Two Teachers Are Killed in Kashmir, Where Militant Attacks Are Surging

Oct 8, 2021 | Kashmir Coverage (General News)

The killings on Thursday were the latest in a series of attacks largely targeting Hindu and Sikh civilians in Kashmir, where tensions are high after India revoked the region’s autonomy two years ago.

SRINAGAR, Kashmir — The masked militants barged into a school in Kashmir, a Muslim majority region in India, demanding to know the religious identity of its teachers. Then they separated two non-Muslim teachers and shot them at close range, a police officer said.

The killings on Thursday in the city of Srinagar were the latest in a series of attacks largely targeting Hindu and Sikh civilians in Kashmir, once again raising alarm about the rise of a militancy that drove out religious minority groups from the region nearly three decades ago.

And they came at a time of high tensions that followed the Indian government’s decision to strip Kashmir of its semiautonomous status in 2019 and limit civil liberties in the region.

The police did not identify the attackers. But the Resistance Front, a little-known militant group operating in Kashmir that emerged after India moved to revoke the region’s autonomy, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The police in the region say that suspected militants have killed 27 civilians this year, seven of them — including three Muslims — in the past 10 days. The victims have included a local pharmacist, a taxi driver, and a member of a youth group.

“This is inhuman and barbaric,” said Waqar Ahmad, a Kashmiri Muslim, outside the school in Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, where the two teachers were killed.

“We are fighting a political fight, not a religious one,” he said. “No one should be killed and certainly not for religious identity. Those who killed them are not helping Kashmiris.”

Relatives of Deepak Chand, one of the two teachers killed, mourning in Jammu, India. Mr. Chand, a Hindu, had recently moved back to Kashmir.

Kashmiris fear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to change the region’s status is aimed at altering the demography of India’s only Muslim-majority state by bringing in more people — especially Hindus — from other parts of the country.

Mr. Modi’s government has also clamped down on democratic dissent in the region, putting under house arrest even leaders who had long supported the cause of the Indian state, sparking fears that hard-line militants would step up their violent activities.

India has long accused neighboring Pakistan, which also controls a portion of Kashmir and claims the region in full, of orchestrating the recent violence. Pakistan has denied those accusations.

Dilbagh Singh, the top Indian police official in Kashmir, blamed Pakistan for creating trouble in the region, saying that it was supporting militant groups that were trying to destabilize the area and drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims.

“People who have nothing to do with politics are being targeted to create fear,” Mr. Singh said. “Attacks like these are aimed at creating tension between Kashmiri Muslims and other communities. To give local Muslims a bad name.”

The Resistance Front said on social media that it had “carried out the targeted attack on two non-locals who had harassed the parents of the students to salute the occupier’s flag on August 15,” referring to celebrations for India’s Independence Day. This year, for the first time in decades, Kashmiri schools were asked by the Indian government to hoist the Indian flag.

On Thursday, the police searched for suspects in neighborhoods in Srinagar.

One of the two teachers killed, Deepak Chand, a Hindu, had recently moved to the region from Jammu, where he lived for decades after the rise in separatist militancy forced an exodus of Hindus from Kashmir in the early 1990s.

Among the small number of Kashmiri Hindus who had stayed behind was Makhan Lal Bindroo, a pharmacist. He was shot dead on Tuesday, among three civilians killed on that day, in an act widely condemned by religious and separatist leaders, and political activists.

Vikram Singh, a relative of Supinder Kaur, a Sikh who was principal of the school and was also killed Thursday, said her family would not perform last rites until the attackers were found.

“She, too, will become the victim of an ‘unidentified gunman’ — just like all the others killed in the last 30 years,” Mr. Singh said. “We will not perform any last rites till we come to know why she was killed and for what reason. We want justice.”

As mourners entered Ms. Kaur’s house on Thursday, a Muslim woman, Safina Bano, stood outside the gate weeping. Ms. Kaur used to give her money from her salary every month so that she could send her children to school, Ms. Bano said.

“She was a woman with a big heart and a nice smile,” she said. “When she helped my children go to school, she did not think they were Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs.”

She added: “She did not deserve to die like this, no one should be killed like this.”

By Sameer Yasir | The New York Times