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J&K Artist Amreen Bhat Killed: Why Did a TV Actress Become Militants’ Target?

‘Thousands of people in Kashmir work in the entertainment industry … why would militants single out my daughter?’

Published
India
6 min read
J&K Artist Amreen Bhat Killed: Why Did a TV Actress Become Militants’ Target?
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The brutal killing of Amreen Bhat, a 35-year-old TV artist in Hushroo in the central Kashmir district of Budgam, has sparked a wave of anger as well as shed light on the state of militancy in Kashmir. The region continues to be rattled by a spate of targeted killings over the past two months, igniting concerns over the spiralling security situation. At least four cops and two civilians have been shot dead in May.

Overall, 89 militants have been killed since January 2022 (Until 29 May). The corresponding figure for the last year is just 51, indicating that insurgency continues to grow on and off despite fierce anti-militancy operations.

On Thursday evening last week, Raziya, the slain artist’s older sister, was tending to their domestic cows in Hushroo, an idyllic village in Budgam, just 15 km from Srinagar airport. Raziya’s 11-year-old son was heading out to buy stuff when two men turned up at their gate. “I stood watching as they sent my son to call for Amreen,” she told this reporter.

Snapshot
  • The brutal killing of Amreen Bhat, a 35-year-old TV artist in Budgam, has sparked a wave of anger as well as shed light on the state of militancy in Kashmir.

  • During the 1990s, amid raging militancy, many groups tried imposing puritanical interpretations of religion, forcing beauty parlours to shut down and threatening women who refused to veil.

  • However, Ahmad, Amreen's brother-in-law, denies that Amreen ever faced threats because of the profession she had chosen to pursue.

  • Overall, 89 militants have been killed since January 2022. The corresponding figure for the last year is just 51, indicating that insurgency continues to grow on and off in the Valley.

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Amreen's Work Got Mixed Feedback

When Amreen came out to see them, the two men engaged her in a conversation briefly before one of them whipped out a pistol and fired. Amreen’s nephew and her sister described the attackers as two young men, one with a balding head, who spoke in a dialect common to Srinagar city. “The first bullet went in her throat and second in her arm,” said Zubair Ahmad, Amreen’s brother-in-law who was in the mosque at the time of the attack.

Injured fatally, Amreen staggered back into her house. “The attacker followed her and shot a few more rounds before running away,” he said. “It was around 7:45 in the evening.” Raziya who watched the shooting happen cried aloud and tried to call for help, but most male members in the neighbourhood had gone away to pray at the local mosque. Upon hearing Raziya wail, their father Khizr Ahmad came running from his room.

“I thought the electricity had short-circuited and that’s what had made the sound,” he said. “I had no idea that they had shot my daughter dead.”

Amreen starred in small budget films produced locally in Kashmir. Her Instagram feed is full of videos where the 35-year-old is lip-syncing to Bollywood numbers and famous movie dialogues. Her dressing appears to be modest and in tune with the conservative temperament of the region.

In many videos, her head is also wrapped in a scarf. The comment section to her social media posts is also full of mixed feedback. While some are trying to bully her, others are very supportive and appear to be egging her on.

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'Never Faced Threats'

“Amreen was fond of working in the entertainment industry,” Ahmad, her father, said. “She started working in music videos in 2007. She told me she likes acting and wanted to try her luck in this field. Her mother, who died many years ago, was very supportive of her. And it was because of her support that she ended up in the entertainment industry.” Ahmad denies that Amreen ever faced threats because of the profession she had chosen to pursue.

During the 1990s, amid raging militancy, many groups tried imposing puritanical interpretations of religion, forcing beauty parlours to shut down and threatening women who refused to veil. But such dogmatism, however aggressively enforced, militated against the more indulgent ethos that Kashmiri Muslims have historically professed, causing anger to flare among ordinary people. Farah Bashir, a celebrated Kashmiri author, in her recent memoir ‘Rumours of Spring’ recalls feeling repulsed and infuriated by such blatantly anti-women decrees.

Amreen was married to a young man from the Baramulla district in 2012. But the relationship ended in a month and both filed for a divorce. Since then, she has been living with her father, his sister Raziya and her husband Zubair at their ancestral home in Hushroo.

As per the family, whenever the traditional match-makers came with marriage proposals, Amreen made it strictly clear that she would not renounce acting after getting married. “It was Amreen who earned for this family,” Khizr Ahmad said. “She was the one to pay for all our expenses. She took care of the family. Fed us and got us treated whenever we fell ill.”

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'Scenario Different Today'

Ahmad suffers from a pulmonary disease that requires visiting Jammu city every winter as Kashmir’s extreme cold causes his condition to exacerbate. “Amreen would take me to Jammu and pay the rent for the entire time that we lived there,” he said. “She was very active and energetic and routinely participated in official functions, whether it was Republic Day or Independence Day.”

He added, “She was also invited to take part in cultural and music programs organised by the police and the army. She went to events presided by officials of the level of District Commissioner, Superintendent of Police, Governor – you name it.”

Ahmad said Amreen also attended events held in cities like Delhi and Dehradun.

“She went to all such programmes. In Jammu, she would often leave and tell me to take care of myself until she would return,” he said. Amreen's family also said that she never received threats for her participation in such events. “There are thousands of people in Kashmir who work in the entertainment industry,” Ahmad said. “Why would militants single out my daughter?”

He also said that even during the height of militancy, Amreen was never harassed for the work she had set out to do. “But today, the scenario is different. A different kind of people dominate the scene now. We have no clue who those were,” he said.

Amreen’s killing has come at a time when Kashmir witnesses a surge in targeted attacks waged by militant groups.

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Mlitancy Rising Despite Crackdown

On 24 May, militants shot dead a J&K police constable while he was on his way to drop his daughter off for tuition at the Soura area of Srinagar. His 9-year-old daughter also sustained a bullet injury during the attack. On 13 May, just hours after they killed Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employee in Chadoora, militants also shot dead a cop at Gadoora village in Pulwama. Before that, on 6 May, militants had shot dead another police constable, Ghulam Hassan Dar, near the outskirts of Srinagar city.

The administration in the UT is geared up for the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage, and in a move that reflects increasing concerns over the precarious security situation, the Union government is deploying 15,000 additional paramilitary forces across the region.

Following a high-level meeting chaired by the Union Home Minister earlier this month, the number of gun battles being fought in Kashmir has become more frequent. More than 20 militants have been killed in May.

Sources in the police department said that recruitment into militancy in Kashmir has been on a higher side this year compared to 2021. The share of foreign militants taking part in Kashmir is also reflecting a surge. Two days ago, police said they killed two militants who were involved in the murder of Amreen Bhat. They have been identified as Shahid Mushtaq Bhat of Hafroo village in Chadoora and Farhan Habib of Hakripora in the south Kashmir district of Pulwama.

For the family of Amreen in Hushroo, it’s a tragedy that can never be compensated for. “They took away the most precious part of our lives,” Zubair Ahmad, the brother-in-law said. “It is oppression.”

(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The Wire.in, Article 14, Caravan, Firstpost, The Times of India and more. He tweets at @shakirmir.)

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