Protest demonstrations were held at various places across Kashmir by members of the Kashmiri Pandit community, after militants shot dead Rahul Bhat, a member of the community. Bhat was killed inside a Tehsil office in Chadoora village of central Kashmir's Budgam district on Thursday.

The gunmen barged into the office and fired from a close range at Rahul Bhat, a government employee, working under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package (PMRP) scheme, as a clerk. He was immediately referred to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh, commonly known as SMHS Hospital where the doctors declared him dead.

In protest a mass resignation letter signed by more than 350 Kashmiri Pandit Prime Minister Package Employees has been sent to the Lt. Governor. The Pandits say they don’t feel safe after the killing of Rahul Bhat, the third Kashmiri Pandit to be killed in the past six months. Two others have been injured.

Targeted killings in Kashmir started again in October 2021. The victims were mostly migrant workers who came in search of jobs and Kashmiri Pandits.

However, the reports of resignations by the migrant employees were denied by the administration. SAccording to the DC Budgam, “service related issues are being addressed in a time bound manner in a week's time”.

Over 4000 Kashmiri Pandits live in transit camps in various parts of Kashmir, after they were given government jobs under a special employment package launched in 2010. Police in a statement issued to media, said that at about 4.45 pm, they received information about a crime at the Tehsil office Chadoora area of district Budgam where terrorists had fired upon an employee identified as Rahul Bhat son of Bita Ji Bhat resident of Sangrampora Beerwah (A/P Pandit Colony Sheikhpora Budgam), belonging to the minority community.

“In this terror crime incident he had received critical gunshot injuries and was evacuated to SMHS hospital, Srinagar for the treatment of his injuries however, he succumbed to his injuries. The deceased is survived by his wife Smt Meenakshi who is a housewife, 5 years old daughter Gungun Bhat, mother Smt Usha Bhat (house wife) and father Bita Ji Bhat a retired sub-Inspector of Police,” the police stated.

“Preliminary investigation has revealed that two terrorists are involved in this heinous terror crime and have used pistol for committing this crime,” the police said, adding that they have registered a case under relevant sections of the law and initiated an investigation. “Officers continue to work to establish the full circumstances of the terror crime while the whole area has been cordoned off with the help of reinforcement and search in the area is going on,”accordin g to police.

Rahul’s killing triggered protests at the migrant Pandit colony Sheikhpora, Budgam, where he lived. Scores of Rahul’s colleagues sat on the road in protest and termed the killing as a “major security lapse.” ““We aren’t secure at all. The BJP government too has failed us,” said a protester while demanding stern punishment against the killers.

The protestors also blocked the Srinagar-Jammu highway outside Vessu migrant KP colony, Qazigund in Anantnag district of South Kashmir to protest against the killings. They also lit candles to register their protest.

One protester wishing anonymity said that the migrant KPs were being targeted earlier and now during the BJP rule as well. “If rehabilitation costs life, we will prefer to resign and flee Kashmir forever as the government has failed to protect us despite making tall claims,” he said .“We have not come to Kashmir to die because we are dying here every day. The government has not done anything for us yet. We have decided that we will resign and leave Kashmir because our lives are in danger here and we are being killed.” Geeta, a protester said “We are just begging the government to give us justice.”

Rakash, another protester at Baramulla district where Pandit community members assembled at Pandit Colony Veerwan, demanded justice and protection to KPs working under PM’s package. He said that the government has never taken safety measures for them which is why they have to risk their lives every day. He added that the killing of Rahul Bhat at Tehsil office Chadoora, was a major security lapse, “how come militants managed to enter the Tehsil office and kill Rahul?” he asked.

Another massive protest was held along the Pulwama-Shopian highway outside KP migrant colony Nikas. “Fail Hai, Fail Hai, administration fail Hai” slogans were raised by the protestors. Members of the community left their colony and blocked the Kupwara-Srinagar highway in North Kashmir and raised slogans against the central government and BJP, demanding the end of injustices against them in Kashmir.

“We are being killed here every day. Our lives are not so cheap. We ask the administration to keep us safe or we will leave Kashmir to protect our lives,” said a protester.

Wide-spread condemnations from all quarters

Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha tweeted: “I strongly condemn the barbaric killing of Rahul Bhat by militants at Budgam. Those behind this despicable terror attack will not go unpunished. J&K government stands in solidarity with the bereaved family in this hour of grief.”

"Met the relatives of Rahul Bhat and assured justice to the family. In this hour of grief, the government stands firmly with Rahul's family. Terrorists and their supporters will have to pay a very heavy price for their heinous act, " the LG said in an another tweet.

The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) President and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah also condemned the Budgam killing. He said “I unequivocally condemn the dastardly attack on Rahul Bhatt. The sole purpose of such dastardly and heinous acts is to vitiate the atmosphere of Kashmir. I condemn the killing in the strongest possible terms. My heartfelt condolences to Rahul's family.”

“Condemn the gruesome act wherein a Kashmiri Pandit boy Rahul Bhat was murdered in Chadoora. Another life ended, and another family was devastated. My heart goes out to the bereaved family in this hour of grief. It also belies the false claims of normalcy in Kashmir," Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.

Police foiled KP members’ protest march towards Srinagar Airport.

Jammu and Kashmir police used tear-gas shells and a “mild lathi-charge” to foil the protest march of Kashmiri Pandits at Sheikhpora, Budgam. They were marching towards Srinagar International Airport. According to protesters, they were waiting for Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha till 11 am and as he didn’t turn up, they decided to march towards the airport to lodge their protest against the killing of their colleague Rahul Bhat.

Witnesses said that as the protestors proceeded towards Srinagar airport, policemen present “fired a few tear shells” to prevent them from marching towards Srinagar International Airport. “The protesters were pushed back and barred from proceeding towards the Airport,".

PDP Chief Mehbooba claims house arrest

“Wanted to visit Budgam to express my solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits protesting against GOIs failure to protect them. Have been put under house arrest as the fact that the Kashmiri muslims & pandits empathise with each other’s pain doesn’t fit into their vicious communal narrative,” Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet.

Photographs BASIT ZARGAR