POLICE FIRED tear gas shells to disperse protesters marching towards the Srinagar airport on Friday over the killing of a Kashmiri Pandit government employee by suspected militants even as protests by the community continued in the Sheikhpora area of Budgam in central Kashmir where the attack took place. The victim, Rahul Bhat, was shot inside the Chadoora Tehsil office on Thursday evening.
In Jammu, where Bhat’s body was taken for cremation, angry mourners confronted BJP leaders and accused them of making Kashmiri Pandits “sacrificial goats’’ by sending them to Kashmir in the name of the PM’s employment package.
“You are taking us there only to get us killed. Our youth are getting killed there regularly, what have you done so far?’’ one of them asked J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina who was accompanied by former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta.
In Durga Nagar, the victim’s wife Meenakshi said her “world has been destroyed”. “I had talked to him only ten minutes earlier and then went to attend the birthday function of his colleague’s daughter,’’ she said.
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“Hardly had I reached there, the colleague got a call and told me that Rahul had been hit in the shoulder. I thought he may lose an arm, but he was dead when I reached the hospital,’’ she said.
Apart from Meekakshi, Bhat is survived by their six-year-old daughter. The victim’s father, Bitta Ji Bhat, demanded a probe into the killing, and said “the killers first asked him his name and then opened fire”.
In Budgam, outside the camp housing Pandit government employees in Sheikhpora, protesters blocked roads and raised slogans against J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. Amidst chaotic scenes and anti-administration slogans, the protesters questioned the government’s narrative of “normalcy and security”. Similar protests were also reported from Anantnag in south Kashmir.
In the afternoon, Sinha met with relatives of Bhat at the Raj Bhawan where he “assured justice”. “In this hour of grief, the government stands firmly with Rahul’s family. Terrorists and their supporters will have to pay a very heavy price for their heinous act,” Sinha posted on Twitter.
On Friday evening, a series of posts on the Twitter handle of Sinha’s office promised a job for Bhat’s wife, financial assistance for the family and educational expenses for their daughter. “A decision has been taken to constitute (a) special investigative team to probe all the aspects of the despicable terror attack. The SHO of the concerned police station has also been attached,” one of the tweets said.
However, residents of the Sheikhpora camp continued their protest late on Friday and claimed that the police had “locked them inside the colony” to contain the unrest.
Earlier, civil administration officials visited the protest site in Budgam but were turned away by protesters even as reports of mass resignations by Kashmiri Pandits were denied by the office of Budgam Deputy Commissioner Shahbaz Mirza.
“The social media reports of resignations by Migrant employees are denied as no such letter of resignation(s) have been received by the administration. Service related issues are being addressed in a time bound manner in a week’s time,” stated a tweet posted by the DC’s official Twitter handle.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who was prevented from visiting Budgam to meet Bhat’s family, appealed for peace and called for “the majority to stand by the minority communities”.
Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah termed police high-handedness “shameful”. “Tourism is not normalcy, it’s a barometer of economic activity. Normalcy is the absence of fear, the absence of terror, the inability of militants to strike at will, the presence of democratic rule & by any yardstick you choose to use, Kashmir is far from normal today,” Abdullah said.
With police also resorting to a lathicharge against protesters, Omar said that “this is not new for the people of Kashmir because when all the administration has is a hammer every problem resembles a nail. If the LG’s Govt can’t protect KPs they have a right to protest”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, one of the protesters in Sheikhpora, Vimal Bhat, said: “This is not the first such killing. Government has been making many claims about our security. All their assurances have failed. In another six months, there will be another protest over another killing. This has to end.”
In Jammu, mourners also blocked the road outside the cremation ground for a brief while and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans. “He was on leave, but he was specially called to the office that day. It was a security lapse,” one of the victim’s relatives said.
BJP J&K chief Raina said the killers “will not be spared”. “Security forces will hunt them down even if they hide under the earth,” he said.
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