Two days after a truck driver from Rajasthan was killed in the Valley, a migrant labourer from Chhattisgarh was gunned down in Pulwama and a fruit loader from Punjab shot dead and his employer critically injured in Shopian, in multiple militant attacks Wednesday.
While Sethi Kumar Sagar, a resident of Bansula village in Janjgir-Champa district of Chhattisgarh, worked at a brick Kiln in Oukoo village in Pulwama, the fruit trader and his associate, both from Punjab, were identified as Charanjeet Popli and Sanjay Charaya. In a separate encounter in Anantnag, police said three militants were killed after a firefight at the Pazalpora area with security forces.
Police said Sagar was shot dead at Nihama village in the Kakapora area while he was walking with his nephew, who was let go unharmed. The fruit traders were attacked at Trenz village in Shopian.
Sagar was taken to a local health facility, where doctors declared him dead.
According to his family, he was unwell the previous night and before leaving home, told his wife and mother that he would see a doctor. “He couldn’t sleep the whole night because he was unwell. As soon as he left from here, security personnel informed us that he has been killed. I am yet to believe that he is no more,” his mother Mehtireen told The Indian Express.
Sagar’s wife Seema is also looking for answers. “I have nothing to say. No one here knows why he was killed,” she said, holding her six-month-old daughter. His death has sparked fear among other labourers working at the kiln.
“We don’t want to stay here anymore. We have told the contractor to bring buses and take us home.everyone is scared,” said Firteen Bai, a woman labourer. This year, many were to leave next week after working all these months. “We are now going home in a day or two,” said Hulchal, another labourer at the kiln.
Labourers like Sagar arrive in the Valley around June-July with their families and after working for several months leave by October end. Another worry for Sagar’s family is taking his body back to Chhattisgarh. Eventually, they decided to complete the last rites at Pulwama. By evening, Sethi was cremated in a ground close to the brick kiln where he worked.
“We are providing them with all assistance,” said Abdul Gani, the owner of the brick kiln where Sethi worked. He said it was the first time that such an incident occurred.
Police sources said that on questioning Sagar’s nephew, who was unharmed in the attack, they have determined that “one unknown gunman” had opened fire. “He was hit by one bullet,” said a senior officer.
Hours after Sagar was killed, militants targeted the fruit traders. Kashmir zone Police said on Twitter, “Terrorists fired on civilians in Shopian #killing 01 civilian and injuring another. Area has been cordoned and search operation in progress.”
Shopian Deputy Commissioner Yasin Choudhary said: “Charanjeet was an old apple trader and was in Kashmir on work. He and his business associate were attacked in Trenz village, where they were staying with a local fruit grower.”
Sources said that after the incident, both were taken to the Pulwama district hospital where doctors declared Popli dead. “After providing treatment, Kumar was shifted to Srinagar for specialised treatment,” said hospital sources.
Back in Punjab, the attack has spread panic in Abohar town, from where 20 traders are currently in Srinagar for the apple harvest.
Popli, who is survived by a wife and 8-year-old son, was in Shopian to assist trader Sanjay Charaya in bringing back apple stock. Ramesh Kumar, his elder brother who is a tailor, said, “Charanjeet went to Kashmir every year for about 40 days during the apple season with traders as a helper. He used to get the material picked from apple orchards and packed to be finally sent to Abohar. After the apple season, he worked at farms in Abohar again picking, packaging and loading. He was just hand to mouth.”
Another brother, Rakesh said, “We told Charanjeet a number of times not to go but he did not listen. We are yet to inform our parents. They cannot bear the shock.”
Charanjeet left for Shopian 10 days ago. “He called every day from a phone booth for about a minute to say he was fine. Three days ago, he called from his mobile when services were restored. We spoke to him last on October 14 when he said things were normal and we too felt relaxed,” said Rakesh.
Charaya’s uncle Surinder said, “Normally, we go in September but this time, because of restrictions we could not go and so my nephew and others went last week. Today, they were to finish work and start for Abohar tomorrow.”
Charaya said his family informed about the incident at around 7 pm. “They left for Shopian soon after they got feedback from commission agents that it is safe to visit and moreover, restrictions had also been lifted.”