JAMMU/SRINAGAR: Protests erupted in J&K in the wake of the killing of 35-year-old government employee Rahul Bhat
in the Valley. Bhat, from Jammu's Durganagar area, leaves behind wife Meenakshi, their seven-year-old daughter, and his parents. He got his job under a special employment package for migrants in 2010-11 and lived in Budgam with his wife and daughter.
The protesters demanded adequate security cover for Kashmiri Pandits living and working in J&K or those who have returned in accordance with the government's resettlement programme for those forced to leave their homes during the peak of militancy in the 1990s. "If Bhat could be murdered in a government office, what safety can we expect?" asked a protester.
As many as 14 members of the minority Hindu community, including Kashmiri Pandits, have been killed by terrorists in Kashmir between August 2019 and March 2022.
The protesters blocked roads and burned tyres at Muthi, Hazuribagh and Buntalab in Jammu, demanding Kashmiri Pandits be relocated from the Valley. In Budgam's Sheikhpora, police had to lathicharge and fire teargas shells to stop a crowd from marching toward Srinagar airport. .
Protesters vented their anger on J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina, former deputy CM Kavinder Gupta and other party functionaries when they reached Durganagar to attend Bhatt's funeral. They were heckled and the crowd shouted slogans against PM Narendra Modi, J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha and BJP.
"Those who lost their loved ones to terrorism will be angry... they will speak. No one else will come, neither Congress, nor NC nor PDP," Raina said later, asserting that security forces have broken terrorism's backbone.
Bhat's wife said she suspeced the terrorists must have acquired information about her husband's identity from his workplace before killing him, ANI reported. "He used to say everyone behaves nicely with him and nobody can harm him. Yet nobody protected him, they (terrorists) must've asked someone about him and his identity, otherwise, how would they've known," she was quoted by ANI as saying. "First, they asked who Rahul Bhat was and then they shot him. We want an inquiry," Bhat's father said.
An SIT probe into the murder has been ordered. LG Sinha met Bhat's family and assured them of justice. "The J&K administration will provide a government job to Rahul Bhat's wife in Jammu and financial assistance to the family. The government will bear the educational expenses of the daughter," he tweeted.
"It's the BJP government's plan to get young Kashmiri Pandits killed in the name of giving them jobs and rehabilitating them," said a relative. Such people are "sitting ducks" for terrorists, the slain man's father said.
Journalist Aditya Raj Kaul tweeted that "more than 350 Kashmiri Pandit Prime Minister Package Employees in Kashmir" sent their resignation to LG Sinha on Friday. But a government spokesperson denied any mass resignation.
National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah tweeted that "Kashmir is far from normal today". PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti alleged that she was placed under house arrest in Srinagar and not allowed to meet Bhat's family.
(With agency inputs)