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Another targeted killing in Valley, Hindu teacher shot outside school

The latest killing reignited protests by the Kashmiri Hindu community, demanding protection and relocation, with roadblocks in several parts of the valley.

Ram Lal, father-in-law of Rajni in Samba on Tuesday. (Express photo by Arun Sharma)

A 36-YEAR-OLD teacher was shot dead by suspected militants as she was about to enter the school where she taught in J&K’s Kulgam district on Tuesday morning in an incident that was witnessed by several students who had assembled outside their classrooms for prayer.

The killing of Rajni Bala is the fourth targeted militant attack in the Kashmir valley this month after a Kashmiri Pandit government employee, a TV artist, and a wine-shop staffer were gunned down by suspected militants in separate incidents. The latest killing reignited protests by the Kashmiri Hindu community, demanding protection and relocation, with roadblocks in several parts of the valley.

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Bala is survived by her husband Raj Kumar, who is also a school teacher in Kulgam, and their 13-year-old daughter Sana. The couple were appointed as government teachers in 2009 under the SC category and posted at Kulgam.

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Police said they will soon identify and “neutralise” the militants behind Tuesday’s attack. In Samba, where Bala hailed from, family members said the couple had repeatedly resisted calls to return to Jammu saying they could not afford to give up government jobs.

“They used to express helplessness, saying it will cost them their jobs. Rajni used to convince the family, saying they cannot leave government jobs to sit idle at home as they have to take care of their daughter,’’ Bala’s 70-year-old father-in-law, Ram Lal, told The Indian Express.

In the valley, protesters took to the streets in Srinagar, Ganderbal and south Kashmir, raising the slogan: “only solution, relocation”. “We want to be relocated from the valley. If the government doesn’t take a decision in our favour within 24 hours, we will choose mass migration,” said Amit Koul, a representative of the protesting employees, most of whom were posted to the valley under the Prime Minister’s Relief and Rehabilitation Package.

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Mainstream political parties in the valley, NC and PDP, condemned the killing and blamed the administration for failing to safeguard people.

The Government High School in Gopalpora, where Bala was posted, is about 100m from a residential area, surrounded by dense orchards, and about 7 km from the family’s rented accommodation in Chawalgam village. Bala’s husband Kumar is posted at the Government Middle School in Mirhama, less than 4 km from her school.

“She was walking towards her school. Just when she had reached the entrance, a gunman fired from a narrow alley. She was hit on the head and fell down at the gate. We immediately took her to the hospital but she was declared dead there,” said a teacher at the Gopalpora school.

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“The students were assembling for the morning prayer. I was also coming down when I heard a sound as if a firecracker had burst. Suddenly, the students started crying out aloud, saying they saw she had been hit by a bullet. Some of the girls fainted,” Fayaz Ahmad, the school’s headmaster, said.

A team of J-K Police and the Army immediately rushed to Gopalpora and cordoned off the village.

A student at the school described Bala as an “affectionate teacher” who taught them history. “She was good with every student. She was also a very good teacher and loved by all the students,” the student said.

The killing came two weeks after a Kashmiri Hindu employee, Rahul Bhat, was killed inside his office in Budgam. TV artist Amreen Bhat was shot outside her house in Hushroo Chadoora on May 25 and the wine-shop staffer in Baramulla on May 17.

Former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the killing has deflated the BJP’s “fake claims” about normalcy in Kashmir. “Despite GoIs fake claims about Kashmir being normal it’s obvious that targeted civilian killings are on the rise & a deep cause of concern. Condemn this act of cowardice which sadly plays into the vicious anti-Muslim narrative spun by BJP,” Mufti tweeted.

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Former chief minister and NC vice president Omar Abdullah termed the killing as “very sad”. “This is yet another targeted killing in a long list of recent attacks directed at unarmed civilians. Words of condemnation & condolence ring hollow as do the assurances of the government that they will not rest till situation normalises. May the deceased rest in peace… Another home irreparably damaged by violence,” Omar tweeted.

Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone tweeted: “Cowardice has yet again plummeted to shameless depths. A teacher — an innocent female hailing from Samba has been shot dead in Kulgam. May her soul rest in peace.”

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In a statement, J&K Police said the “terrorists involved in this gruesome terror crime will soon be identified and neutralised”.

“At about 1035 hours, police received information about a terror crime incident near Government High School Gopalpora area of Kulgam district where terrorists had fired on a Hindu lady teacher identified as Rajni Bala. In this terror crime incident, she had received critical gunshot injuries and was evacuated to hospital. However, she succumbed to her injuries,” they said.

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Bala hailed from Krail Manhasa village in Jammu district’s Bisnah tehsil, where she lived with her mother, two brothers and four sisters before marriage. Her family members were not available for comment.

In Samba’s Nanakey Chak village, Bala’s father-in-law Ram Lal said Rajni and Raj Kumar were married in 2007 and two years later, got appointed as teachers in Kulgam by the J&K Service Selection Board.

The family had come home in March for a few days, he said, adding that he had spoken to them on video call just two days ago. “Sana had made the video call on Sunday evening. When I asked about her father, she said he was doing yoga. Then, she took the phone to the next room and gave it to him. We spoke for about 5-6 minutes. They were all so happy.”

First published on: 31-05-2022 at 11:17:22 am
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