Jammu and Kashmir trucker dies, CM Mufti Mohammad blames ‘politics of hate’

Zahid Ahmed Bhat, 19, who belonged to Anantnag in Kashmir, had been brought to the hospital on October 11 with 70 per cent burn injuries.

Written by Mir Ehsan | New Delhi/ Jammu/ Srinagar | Updated: October 19, 2015 7:54 am
Ahmad along with other truck driver was set ablaze by a mob on the Srinagar Jammu national highway at Udhampur on October 9. (Source: Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi) Ahmad along with other truck driver was set ablaze by a mob on the Srinagar Jammu national highway at Udhampur on October 9. (Source: Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

One of the two persons injured in the attack on a Valley-bound truck in Udhampur on October 9-10 night died in the Capital’s Safdarjung Hospital on Sunday, provoking a strong reaction from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who blamed the death on “politics of hate and intolerance” and said it was posing a “grave challenge” to the nation.

Zahid Ahmad Bhat, 20, who belonged to Anantnag in Kashmir, had been brought to the hospital on October 11 with 60 per cent burn injuries.

The news of his death led to fresh protests in the Valley. Separatists, who held the Centre and state government responsible for Zahid’s death, have called a general strike on Monday. Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Geelani said Kashmiris were “being killed by design”. Additional police personnel have been deployed along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway and all Jammu-bound trucks have been stopped at Srinagar.

Expressing shock, Sayeed, who had visited Zahid in hospital, regretted that “one more precious life has been lost to the politics of hate and intolerance that is posing a grave challenge to the state and country’s plurality”. Zahid’s village Botengo is less than 2 km from Sayeed’s constituency.

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Vowing that the guilty wouldn’t go unpunished, the CM added, “I have no words to condemn the dastardly act, which consumed the life of a poor and innocent young boy.”

Zahid’s body, that reached Srinagar around 6.45 pm, was received by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and two state Cabinet ministers. Botengo falls in Mehbooba’s parliamentary constituency.

Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, who belongs to the BJP, said the government will not spare anybody involved in the killing. “We will ensure peace and brotherhood at all costs… We will also ensure that such unfortunate incidents do not recur,” he said.

While Sayeed directed that all possible help be given to Zahid’s family, his relatives criticised the government for “not showing interest” and demanded compensation “commensurate with the victim of the Dadri incident”.

Brother-in-law Maulvi Mohammed Ashraf said, “The attackers belonged to right-wing groups. On whose behest was the attack conducted? We want them to be arrested.”

Also alleging negligence on the part of doctors, he added, “Zahid was admitted in ICU, but after two days, shifted to the general ward. Last night he vomitted and was shifted to ICU where, five minutes later, he passed way.”

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Safdarjung Hospital authorities said Zahid was given the best care. Medical Superintendent Dr A K Rai said, “Zahid was admitted with over 60 per cent burns in his upper body and face… In such cases, management is extremely difficult. All the critical internal organs are in the upper body. Lower-body burns of even high percentages can be managed more easily.”

The infection eventually spread to his blood and internal organs, a senior doctor said, with Zahid dying of multiple organ failure.

Botengo, located on the outskirts of Bijbhera town in Anantnag, observed a shutdown over the death. The village and surrounding areas also saw clashes between police and protesters, who shouted slogans against the government, RSS and BJP.

Following Zahid’s death, the nine people arrested by the J&K Police in the attack were booked for murder. The nine include a Nepal national, while the role of a policeman who is in custody is under investigation.

The nine are accused of leading a petrol bomb attack on the Srinagar-bound truck loaded with coal. The truck was stationary near Shiv Nagar in Udhampur on the Jammu-Srinagar NH as traffic was stopped in view of the strike called by Hindu outfits following recovery of three carcasses in the district.

Zahid was the conductor of the truck. Showkat Ahmed, 35, another conductor, also sustained burns, and is still under treatment at Safdarjung Hospital.

The stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) was slapped against five of the accused. Police said those detained under the PSA were petty criminals who had been booked earlier too for offences.

Attacking the BJP and its allies, former J&K CM Omar Abdullah said in a series of tweets, “The Hon PM passed the buck on to @yadavakhilesh and the UP Govt for #Dadri. Who will he blame for #Zahid’s death now???… Another needless death in the name of #BeefBan for which the BJP and its affiliates including allies are directly responsible.”

Engineer Rashid, the Independent MLA who had thrown a “beef party” in protest against plans to implement the anti-cow slaughter Act in the state, was with Zahid’s family members in the Capital. He said, “The government hanged Afzal Guru to death and said it did it to ‘satisfy the collective conscience of India’. But what about this incident?”

Congress state president Ghulam Ahmad Mir said, “The coalition government has failed to protect the lives of people in the state.”

Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also said that Zahid’s death showed “there is no safety for common man”.

Except for three of the accused, including the Nepalese, all accused along with their families had migrated to Udhampur from their native places in the wake of terrorist violence in the Valley in the 1990s.

Sources also said many of the accused are members of the Maya gang, whose kingpin is believed to be a local businessman and ex-councillor of the Udhampur Municipal Council. However, police said his role in the attack is under investigation.

Hunt is on for one more accused, DIG Surinder Gupta said, while others may be arrested as investigations continue.

Apprehending trouble, the government is thinking about impising restrictions in South Kashmir and Old City on Monday. All ongoing exams have been postponed as the transport association has announced a strike. The first convocation of Islamic University where HRD Minister Simriti Irani was to be the chief guest was also postponed.

Deputy CM Nirmal Singh Sunday appealed to people to maintain communal harmony, adding that the state had been a lot of damage already.

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