Kashmir Tense After Trucker Attacked Over Beef Rumours Dies

Tight security in Srinagar after clashes with protestors on October 18, 2015 (Agence France-Presse photo)

Srinagar: Separatist groups have called for a shutdown in Kashmir today to protest the death of a truck driver who was attacked with a petrol bomb in Udhampur following beef rumours around 10 days ago. Police have restricted movement in parts of Srinagar after clashes broke out yesterday, hours after the news of Zahid Ahmad's death.

On Sunday, angry protesters hurled stones at the police, who used tear gas and batons to drive them back at a village in Anantnag district.

Zahid had suffered over 60 per cent burns after he was attacked with a petrol bomb and his truck set on fire on October 9. The attack was carried out in Jammu's Udhampur after rumours that three cows were killed in the area. Zahid and his helper, Showkat, who were on their way to Srinagar, had to be moved to Delhi for treatment.

Officials said tests revealed that the cows had died due to food poisoning and the rumours of slaughter were created to create communal tension in the Hindu-majority area.

The government condemned Zahid's death with Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed saying: "I have no words to condemn the dastardly act which consumed the life of a poor and innocent young boy for no fault of his". His statement was followed by another from Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh who said, "We condemn the incident- I appeal for peace".

The attack had rocked Jammu and Kashmir assembly, with the opposition National Conference blaming the BJP and targeting the government for not disclosing political affiliation of attackers.

Omar Abdullah, who had met Zahid and his family in the hospital, said it was a "needless death" in the name of beef ban for which the "BJP and its allies" were responsible."Why did they not punish the accused? I returned the compensation to Mufti saheb (chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed). Nobody from administration or government approached us," said Zahid's cousin.

Officials say seven men were arrested for the attack on Zahid -- five of them were booked under Public Safety Act. The kingpin, however, is still at large, they said.

The controversy over beef has rocked the state with massive protests held in September. Earlier this month, the state's independent lawmaker Engineer Rashid was thrashed by a group of his BJP colleagues for hosting a beef party, leaving the People's Democratic Party - which is ruling the state in alliance with the BJP - red-faced.

Mr Rashid dubbed the attack on Zahid "Dadri 4," in which "someone reportedly poisoned a few cows and they got after these people and butchered them". "The government has shown utter carelessness from Day 1," he added.

The trouble over beef had started with a High Court order to enforce a decades-old law banning cow slaughter and the sale of beef in the state. It had worsened after the September 28 incident in Dadri, in which a man was lynched after rumours of cow slaughter and beef consumption. On Friday the court set aside its earlier order and asked the government to review the laws which have become redundant.