Kashmiri Pandits blocked roads and raised slogans against the central government
Protests are being held in several parts of Jammu and Kashmir since last evening as Kashmiri Pandits demand safety in the wake of the killing of a 36-year-old government employee from the community.
Police fired tear gas shells and resorted to baton-charge when a group of protesters tried to proceed towards Srinagar airport.
At several areas, members of the community left their transit camps, blocked roads and raised slogans against the central government and BJP, saying they have failed them.
Over four thousand Kashmiri Pandits are living in transit camps in various parts of Kashmir after they were given government jobs under a special employment package launched in 2010.
The angry protesters also raised slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. At several places, candlelight marches were also held.
"We condemn this shameful incident. We ask the government, is this rehabilitation? Did they bring us here to get killed? There is no security here," said Ranjan Zutshi, a protester.
Another protester said, "We are here to work, we have nothing to do with anything else. Why are they killing us? Just tell us what is our crime? The administration has failed."
Sanjay, a protester, told NDTV that despite assurances by authorities, attacks targeting the community continue. "See the gravity of the situation, a tehsildar's office is meant to be a secure place. He (Rahul Bhat) was working at his table and bullets pierced his body. He was shot point-blank. The system has collapsed, security has collapsed, safety has collapsed."
At a protest at Shekhpora in Budgam, local Muslims joined the Kashmiri Pandits, serving them water and demanding justice and safety for members of the community.
"Our Muslim brothers have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We are really thankful to them," Sanjay said.
Javed Iqbal, who joined the protest, said, "I appeal to all Muslims in Kashmir, come forward and protest. The administration has completely failed to protect them (Kashmiri Pandits). If a man is killed in the magistrate's office, where will Kashmiri Pandits go?"
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti claimed that she has 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.
National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abddullah said it was "shameful that legitimate and justified protests" were 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 tweeted.
In what appeared to be another targeted attack, terrorists barged into the Tehsildar's office at Chadoora village in Budgam district yesterday and shot Rahul Bhat. He was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
The 36-year-old had been working in Budgam district for the past 10 years after his appointment under a special package to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. His body was taken to Jammu for last rites.
Rahul Bhat is the third Kashmiri Pandit to be killed in the past six months. Two others have been injured.
Targeted killings in Kashmir started in October. The victims were mostly migrant workers who came in search of jobs and Kashmiri Pandits.
In October, seven civilians were killed in five days -- among them a Kashmiri Pandit, a Sikh and two migrant Hindus.
Shortly after, many Kashmiri Pandit families fled their homes in Sheikhpora - home to the minority community.
Rahul Bhat's killing has yet again brought to the fore the challenges to rehabilitating the Kashmiri Pandit community.
While the government has announced several schemes and made appeals to the members of the community to come back to the Valley, repeated attacks on Kashmiri Pandits raise the critical question of whether they will be safe if they return.