Srinagar: Security in Sheikhpora area of Budgam, the residential cluster of Kashmiri Pandits, was tightened on Saturday following the protest by the minority community against the killing of Rahul Bhat by militants.
The residents alleged that they have been “locked inside” and barred from speaking to the media.
Bhat, a revenue official from the community, was shot dead at point-blank range at the Tehsildar’s Office in Chadoora village, Budgam, on Thursday.
Enraged at the killing, Pandits started marching towards the Srinagar International Airport but were dispersed as the police used tear gas and beat them up. Several protesters alleged that the police used “excessive force”. The protesters demanded an audience with lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha but the police said it used force to avert a law and order situation.
“They were demonstrating peacefully but were dispersed on the pretext that the senior administration officials will visit them. Now, they have now been locked inside amid heavy security. They are not even allowed to talk to the media,” a prominent community member requesting anonymity told Newsclick.
Like Bhat, residents of the Sheikhpora migrant colony are mostly government employees as part of a special Central government scheme for their rehabilitation and to facilitate their return to the Valley.
The employees have since also threatened to resign en masse. A letter signed by scores of employees threatening to resign was widely circulated by the community on social media. The residents expressed their concern over the security of the community while criticising the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the administration for failing to secure its interests.
The police action against the protesters triggered criticism. “It’s shameful that legitimate & justified protests are met with a heavy-handed response. 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,” National Conference vice-president and former chief minister (CM) Omar Abdullah tweeted.
Peoples Democratic Party president and former CM Mehbooba Mufti alleged that she was barred from visiting Budgam to express solidarity with the community. “Wanted to visit Budgam to express my solidarity with Kashmiri pandits protesting against GOIs failure to protect them. Have been put under house arrest as the fact that Kashmiri muslims & pandits empathise with each other’s pain doesn’t fit into their vicious communal narrative,” she tweeted.
The administration expressed solidarity with Bhat’s family and constituted a special investigation team to probe the killing. Sinha said that he met the family and assured justice. “J&K administration to provide a government job to Rahul Bhat’s wife in Jammu and financial assistance to the family. The government will bear educational expenses of the daughter,” he tweeted.
The first such targeted attack against the minority community or non-locals in Kashmir was reported in October 2019, two months after the revocation of Article 370 and the abolition of Article 35A. Since then, militants have killed dozens of Kashmiris, including panchayat members, police personnel and others they suspected to be close to the administration.
Meanwhile, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) on Saturday held a meeting at the residence of Dr Farooq Abdullah. The meeting, according to the alliance spokesperson M Y Tarigami, was called in the wake of Rahul’s killing following which he said that a delegation from the Pandit community wanted to meet with the leadership.
“The members of the delegation said they wanted to leave the valley but we advised them against it. There is a lot of fear in the community due to the killings and the group demanded they at least be allowed to work in places that are secure,” Tarigami told NewsClick.
The CPI (M) leader said they have sought an appointment with the Lt. Governor for these "genuine demands''.