Pandit Employee’s Killing Fuels Anger, Protests In Kashmir Valley

The residents of Sheikhpora migrant colony raise slogans during a rally to protest the killing of a Kashmiri Pandit employee on Thursday. KO Photo, Abid Bhat

• Batons, Tear Smoke Shells Used To Quell Protest At Budgam

• Police Says Inputs Suggested Militant Attack On Protesters To Create Communal Tension

Srinagar- The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Friday resorted to baton charge and firing of tear gas shells to disperse a group of Kashmiri Pandits who were marching towards Srinagar airport to protest the killing of Rahut Bhat by militants in Budgam a day earlier.

The protesters first assembled at the Sheikhpora Pandit residential quarters in Budgam district and then tried to proceed towards the airport but were stopped by a posse of police personnel, they said.

They were requested to disperse but they refused to budge and insisted on marching ahead, following which the police used batons and fired some tear smoke shells, the officials said.

There are no reports of any casualty, they added.

Bhat (35), a Kashmiri Pandit employee, was shot dead by militants inside his office in the Chadoora area of Budgam on Thursday.

In a statement issued here on Friday evening, a police spokesperson said that a few tear smoke shells were fired to disperse the protesters as inputs suggested militants might attack them in order to create communal clash and tension.

He said the community members protesting Bhat’s killing since Thursday afternoon at Sheikhpora, Budgam, started moving towards the airport road around 11:00 am on Friday.

“Although the magistrate repeatedly requested & tried to pacify the protesters not to proceed towards the very busy & over crowded Airport road, however, protesters while ignoring such persuasions and repeated requests from the administration, kept on moving towards the said road while forcibly breaking all the physical barriers en-route and pushing the police & Security Forces who were peacefully trying to persuade/stop them from moving ahead,” he said.

The protesters, he said, who were adamant to block the Airport road however did not pay any heed and instead managed to travel a distance of about one kilometre from Sheikhpora.

“Given the topography of the area and huge rush at the Airport road there were inputs that terrorists may take advantage of the same and may attack the protesters in order to create communal clash/tension,” the spokesperson said.

“Therefore in view of this, while sensing the security of the protesters who had resorted to violence and neglected the pacification requests by administration and to thwart evil designs of ANEs, police were constrained to finally hurl few teargas smokes to disperse them,” he added.

However, the spokesperson said that the protesters again re-assembled at Sheikhpora road and sat on protest & blocked the main road.

“Later on all of them went back to their home,” he added.

The community has been protesting since Thursday against the "failure" of the government to protect their lives.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, meanwhile, claimed that she has been placed under house arrest to stop her from visiting Budgam to express solidarity with the protesting Kashmiri Pandits.

In a tweet, Mufti said she was put under house arrest as the BJP did not want Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits to empathise with each other's pain.

"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 and Pandits empathise with each other's pain doesn't fit into their vicious communal narrative," the PDP chief said.

Police officials, however, refused to comment over Mufti's claim.

Later, in a video message, Mufti said the situation in Kashmir was getting from bad to worse.

She also urged the majority community in the valley to stand by the minorities.

"While the central government is playing a game of pitting Hindus against Muslims to hide its failures and presenting them as the biggest enemies of each other, Jammu and Kashmir is the only state where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists are living together as one," Mufti said.

"So, it is the duty of all people of Jammu and Kashmir to stand together with those who live among us -- be it Kashmiri Pandits or Sikh brothers, like the way we had protected their lives and properties in 1947 when Gandhiji also had seen a ray of hope from Kashmir at that time," she added.

Mufti also urged the people to uphold Jammu and Kashmir's legacy of brotherhood and unity.

"We have to stand with our minorities, and so, I appeal all the people to strongly advocate Hindu-Muslim brotherhood across all the mosques on the occasion of Friday congregational prayers.

"We need to give a message to the whole country of J-K's brotherhood and its history that we are a secular state and a united people so that the government does not get a chance to defame Muslims," Mufti said.

National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah said it was shameful that legitimate and 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," he wrote on Twitter.

"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.

Condemning the killing of a policeman in Pulwama on Friday, the NC leader said targeted killings were continuing unabated in the valley.

"Rahul in his office yesterday, Riyaz Ahmad Thoker, a SPO with J&K police, in his own home today. Targeted killings continue unabated. I can't condemn this killing strongly enough. May Allah grant Riyaz a place in Jannat," he said.

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