AFP/ Srinagar, India
Police fired tear gas and used batons yesterday in Kashmir to break up a protest against the killing of a minority Hindu by suspected separatist rebels.
Clashes are frequent in the territory, but the police operation was the first against the local Hindu population.
On Thursday two gunmen shot and killed Rahul Bhat, a government employee, inside an office complex in Budgam where he worked, said police, who blamed rebels fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
The protesters yesterday shouted slogans against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanded Bhat’s killers be brought to justice.
“If this kind of killing can happen inside a government office, what security is Modi’s government talking about for us?” one angry protester who declined to be named said.
Another protester said, “We are here to work, we have nothing to do with anything else. Why are they killing us? Just tell us what is our crime? The administration has failed.”
Police were deployed when the demonstrators poured onto a main road and attempted to march towards the airport. No injuries were reported.
Small groups of Hindus also staged protests at three other locations in Kashmir on Thursday night.
Many political leaders in the region, including Muslims, issued statements condemning the “barbaric” killing of Bhat.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti claimed that she has been placed under house arrest to stop her from visiting Budgam to express solidarity with the protesting Kashmiri Pandits.
At a protest at Shekhpora in Budgam, local Muslims joined the Kashmiri Pandits, serving them water and demanding justice and safety for members of the community.
Bhat lived in a protected rehabilitation settlement for thousands of Hindus given government jobs in recent years under a plan to help resettle some of those who fled.
National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abddullah said it was “shameful that legitimate and justified protests” were met with a “heavy-handed response”.
Last year suspected rebels killed several minority Sikhs and Hindus in a spate of shootings, including migrant workers.
Rebel groups have waged an insurgency for over three decades demanding independence for Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.
The conflict has left tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels dead.
In 2019, Modi’s government annulled the region’s partial autonomy, allowing all Indians for the first time to buy land in Kashmir and cancelling privileges reserved for its permanent residents.
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