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Killing of Rahul Bhat—5th Kashmiri Pandit attacked after August 2019 –causes outrage, triggers protests

Rahul Bhat, 36-year-old was working as a clerk in the Jammu and Kashmir Government’s Revenue Department and was killed by terrorists

Thirty-six-year-old Rahul Bhat, a clerk in the Jammu and Kashmir Government’s Revenue Department, is the first Kashmiri Pandit employed under the Prime Minister’s special package for rehabilitation of the displaced population, who has been shot dead by terrorists in the valley. According to senior Police officials, two local terrorists, namely Aaquib and Lateef Rather, planned and executed Bhat’s assassination at his office in Chadoura, Budgam, on Tuesday May 10.

Bhat had been appointed and posted in Kashmir in the PM package’s first batch in the year 2010. With his parents still in Jammu, he had been staying with his unemployed wife and 5-year-old at the Migrant Transit Camp Sheikhpora, Budgam. Even as he had the reputation of the hardest working and people-friendly official of the Revenue Department at Tehsil Office Budgam, where he had put in about 10 years of his service, he was transferred to Tehsil Office Chadoura in 2021.

Bhat’s family members are lamenting that his request of transfer back to Budgam or some other secure place after some terror incidents were ignored by the authorities which resulted in his death. He was originally a resident of Budgam’s Sangrampora where the minority community’s first massacre took place 25 years back. On the night of 21 March 1997, heavily armed terrorists swooped down on Sangrampora and shot dead seven resident Pandits.

Bhat’s education up to post-graduation before his recruitment into the government service took place in Jammu.

After J&K’s reorganisation and withdrawal of the semiautonomous status in August 2019, terrorists have stepped up attacks on soft targets. Those killed or left wounded include a number of the non-local workers—Hindus as well as Muslims—, resident and migrant Kashmiri Pandits, BJP activists and members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) irrespective of their religion or domicile.

In October 2021, ahead of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Kashmir, terrorists carried out a spree of killings. Those attacked and killed included the popular Pandit chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, Sikh schoolteacher Supinder Kaur and a Hindu teacher from Jammu. Previously, Bhupinder Singh, chairman of Block Development Council Khag, Beerwah, was shot dead in his village.

Bhat is the 5th Kashmiri Pandit targeted after August 2019 when terrorists swore to drag out all outsiders and non-Muslims from the valley. Sarpanch Ajay Pandita Bharti was the first Kashmiri Pandit shot dead at his village Luka Bhawan in Anantnag district on 8 June 2020. Chairman of Municipal Committee Tral, Rakesh Pandita, was shot dead in Tral on 3 June 2021. Chemist Makhan Lal Bindro was gunned down at his pharmacy near Iqbal Park in Srinagar on 5 October 2021.

In the current year, Bal Krishen aka Sonu, was attacked and left critically wounded at his pharmacy in Chotigam Shopian on 4 April. On 12 May 2022, terrorists shot dead Rahul Bhat in Chadoura, Budgam.

While protests erupted at all the Pandit neighbourhoods across Kashmir—Sheikhpora Budgam, Baramulla, Vesu Kulgam, Haal Shopian and Indira Nagar Srinagar—a Police statements claimed that the killers’ two Pakistani associates were located and killed in an encounter with the security forces in Bandipora. It claimed that Bhat’s killers, Aquib Shergujri and Lateef Rather, were traced to Bandipora hours after striking in Chadoora. They escaped but their Pakistani associates were killed in the encounter.

Friday and Saturday witnessed protest demonstrations at several places as the rehabilitated migrant employees demanded security and an in-depth investigation into Bhat’s killing. In several representations addressed to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and Home Minister Amit Shah, they threatened to submit mass resignations if the government failed to address their security concerns.

For the first time, some Pandit assemblies were heard shouting slogans against the LG, the Home Minister and the BJP, and alleging that they had been thrown into the jaws of death. They complained that some senior bureaucrats filed cases against the migrant employees and threatened to terminate their services if they refused to serve at the places of the government’s choice and convenience.

Police and security forces used baton charge and tear gas to disperse the demonstrations at Sheikhpora Budgam. LG’s Principal Secretary Nitishwar Kumar, IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar, Divisional Kumar PK Pole and DIG Central Kashmir visited Sheikhpora but the demonstrators maintained that they would not disperse until LG visited and assured them security of life. On Saturday morning, inmates were not permitted to go out to buy bread and milk.

In Srinagar, Farooq Abdullah-led Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Alliance (PAGD) held a meeting on Bhat’s assassination and sought appointment for a meeting with the LG. Spokesman Yusuf Tarigami said that a delegation of the Pandits met the PAGD leaders following which the alliance discussed the issue in a meeting and decided to meet the LG with a charter of demands. Workers of the BJP and Congress took out two separate rallies in solidarity with the Pandits at Jawahar Nagar and Maulana Azad Road in Srinagar. The participants shouted anti-terrorist and anti-Pakistan slogans.

Even as the demonstrators are still insisting on LG’s visit to Sheikhpora, the Union Territory government announced a government job for Bhat’s wife and sponsorship of his daughter’s education. The LG also placed SHO Chadoura under suspension. In Jammu, some political leaders like the former Chief Secretary Vijay Bakaya visited the bereaved family and the BJP’s UT President Ravinder Raina attended Bhat’s funeral. However, none of the politicians had visited the Pandits at Sheikhpora till late on Saturday.

“We are deeply concerned over this boy’s killing. There are strict instructions to track down and eliminate his killers Aaquib Shergujri and Lateef Rather. We have beefed up security at the migrant camps and permitted the employees to stay at home for a few days. However, the suggestion of their en masse posting in Jammu or providing bodyguards to over 3,000 employees is neither possible nor reasonable. We are giving reassurances to the minority community. We are hopeful of peace in a few days”, said a senior official, wishing anonymity.

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