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Kulgam (Jammu and Kashmir): Two labourers from Bihar were shot dead and another suffered grievous injuries in a terrorist attack in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on Sunday evening, prompting the administration to shift some of them to secure locations.
The attack in Kulgam took place a day after a carpenter from Uttar Pradesh and a street vendor from Bihar were killed by suspected militants in Pulwama district and the capital Srinagar respectively.
Violence has spiked dramatically in Kashmir this month, with at least 34 persons including militants and security personnel dying in insurgency-related incidents till October 17.
Suspected militants have killed at least ten civilians in targeted attacks during this period, while one civilian was shot dead by the CRPF in a case of mistaken identity, making October one of the bloodiest months in Kashmir in recent memory.
In the latest incident, Raja Reshi Dev, Joginder Reshi Dev and Chunchun Reshi Deva, all residents of Bihar who were working as labourers, were shot by suspected militants on Sunday evening.
The shooting took place in Kulgam, the home district of Abbas Sheikh, the founder of militant outfit ‘The Resistance Front’ which has claimed responsibility for most of the recent attacks on security personnel as well as local and non-local minorities residing in Kashmir.
“#Terrorists fired indiscriminately upon #NonLocal labourers at Wanpoh area of #Kulgam. In this #terror incident, 02 non-locals were killed and 01 injured. Police & SFs cordoned off the area. Further details shall follow. @JmuKmrPolice,” J&K Police tweeted.
A senior police official said two of the victims died on the spot while the third was critically wounded, “Chunchun Reshi was shifted to GMC Anantnag for treatment and his condition is stable,” officials said.
Soon after the shooting, a joint team of J&K Police’s SOG and Army arrived in the area and started searches but the assailants had managed to flee from the area. No militant outfit has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The recent deterioration in Kashmir’s security climate has been aggravated by the back-to-back killings of four non-locals in the past 24 hours, deepening the sense of anxiety and fear among non-local workers residing in Kashmir who are increasingly becoming targets of militants.
Tens of thousands of non-local workers, majorly from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Punjab, are employed in the skilled and non-skilled sectors of Kashmir Valley as carpenters, barbers, painters, masons, tailors, etc.
Soon after the attack in Kulgam, an order circulated on social media, purportedly issued by Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar, who asked his subordinate police officers to bring all the non-local workers to the nearest police station, central paramilitary forces’ camp or army establishments.
Chandigarh-based The Tribune reported that the “SOS message was relayed to the police on ground following intelligence reports which threatened of more such targeted attacks.” “Reliable sources said the Intel reports warned of militants targeting spots in the valley with high density of labourers from outside valley, including fruit and vegetable mandis,” the English daily reported.
The official Twitter handle of the J&K Police, quoting Inspector General Kumar, said the order was “fake”. “Order asking district police authorities to relocate non-local labourers to Police/Army camps is fake: IGP Kashmir @JmuKmrPolice,” the tweet, which had a copy of the ‘fake order’ attached with it, said.
However, IG Kumar was quoted by Reuters as saying that the non-local workers were being shifted to secure places, “I have directed officers to shift the vulnerable urgently,” Kumar told the agency.
Indian Express also reported that two district police chiefs and a CRPF officer in Kashmir confirmed to have received the order. When contacted by The Wire, IG Kumar said these reports were “not true”.
According to the J&K Police, the spike in civilian killings marks a change in strategy by militants in Kashmir who are increasingly resorting to “hybrid warfare” to take out “soft targets” with the help of their overground networks.
Sources said that after losing their top commanders in encounters with security forces in recent months, the new breed of Kashmiri militants are using asymmetric warfare as a means of challenging the writ of security forces.
The spate of civilian killings targeting the minority community in the Muslim-majority union territory has revived the memories of early 1990, when Kashmir Pandits, a minority community of Hindus, were forced to migrate out of the Valley after the eruption of armed insurgency.
The targeted killings, which many believe is a direct consequence of Article 370 being diluted, has heightened the sense of despair among non-locals as well as the ordinary people in Kashmir who are helplessly watching the situation go from bad to worse.
“Condemnations and obituaries have become the norm of our life in Kashmir. How long do we see these acts of terror taking innocent human lives?” Aga Ruhullah, a three-time legislator from central Kashmir’s Budgam, tweeted.
“Isn’t there something called accountability? Shouldn’t the heads roll for this daily failure? Does the administration even want to stop it?” Ruhullah, a senior National Conference leader, added.
People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said there are “no words strong enough to condemn the repeated barbaric attacks” on the non-local civilians in Kashmir. “My heart goes out to their families because they leave the comforts of their homes to earn a dignified livelihood. Terribly sad,” the former J&K chief minister tweeted.
CPI(M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said such “barbaric incidents have no place in a civilised society.”
“Killing innocent labourers who have come here to earn their livelihood is a heinous crime. This is aimed at targeting the interests of people of Kashmir and this is happening at a time when the harvesting season is at its peak,” he said in a statement.
“Mere condemnation is not enough. It is time for all of us to come forward and unitedly raise our voice against these criminals who are committing such heinous crimes. We appeal to civil society, political parties irrespective of their political agenda to raise their voice against such barbaric acts,” the statement added.