KPs protest at many places; teargased, lathicharged near Sheikhpora
LG meets family, announces SIT, job to Bhat's wife, financial assistance to the family; Omar, Mehbooba condemn use of force against protesters
Srinagar: Angry Kashmiri Pandits held noisy demonstrations at several places in Jammu and Kashmir on Friday and were met with force by the police which used teargas and lathi-charge to disperse them, a day after a government employee from their community Rahul Bhat was killed by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in his office in the valley.
Raising slogans against Lt Governor Manoj Sinha and the administration, the demonstrators, mostly government employees posted in the troubled valley and their kin, demanded that they be provided adequate security or be transferred to Jammu. The employees also threatened en masse resignation from their jobs.
A rattled administration pleaded with the demonstrators to call off their protests and announced that the Lt Governor had set up an SIT to probe the killing of Bhat in the Tehsil office at Chadoora in Budgam district.
The Sheikhpora camp, located in Budgam of central Kashmir, where Bhat had been provided accommodation along with other government employees, was the epicentre of the protests with people marching towards the airport road to block it before they were intercepted by the police.
A heavy posse of police personnel stopped the protesters after appeals requesting them to disperse failed to yield any result, leading to clashes during which the security forces had to resort to lathi-charge and firing teargas shells.
There were no reports of any injury but some purported pictures of people allegedly wounded during the police action circulated on social media.
The demonstrators then staged a sit-in and raised slogans against the Jammu and Kashmir administration and demanded that Lt Governor Manoj Sinha should come and assure them about their safety. However, the Lt Governor was in Sopore attending a function at that time.
The protestors were carrying placards that read, “I need to be able to tell my children that I did not stay silent”, and also displayed the wounds that they had received during the lathi charge.
They also claimed that four of their men had been detained by the police. However, there was no official confirmation for this.
Later in the evening, it was claimed by protesters that the gates of the Sheikhopora Migrant Colony were locked from the outside by police allegedly to prevent them from coming out.
The protests were held at Baramulla, Kupwara (North Kashmir), Vessu, Mattan, Qazigund (South Kashmir), and various parts of Jammu including the Jagti camp, where Kashmiri pandit migrants have been provided concrete accommodation since 2007.
As the protests continued during the day, it was announced in the evening that the Lt Governor had set up an SIT to probe the killing of Bhat and his wife would be given a government job.
“A decision has been taken to constitute special investigative team to probe all the aspects of the despicable terror attack. The SHO of the concerned police station has also been attached,” Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha tweeted.
He also said that the administration will bear the educational expenses of his daughter.
Mainstream political parties of the union territory reacted angrily to the handling of protests with former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti appealing to the majority community to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits are safe.
She even went on to say that local religious leaders should in their Friday sermons press for the need of maintaining brotherhood in the Valley.
Mufti claimed that she had been placed under house arrest to stop her from visiting Budgam to express solidarity with the protesting Kashmiri Pandits.
“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 Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits empathise with each other’s pain doesn’t fit into their vicious communal narrative,” the PDP chief said.
Police officials, however, refused to comment on Mufti’s claim.
Later, in a video message, Mufti urged the majority community in the valley to stand by the minorities.
“We need to give a message to the whole country of J-K’s brotherhood and its history that we are a secular state and a united people so that the government does not get a chance to defame Muslims,” Mufti said.
National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah said it was shameful that legitimate and justified protests are met with a heavy-handed response.
“This is not new for the people of Kashmir because when all the administration has is a hammer every problem resembles a nail. If the LG’s Govt can’t protect KPs they have a right to protest,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Tourism is not normalcy; it’s a barometer of economic activity. Normalcy is the absence of fear, the absence of terror, the inability of militants to strike at will, the presence of democratic rule & by any yardstick you choose to use, Kashmir is far from normal today,” Abdullah said.
WHAT POLICE SAID…
“Today at about 1100hrs protesters who were protesting against yesterday’s killing of an employee at Chadoora had blocked main Sheikhpora Budgam road since yesterday afternoon suddenly started moving towards Airport road.
“Although the magistrate repeatedly requested & tried to pacify the protesters not to proceed towards the very busy & over crowded Airport road, however, protesters while ignoring such persuasions and repeated requests from the administration, kept on moving towards the said road while forcibly breaking all the physical barriers en-route and pushing the police & Security Forces who were peacefully trying to persuade/stop them from moving ahead. The protesters who were adamant to block the Airport road however did not pay any heed and instead managed to travel a distance of about one (1) kilometre from Sheikhpora.
“Given the topography of the area and huge rush at the Airport road there were inputs that terrorists may take advantage of the same and may attack the protesters in order to create communal clash/tension.
“Therefore in view of this, while sensing the security of the protesters who had resorted to violence and neglected the pacification requests by administration and to thwart evil designs of ANEs, police were constrained to finally hurl few teargas smokes to disperse them. However, the protesters again re-assembled at Sheikhpora road and sat on protest & blocked the main road. Later on all of them went back to their home.”