Kashmiri Hindus protest in streets to demand justice after man’s killing

Scores of the region’s minority Hindus, locally known as Pandits, took to the streets in at least three places.

Meenakshi mourns during the cremation of her husaband Rahul Bhat, a government employee killed on Thursday, in Jammu, India
Meenakshi mourns during the cremation of her husaband Rahul Bhat, a government employee killed on Thursday, in Jammu, India

Hindus in India-controlled Kashmir have staged protests a day after assailants shot and killed a government employee from the minority community.

Police blamed anti-India rebels for the killing of Rahul Bhat inside an office complex in Chadoora town on Thursday.

Scores of the region’s minority Hindus, locally known as Pandits, took to the streets in at least three places and blocked roads to demand that Mr Bhat’s killers be brought to justice.

They chanted slogans against the government and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, blaming them for inaction.

A child consoles the father of Rahul Bhat
A child consoles the father of Rahul Bhat (Channi Anand/AP)

It was the first time that Pandits, an estimated 200,000 of whom fled Kashmir after an anti-India rebellion erupted in 1989, simultaneously organised street protests at several places in the Muslim-majority region.

Dozens scuffled with government forces in at least one location.

Police used tear gas and batons in the Budgam area, where Mr Bhat lived in a protected rehabilitation settlement, to stop protesters from marching to a nearby airport road.

Mr Bhat was a clerk at a revenue office in Chadoora and was among the first batch of nearly 4,000 Hindu employees who had returned to the region after 2010 as part of a government resettlement plan that provided them with jobs and housing.

Police said two militants entered Mr Bhat’s office and fired at him.

He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Kashmiri Hindus, known as “pandits,” block a road during a protest against the killing of Rahul Bhat
Kashmiri Hindus, known as “pandits,” block a road during a protest against the killing of Rahul Bhat (Dar Yasin/AP)

Last year, suspected rebels killed several members of minority Hindu and Sikh communities, including workers from Indian states, in a wave of targeted shootings in the region.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim it in its entirety.

Most Muslim Kashmiris in the Indian-controlled portion support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

When Kashmir turned into a battleground in the 1990s, attacks and threats by militants led to the departure of most Kashmiri Hindus, who identified with India’s rule over with many believing that the rebellion was also aimed at wiping them out.

Most of the region’s Muslims, long resentful of Indian rule, deny that Hindus were systematically targeted and say India helped them move out in order to cast Kashmir’s struggle as Islamic extremism.

A woman shouts slogans as she along with others block the road during a protest
A woman shouts slogans as she along with others block the road during a protest (Dar Yasin/AP)

Those tensions were renewed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, and the Indian government pursued a plan to house returning migrant Kashmiri Hindus in new townships.

Muslim leaders described such plans as a conspiracy to create communal division by separating the population along religious lines, particularly after India stripped the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019 and removed inherited protections on land and jobs amid a months-long lockdown and communication blockade.

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