On Thursday evening, pistol-borne men barged inside a revenue office at the Chadoora area in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. The men aimed at their target and added one more name to the unending list of obituaries in Kashmir’s targeted killings. Their target, a 36-year-old Kashmiri Pandit, Rahul Bhat lay splattered in blood inside his office, leaving his family including a minor daughter devastated for life.
Bhat was working as a government clerk under the PM employment package for Kashmiri Pandits. The little known outfit Allah Tigers claimed responsibility for the attack on Bhat on Thursday.
Within 24 hours, another obituary rolled out in Kashmir. On Friday morning when Riyaz Ahmed Thokar was taking his child to school, unidentified men appeared from behind and fired a volley of bullets. The injured Thokar was shifted to the hospital only to be declared dead. Thokar was a constable with Jammu and Kashmir Police Department.
Bhat’s and Thokar's deaths follow a series of killings that have been happening since August 05, 2019, the day when the Union Government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and downgraded it to a Union Territory while simultaneously bifurcating the region into J&K and Ladakh UTs.
While hushed drawing room rumours of certain 'agencies' with vested interests doing these 'dirty jobs' have been around in the valley for some time, the security forces have held the Resistance Front, an offshoot of the Lashker-e-Taiba militant outfit, responsible for carrying out the killings.
Between the killings and the blame game, however, lives of ordinary Kashmiris remain caught in a quagmire. Reports state that since August 2019, 14 Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus/non-locals have been killed by suspected militants in various attacks. This year alone, as per reports, 28 civilians including five local Hindus and Sikhs have been killed. Bhat’s killing marks the third attack on Kashmiri Pandits reported in J&K this year, which is turning out to be the most violent since 5 August, 2019.
A trail of blood
On April 4, militants fired a volley of bullets on a Kashmiri Pandit named Bal Krishan Bhat in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Later, on April 13 this year, suspected militants killed Satish Kumar Singh, outside his home in Kakran village of Shopian.
Post 5 August 2019, when domicile question lurked in the region, a jeweller Satpal Nischala was shot dead by suspected militants in city centre’s Saraibala area at his shop. He was killed in January 2021, days after he had obtained domicile certificate.
On 7 February 2021, Akash Mehra, the son of Rajesh Mehra who owns a popular eatery Krishna Dhaba at Durga Nag area near Dalgate in Srinagar was shot dead by suspected militants. The killing took place on the evening of foreign delegation visit to Kashmir. The delegation was to access the Kashmir situation post-August 2019.
There have been attacks on non-local workers as well:
In the first week of April this year, four workers and left injured in south Kashmir.
On March 19 this year, militants attacked a non-local carpenter Mohammad Akram from UP’s Bijnor in the Pulwama district.
On April 3, truck driver Surinder Singh and Dheeraj Dutta of Punjab were attacked by militants in the Nowpora Litter area of Pulwama.
On April 4 this year, militants carried out three attacks in Srinagar and Pulwama, killing a CRPF man and injuring four people, including two workers from Bihar and a Kashmiri Pandit.
On April 5 this, a militant attack in Srinagar’s city centre at Maisuma left a CRPF man dead and another injured. On the same day, suspected militants killed two non-local labourers at Pulwama’s Lajoora village.
On April 7, a non-local truck driver was injured in militant attack in Pulwama’s Yadder area.
The lower rung police constabulary and soldiers in Kashmir have also been on the militant radar:
In March this year, eight killings were reported in the valley. It included four killings in Budgam district, wherein Sameer Ahmad Malla, an Armyman was abducted from his home and killed later. It also included an SPO, Ashfaq Ahmad Dar, and his younger brother, Mohammad Umar Dar, in Chattbug village.
In south Kashmir’s Shopian, an off-duty CRPF man was shot dead by suspected militants.
Last autumn, a spree of attacks was launched by militants in Kashmir sending the security apparatus into a tizzy. Seven people were killed. It included the killing of school principal Supinder Kaur inside her school in the Eidgah area of Srinagar and another teacher Deepak Chand.
Kashmir's well-known chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, a Kashmiri Pandit, who had stayed in the valley during the turbulent ’90s was killed by suspected militants at his pharmacy in Srinagar’s Iqbal Park area.
There have been instances of militants' attack on non-local vendors as well.
Virender Paswan of Bhagalpur, Bihar, who sold golgappas in old Srinagar’s Lal Bazar area of old Srinagar was killed by militants.
There has also been an instance where people on suspicion of being “informers” have been killed. One such instance is of Mohammad Shafi Lone of Naidkhai, Bandipora. The deceased was the president of the local taxi drivers’ association.
Blame game continues
Meanwhile, the latest killing of Rahul Bhat has evoked a string of reactions from politicians and authorities in J&K.
Addressing the attack, J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said, "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 government stands in solidarity with the bereaved family in this hour of grief."
Similar messages of condemnation were shared by leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah as well as Congress's Rahul Gandhi and others. However, in an interview with India Today, Farooq Abdullah said that the government was busy 'painting a rosy picture' of J&K even though all was not well in the valley. Congress leader Ashwini Handa also slammed the government over its failure to protect the lives of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley.