Hindu bank manager shot dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir

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SRINAGAR, India – Assailants shot dead a Hindu bank manager in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, police said, who blamed activists fighting against the Indian regime for the attack.

Police described the shooting in the southern district of Kulgam as a “terrorist incident” and launched a search operation for the attackers. The bank’s manager, Vijay Kumar, from the Indian state of Rajasthan, died in a hospital after the shooting.

CCTV footage circulating on social media shows a masked assailant entering the bank and firing shots at Kumar with what appears to be a handgun.

The Muslim-majority region has seen a series of targeted killings in recent months. They come as Indian troops have continued counterinsurgency operations in the region amid a crackdown on dissent and press freedom, which critics have likened to a militaristic policy.

On Tuesday, suspected militants, also in Kulgam, shot dead a Hindu schoolteacher, Rajini Bala.

After the killing, Hindu government workers staged protests in several areas, demanding that the government move them from Kashmir to safer areas in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region. They accused the government of making them “scapegoats” and “cannon fodder” to show normality in the region and chanted slogans like “The only solution is relocation”.

Hundreds of Hindus who had returned to the region after 2010 under a government resettlement plan that provided them with jobs and housing fled the Kashmir valley after Bala’s murder, according to Hindu activists in the Cashmere. Some 4,000 Kashmiri Hindus, locally known as pandits, have been recruited for government jobs under the scheme.

These employees have been on strike since May 13 after a Hindu tax clerk was killed in an office complex in the city of Chadoora.

In the aftermath of the clerk’s murder, hundreds of pundits – around 200,000 of whom fled Kashmir after an anti-Indian rebellion broke out in 1989 – staged simultaneous street protests in multiple locations across the region for the first time to demand better security.

“We were made to believe that the government was rehabilitating us under an employment program,” said Jyoti Bhat, a local Hindu teacher who joined the program seven years ago. “It turns out to be a death parcel.”

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim it in its entirety. Most Muslim Kashmiris in the Indian-controlled part support the rebels’ goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

When Kashmir became a battleground in the 1990s, attacks and threats from militants led to the departure of most Kashmiri Hindus, who supported the Indian regime, with many believing the rebellion was also aimed at wiping them out.

Most Muslims in the region, long unhappy with Indian rule, deny that Hindus were systematically targeted and say India helped them relocate or allowed them to flee in order to label the Kashmir struggle as Islamic extremism .

These tensions reignited after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 amid a sharp rise in communalism in India, and the Indian government continued with a plan to house returning Hindu migrants from Kashmir in new townships.

Muslim leaders have described the plans as a plot 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 the land and jobs during a months-long lockdown and communications blockade.

Last year, suspected rebels killed a minority Sikh and several Hindus, including migrant workers from Indian states, in a wave of targeted shootings in the area.

The killings came after India enacted a series of changes in 2019, such as issuing “domicile certificates” to Indians and non-residents, entitling them to residency rights and government jobs. Many Kashmiri see the moves as aimed at bringing about demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.

Many village councillors, policemen and Muslim civilians were also killed in targeted fire during the period.

“It is a disastrous situation. It’s not just the (Hindu) employees who are freaking out. We have all been living in constant fear since 2019,” said Sanjay Tickoo, a local Kashmiri Pandit activist, who like some 800 other Pandit families did not migrate from Kashmir in the 1990s but chose to stay to live. with its Muslim neighbours. He said New Delhi’s 2019 changes in Kashmir had brought the “demons of hatred and division” back to the fore.

“The killings in Kashmir are happening as communalism is growing rapidly in India,” he said. “If there is another large scale migration (of minorities) from Kashmir to other parts of the country, it will create more hardship for the Muslim minorities in India. Minorities are vulnerable everywhere.

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