Srinagar: Protests were held in several parts of Kashmir by members of the Kashmiri Pandit community after armed assailants shot dead one of the members inside a government office in Chadoora village of central Kashmir's Budgam district.
According to eye-witnesses, shooters on Thursday evening fired upon an employee of the revenue department identified as Rahul Bhat in Tehsildar office Chadoora. Bhat, 35, was immediately shifted to Srinagar's SMHS hospital but succumbed to injuries.
"Preliminary investigation reveals that two terrorists are involved in this heinous crime and have used pistol for committing this crime," the police later said.
The entire area was cordoned off after the incident while security was beefed up in key locations across the region with minority community residents. However, scores of community members blocked the national highway in the Vessu area of South Kashmir's Anantnag. They raised slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and the UT administration for failing to protect the people.
Similar demonstrations were also held in South Kashmir's Mattan, Sheikhpora in Budgam, Baramulla area of North Kashmir and other areas close to Kashmiri Pandit transit camps.
Some of the protests continued late in the night, with members demanding justice and security for the community. Many of those protesting were seen carrying candles to register their protest. The protesters raised slogans against the killers, BJP and its top leadership.
"We have always been targeted for being who we are, and there has been no security despite claims from the government. The political parties, BJP, and the administration have failed us. We have not come here to take bullets," a protester said.
Many officials from the administration and police later arrived at the protest sites to pacify the protesters.
"No religion calls for the killing of innocents, and both Hindus and Muslims are being targeted here in Kashmir. It is only a human who dies here. I hope this ends," another protester in Budgam said.
The members said they would continue to hold protests unless Bhat's killers are caught, and there are assurances given to the community regarding their safety in the valley. Members of the BJP, who arrived at the cremation ground to attend the last rites of Bhat, were forced to leave the spot after mourners raised slogans against the party, eye-witnesses told NewsClick.
Bhat's killing is another in the series of target killings carried out against cops, politicians and those alleged to be close to the establishment. Since October last year, the killings spree has swept the region, and the attack on Bhat comes only days after suspected militants shot dead a cop Ghulam Hassan in Srinagar's Zoonimar area. The slain cop, according to police, was unarmed and riding a motorcycle when he was attacked. The political parties widely condemned Bhat's killing, many of whom termed the killing as "barbaric."
"I strongly condemn the barbaric killing of Rahul Bhat by terrorists at Budgam. Those behind this despicable terror attack will not go unpunished. J&K Govt stands in solidarity with the bereaved family in this hour of grief," the Office of LG J&K tweeted.
The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) President Dr Farooq Abdullah and former chief minister Omar Abdullah also condemned the Budgam killing.
"I unequivocally condemn the dastardly attack on Rahul Bhatt. The sole purpose of such dastardly and heinous acts is to vitiate the atmosphere of Kashmir. I condemn the killing in the strongest possible terms. My heartfelt condolences to Rahul's family," Farooq said.
CPI (M) leader Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami termed the incident unfortunate and tragic, adding that such incidents have no place in a civilised society.
"Such brutal killings are harmful to the society and can't be justified under any circumstances", he said.
"Condemn the gruesome act wherein a Kashmiri Pandit boy Rahul Bhat was murdered in Chadoora. Another life ended, and another family was devastated. My heart goes out to the bereaved family in this hour of grief. It also belies the false claims of normalcy in Kashmir," Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.