Jammu & Kashmir: Targeted killings bely claims of normalcy
In March 2022 alone Kashmir witnessed at least eight targeted killings creating fresh fears in the minds of the people. All those killed were Kashmiri Muslims. Among these three were Panchayat members
Even as the BJP-led government at the Centre claims normalcy has been restored in Kashmir, there seems to be no end to the targeted killings in the Valley.
In March 2022 alone Kashmir witnessed at least eight targeted killings creating fresh fears in the minds of the people. All those killed were Kashmiri Muslims. Among these three were Panchayat members.
Four people have been killed in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district alone including a special police officer (SPO) Ashfaq Ahmad, his brother, a civilian, Tajamul Mohiuddin Rather and an army man Sameer Ahmad Malla who was abducted from near his home and then killed.
An off-duty CRPF man was also shot dead in South Kashmir’s Shopian district. Police said they have arrested the militant who killed him.
Last year too, there were several targeted killings. Many Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and non-local labourers were among the targets. In March and April this year, there were several attacks on non-local labourers in South Kashmir by unknown gunmen.
The Budgam district which has largely remained free from militancy is now witnessing presence of militants. On March 3, 2022, three militants were killed in the Budgam district while among those attacked apparently by militants have just not been Panchayat members but policemen and soldiers as well while they were off duty.
These attacks on off-duty cops and army men has now become a cause for concern among the authorities. In March, three Panchayat members were killed in South Kashmir which has instilled a fresh fear among Panches and Sarpanches in the valley.
A Sarpanch from South Kashmir’s Shopian district said he rarely visits his home to meet his family. “If I go, I have to inform the local police station and also carry the cops with me. Our life has been made hell. My family remains worried 24x7 about me. We can’t roam freely. The recent killings have created a fresh fear among us. Administration is also doing nothing for us,” he added.
Thousands of Panchayat members have been put up either in government accommodation or are living out of rented accommodation, fearing for their safety. For these Panchayat members, life revolves around hotel rooms or inside the four walls of their homes.
There are 4400 Sarpanches and over 35,000 Panches in J&K. A Panch is given a monthly honorarium of Rs.1000 and a Sarpanch gets Rs.3000 from the government.
In view of these killings, there has been heavy deployment of security forces in South Kashmir. It recalls to mind 1990 when Kashmir was turned into a garrison. They have also intensified frisking in various places.
The security forces have erected several permanent bunkers in various parts of the Valley in the last few months in view of increasing targeted killings. Police have asked its men to exercise extreme caution while on and off duty.
Last year, Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar warned militants against making off-duty cops a soft target. “The cops are locals and they have to live with their families. We cannot keep them in camps like personnel of other security forces. They become soft targets.
“If they (militants) continue to target them (police personnel), we know how to deal with them,” Kumar had told reporters last year. Despite that militants continue to target off duty policemen and soldiers.
There are over one lakh policemen in Jammu and Kashmir police who are on the forefront of the fight against militants, apart from executing other duties. After duty hours they return home to spend time with their families. However, the militants seem to have adopted a strategy to target cops when they are not carrying any weapons or are with their families.
Javeed Ahmad, (name changed), who is serving in J&K police for more than six years now said his family is always worried about him.
“We (policemen) like other employees are doing our duty and have to feed our families. I have a mother, a wife, and two children at home. My mother and wife want me to leave the job. But then how and what will I feed my family? I don’t have any avenues to start a business or skills for any other job,” he said.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)