Two Lashkar-e-Tayyabba terrorists shot dead a Kashmiri Pandit employee in a crowded government office in Budgam district in central Kashmir on Thursday, in a targeted killing that drew strong condemnation from political parties and employees’ association.
Rahul Bhat (35), who was posted in the tehsil office in Chadoora under a special employment package for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, was rushed to the premier SMHS Hospital in Srinagar but succumbed to his injuries soon after.
The two terrorists, belonging to the Lashkar-e-Tayyabba outfit, entered the tehsil office around 4:30 pm when it was full of employees and people, and shot at Bhat, a clerk.
Bhat was living in a migrant colony at Sheikhpura in Budgam district and had around eight years of service. He is survived by wife, five-year-old daughter and parents. His father is a retired police officer.
A large number of people visited Bhat’s parents in Durga Nagar on the outskirts of Jammu and expressed their condolences to them.
Visibly distraught, Bhat’s father Bitta Bhat said, “If a person is shot inside his office, nobody is safe in Kashmir Valley…when such a thing has happened it is a glaring example of the government’s failure…to provide security to them (Kashmiri Pandits working in the valley).”
He demanded an inquiry to identify those involved in the “cold-blooded murder”.
Bhat is the second Kashmiri Pandit to have been killed by terrorists in the last seven months. A prominent member of the Kashmiri Pandit community, chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, was shot dead by terrorist on October 6, 2021.
As many as 14 people belonging to Jammu and Kashmir’s minority Hindu community, including Kashmiri Pandits, have been killed by militants in various parts of Kashmir between August 2019 and March 2022. Those targeted included prominent businessmen, sarpanchs and block development council members.
There has been a spurt in attacks on migrant workers living in Kashmir since the reading down of Article 370 of the Constitution, which accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir, in August 2019.
Reacting to Bhat’s killing, Director General of Police Dilbag Singh told PTI, “This is a sad incident but let me assure that we have identified the killers. While one of them is involved in previous killings in Srinagar city as well, the second one is a new recruit.”
Though a little-known terror outfit, Kashmir Tigers, claimed responsibility for Bhat’s killing, the police chief said the Lashkar-e-Tayyabba terror group was behind it.
As the news of Bhat’s killing spread, Kashmiri migrants living in the Sheikhpora colony staged a protest. Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Kashmir Range Vijay Kumar went to the colony to pacify them. Kashmiri Pandit employees in Mattan and Vesu in south Kashmir also staged protests against the killing.
The protesting employees also blocked the national highway and raised slogans against the administration for failing to stop targeted killings.
The IGP said Lateef Ahmed, a “recycled” terrorist, and new recruit Aqib Sher Gojri were the prime suspects behind the killing. “Raids are being conducted and I am sure we will be able to get them soon,” he told PTI.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and political parties in Kashmir condemned Bhat’s killing.
“I strongly condemn the barbaric killing of Rahul Bhat by terrorists at Budgam. Those behind this despicable terror attack will not go unpunished. JK Govt stands in solidarity with the bereaved family in this hour of grief,” Sinha tweeted.
National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said, “I unequivocally condemn the murderous militant attack on Rahul Bhat. Rahul was a government employee working in the Tehsil office in Chadoora where he was attacked. Targeted killings continue and a sense of fear grows unchecked. My heartfelt condolences to Rahul’s family. RIP.”
“This young man had his entire life ahead of him and to know that his life was so cruelly extinguished today is tragic,” he said.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tweeted, “We unequivocally condemn the killing of Rahul Bhat ji, who was working as an employee in revenue dept Budgam. Despite deployment of security forces in every nook and corner of the valley, even govt offices aren’t safe. Our thoughts, prayers are with the family in this hour of grief.”
PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti condemned the gruesome attack and said, “Another life ended and another family devastated. My heart goes out to the bereaved family in this hour of grief. It also belies the false claims of normalcy in Kashmir.”
CPI(M) leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami also condemned the incident and said such brutal killings are harmful for the society and cannot be justified under any circumstances.
Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina said, “The coward Pakistani terrorists have once again bled Kashmir by the cold-blooded murder of Bhat…those behind the killings will not be spared and will be eliminated by our security forces.”
The Congress, while condemning the killing, said the perpetrators of such heinous crimes should know that they cannot achieve anything by such inhuman acts.
The Peoples Conference led by Sajad Lone also condemned the killing and extended sympathies and unwavering support to Bhat’s family.