The summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar, was rattled with the target killings of over seven civilians in just a week.
The first killing was reported from the Karan Nagar area of Srinagar city on 2 October. A civilian identified as Abdul Majid Guru, a resident of Chattabal in Srinagar, was fired at from a close range by suspected militants.
He succumbed to his injuries at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, which is located just a stone’s throw away from the place of the crime.
Hours after Guru’s killing, another civilian, Mohammad Shafi Dar, 45, an employee of the power department, was shot at in the Batamaloo area of Srinagar. He was taken to a hospital with a bullet wound in his abdomen, but he later succumbed to the injuries.
On 5 October, a prominent Kashmiri Pandit pharmacist, a street vendor from Bihar and a taxi union head in North Kashmir’s Hajin were shot dead in three back to back attacks within an hour in this capital city, sending the security establishment in a tizzy.
Kashmiri Pandit pharmacist Makhan Lal Bindroo, 68, was shot at by the militants from point-blank range while he was at his pharmacy, dispensing medicines on 5 October.
Minutes after his killing, the suspected militants shot dead a street food vendor identified as Virender Paswan in the Lal Bazar area of Srinagar.
The third killing of the day was reported from north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, where militants had shot dead Mohammad Shafi Lone alias Sonu in Shahgund village of Hajin town. Shafi was president of Sumo Drivers Association, Naidkhai.
Two Teachers Shot At
On 7 October, when the whole of Kashmir was still mourning the killing of Bindroo and two other civilians, suspected militants shot dead two more civilians in Srinagar’s Eidgah locality in just an hour. The slain were identified as Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand, both residents of Alochibagh in the Sangam area of Eidgah, Srinagar. Both were critically injured. They were rushed to Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) hospital, where they were declared brought dead on arrival.
While Satinder Kour was the principal, Deepak Chand was a teacher at Sangam school in Srinagar. Chand is a Kashmiri Pandit and the woman was a Sikh.
A police official told The Quint that unknown gunmen fired at two teachers at a government school from a close range. “Both died on the spot,” he said.
The target civilian killings are happening at a time when Home Minister Amit Shah plans to visit the violence-hit region.
Shah is likely to visit Jammu & Kashmir later this month, his first visit since Article 370 was read down by Parliament in August 2019.
Since the abrogation of Article 370, civilian killings are on the rise. The J&K Police said in a press release today, "During the year 2021, so far 28 civilians have been killed by terrorists. Out of 28, five persons belong to local Hindu/Sikh community and 2 non-local Hindu labourers."
Sources from the J&K police told The Quint that at least 10 civilians were killed in Srinagar city just this year. Five were killed in South Kashmir’s Kulgam, four from the Tral area of Awantipora police district, two each from Baramulla and Anantnag, and one each from Budgam and Bandipora.
Renewed Fears Among Kashmiri Pandits
At least four Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Pandits, were killed by militants last year, and three in this year. Such killings have renewed fears among others who didn’t leave the Valley during the 1990s.
Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), told The Quint that the latest target killings remind him of the situation back in the 1990s, when an armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir and Pandits had to leave the Valley.
He maintains that the fear of being killed remains among both minorities and majority communities in the last three decades.
“Although the minority community has remained under target in any place in the world, the thing is it is the responsibility of the majority community to come forward and stand with other communities,” said Tickoo, who was among the thousands who didn't leave the Valley in the 1990s and decided to stay back.
He said even after 30 years, the government is unable to stop the killing of Pandits.
My children question my decision to stay back in Kashmir. I am unable to justify it.Sanjay Tickoo, president, Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti
A Deep Sense of Insecurity
On 5 October, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarash Samiti (KPSS), which primarily addresses the concerns of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the Valley, wrote a letter to Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha regarding the issues related to non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits living in Kashmir Valley.
The letter, a copy of which lies with The Quint, says that “from [the] last more than one year, KPSS has submitted a number of communications on e-mail for an appointment with respect to the issues related to the Kashmiri Pandits living in Kashmir”. It further reads, “But in utter dismay, your Excellency chose to ignore all our requests which resulted in all these Kashmiri Pandit/Hindus killings in Kashmir Valley. It seems that the Central and Union Territory Government policy towards Non-Migrant Kashmiri Pandits/Hindus living in the Kashmir Valley has changed since the abrogation of Article 370, and it has now stooped down on shroud politics to justify your government's stand on the issues related to the UT of Jammu and Kashmir in general and Kashmir Valley in particular (sic).”
President Sanjay Tickoo also warned the administration that his organisation will file a petition before the International Human Rights Commission with a signature campaign against the administration for neglecting the security and other survival issues of non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits.
