in the letter to Modi that Kashmiri Pandits protesting for their safety hope for solidarity and acceptance from the government.

On December 14, the Centre told the Rajya Sabha that eight Kashmiri Pandits and a Kashmiri Rajput were killed by militants in the Union Territory in the past three years. On July 20, the Centre told the Upper House that militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir have substantially declined since August 5, 2019, when the special status of the erstwhile state under Article 370 was abrogated.