Police, on Friday, resorted to lathi-charge and firing of tear gas shells to disperse a group of Kashmiri Pandits marching towards Srinagar Airport to protest the killing of a government employee, Rahul Bhat (35), by terrorists in Budgam on Thursday.
Kashmiri Pandits also protested in Jammu during the cremation of Rahul in the morning raising slogans against the Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha and the BJP for having “failed” to protect the employees of the minority community working in the Valley. They also grilled the J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina, who was present at Rahul’s funeral, over the murder.
Emotional scenes were witnessed during Rahul’s cremation and also at his home. ADGP Mukesh Singh, Divisional Commissioner Ramesh Kumar and Deputy Commissioner Avny Lavasa were also present at the cremation.
The use of force by the police against the protestors in Kashmir has been widely criticised. The protesters first assembled at the Sheikhpora area of Budgam district before trying to proceed towards the airport, but were stopped by a posse of police personnel, they said.
They were asked to disperse, but refused to budge and insisted on marching ahead, following which the police used batons and lobbed tear gas shells to chase them away.
A group of Kashmiri Pandits threatened mass resignation by employees working in Kashmir as they were feeling insecure.
Meanwhile, the Lt. Governor met the relatives of Rahul Bhat and assured them justice. “In this hour of grief, the government stands with Rahul’s family. Terrorists and their supporters will have to pay a very heavy price for their heinous act,” he tweeted.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, while criticising the police action, tweeted: “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. 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”.
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said; “In view of targeted killings, I appeal to people of J&K to stand together in these turbulent times so that GOI doesn’t use this tragic incident to further malign muslims across the country. 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”.
Expressing solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits, Mayor of Srinagar, Junaid Azim Mattu, tweeted; “Using teargas shells against protesting Kashmiri Pandit brothers and sisters is absolutely condemnable and unacceptable. Understand the concerns of safety and law and order factors — but could have been handled better”.
In Jammu, protests were held near Durga Nagar area following the cremation of Rahul Bhat. The protestors demanded adequate security for the Kashmiri Pandit employees and their families in Kashmir. As the mortal remains of Bhat reached his home in Durga Nagar on Friday morning, his relatives were seen weeping inconsolably.
Rahul Bhat’s wife and daughter, who were putting up with him at Sheikhpora migrant colony in Budgam, accompanied the body as it arrived here from Kashmir. Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits gathered at Bhat’s house in Jammu for the last rites.
Community members, including Rahul Bhat’s family, accused the BJP-led government at the Centre of making young Kashmiri Hindus “cannon fodder” in the name of rehabilitation of the community. They also said the incident has shattered their dream of returning to their homes in Kashmir Valley.