The Pandits in the valley maintain that with the latest violence, there is a deep sense of insecurity amongst the minority in the Valley.
“The ghost memories of the ‘90s have resurfaced amongst the minority community. I would urge the majority community, especially the youth, to reach out to fellow minority friends, neighbours, acquaintances, pay them a visit, call them, text them and stand with them. They need you more than ever today,” Mohit Bhan, a Kashmiri Pandit, told The Quint.
'Enemies Want To Create A Rift'
Sandeep Koul, 30, regrets the decision of his father three decades ago of staying back in Kashmir. “We are back to the 1990s. The target killings have been started again and send shivers down the spine,” Koul, who lives in the Habba Kadal area of Srinagar currently, told The Quint.
He said they can’t expect anything from the government, but they request the minority community to support them in these testing times.
Dr. Siddharth Bindroo, son of ML Bandroo, who was shot dead by militants, told The Quint that “enemies” want to create a rift between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits and want to “massacre” Kashmiriyat.
“For the last 50 years, my father has served every single Kashmiri irrespective of any religion. His love for serving Kashmir was such that on several occasions, he had travelled to other parts of India for one specific medicine that was in shortage in Kashmir. That’s what Kashmiriyat is all about,” Dr. Siddharth Bindroo told The Quint.
TRF Claims Responsibility
The Resistance Front (TRF), an offshoot of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), has claimed responsibility for the attack in which three civilians were killed on 5 October. TRF alleged that Bindroo used to organise “seminars and secret meetings involving Kashmiris, especially youth, in the name of health activities”.
Govt's Normalcy Narrative 'In Tatters'
The killings were condemned strongly in all regional political and separatist parties. However, many questioned New Delhi’s claim of normalcy post the abrogation of Article 370.
Shortly after the killing of Bindroo and two other civilians, former Chief Minister and president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, said the Government of India’s fake narrative of normalcy lies in tatters with the recent spate of civilian killings in the Kashmir Valley. She further said that the Union government’s claim of building a “Naya Kashmir” (new Kashmir) has actually turned it into a “hell hole”.
“Its [the Union government’s] sole interest is to use Kashmir as a milch cow for its electoral interests,” she said on Twitter.
Ifra Jan, additional spokesperson, National Conference (NC), argued that the killings have been happening since the 1990s. However, the latest violence has exposed New Delhi’s claims of “normalcy” post the abrogation of Article 370, she said. “The reality is that they wanted to continue with the Central government's rule without giving Kashmiris their political rights,” Jan told The Quint, adding that “it is a huge security failure as well”.
'Conspiracy', Says DGP
Najmu Saqib, spokesperson, PDP, said that they have reiterated in the past that the abrogation of Article 370 will only complicate the matter further. “The kind of repressive measures by New Delhi have created a vicious atmosphere in J&K … these killings are abhorrent and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” he told The Quint.
Shortly after the killing of the two teachers in Srinagar, the Director-General of J&K Police, Dilbag Singh, rushed to the spot to assess the situation first-hand. Talking to the reporters about the killings, the police chief termed the attacks as attempts to damage the communal harmony and brotherhood in Kashmir.
“This is a conspiracy to defame a local Muslim Kashmiri. This is a conspiracy to target those who come from outside for livelihood. This is a conspiracy to target communal harmony,” he said while responding to a question, adding, “Militants are militants”, and that they are working at the behest of Pakistani handlers. He further said that those behind the killings would be soon “exposed”, adding, “We have got many clues and very soon, we will expose these people who are targeting humanity, targeting local ethos and brotherhood among people.”
A Security Lapse
While condemning the killing of the two teachers in Srinagar, the Jammu and Kashmir Bharatiya Janata Party General Secretary (Organization), Ashok Koul, termed the killings “barbaric” and questioned security forces for their failure in stopping such attacks. “It is unfortunate that security agencies have failed to thwart such attacks in the Valley, particularly in Srinagar,” Koul said in a statement.
The statement further reads, "It is [a] clear security lapse from the government’s end as seven civilians have been killed in Kashmir in the past five days.” He questioned why the police and other agencies failed to safeguard the lives of common citizens.
Mohit Bhan, spokesperson of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also blamed the administration for their failure in dealing with the situation. “It's also a total collapse of law & order and the streets have been painted red by blood. While the administration is busy giving picnics, photo-ops & showcasing cosmetic normalcy to Central Ministers, they have forgotten that they live in a land marred by conflict for decades,” he told The Quint.
(Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets @AuqibJaveed.)