Protests over the killing of a 36-year-old government employee from the Kashmiri Pandit community in Srinagar swept the Union territory on Friday as people blocked roads, shouted slogans, and 350 employees threatened to resign from their government jobs.
Lieutenant governor (LG) Manoj Sinha announced the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the killing of Rahul Bhat and assured a job to his wife, but anger against the administration simmered in the community that was driven out of the Valley by rising militancy in the early 90s.
Terrorists barged into the Tehsildar’s office at Chadoora village in Budgam district on Thursday and shot Bhat, who worked as a revenue officer. He was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to injuries. The 36-year-old was working in Budgam district for the past 10 years after his appointment under a special package to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits.
“I want a thorough investigation into how terrorists entered a government office and shot my brother dead. The government talks about rehabilitating Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, but its own Pandit employees are not safe inside government offices,” said Sunny Bhat, Rahul’s brother.
Bhat’s killing is the latest in a string of targeted attacks on civilians over the past four months. The attack also raised questions over the security of more than 4,000 Kashmiri Pandits, who have been living in transit camps in various parts of Kashmir after they were given government jobs under a special package in 2010.
Thursday’s killing triggered protests across the region as hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits blocked roads and burnt tyres at Muthi, Hazuribagh and Buntalab areas in Jammu. In Kashmir, too, hundreds blocked a highway in Kulgam, accusing the Centre of failing to ensure their safety.
Around 350 Kashmiri Pandit employees of government departments also wrote a letter to Sinha, saying they had “no option left”.
Displaying the letter, Amit Raina, a Kashmir Pandit, said: “We feel insecure here, we want to be shifted to Jammu division… So far, administration has not responded to our demand, instead, we were lathi-charged…”
HT is in possession of the video where Kashmiri Pandits are displaying the letter.
Deputy Commissioner (Budgam), Shabaz Mirza, however, termed reports about the resignations baseless. “No such letter of resignation(s) have been received by the administration…”
Police fired tear gas shells and resorted to lathi charge when a group of people protesting Bhat’s killing tried to proceed from the Sheikhpora area of Budgam district to Srinagar airport. “The magistrate repeatedly requested and tried to pacify the protesters… however, protesters kept on moving towards the road while forcibly breaking all the physical barriers and pushing the police… Sensing a threat to the security of the protesters who had resorted to violence… police were constrained to finally hurl few teargas smokes to disperse them…,” said a police spokesperson.
The protesters also accused the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) of failing them. “They should provide ₹2 crore compensation to the family of Rahul Bhat. And also accept the mass resignations that we have submitted to Lt Governor…,” said a protester.