A woman principal and a teacher were shot dead at point blank range inside a government school in the heart of the city on Thursday, taking to seven the number of civilians killed by militants in Kashmir Valley in five days. Of the seven, four were from the minority community and six of the deaths took place in Srinagar, the main urban centre of the Valley.
Supinder Kaur, the principal of the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Eidgah in downtown Srinagar, and Deepak Chand, were gunned down around 11.15 am just when school had settled down to another day of online classes. There were no students in school. As news of the deaths spread and a kind of fear settled over the city and parts of the Valley, Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbag Singh said the targeted killing of civilians, particularly minorities, in Kashmir is aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear and damaging age-old communal harmony.
A family member of Deepak Chand being consoled (Image courtesy: PTI)
"Darindigi, vaishat aur daishat ka mel (This is about barbarism and terror)," Singh told reporters at the school, a sprawling complex of vast grounds and three single-storey buildings but no CCTV.
Those who are targeting humanity, brotherhood and local ethos and values will be unmasked soon, Singh said. He described the back-to-back attacks as an attempt to defame the Muslim community of Kashmir and alleged that terrorists are "acting on the directions of Pakistan" to put hurdles in the way of peace in the Valley.
Supinder Kaur, a Srinagar-based Sikh, and Chand, a Hindu from Jammu, were killed two days after The Resistance Force, a shadow outfit of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, claimed responsibility for the deaths of three people on Tuesday. Makhan Lal Bindroo, a prominent Kashmiri Pandit and owner of Srinagar's most famous pharmacy, was shot dead at his shop that evening. Minutes later, a chaat vendor, Virendra Paswan from Bihar, was gunned elsewhere in the city. Almost simultaneously, another civilian, Mohammad Shafi Lone, was killed at Naidkhai in Bandipora.
Three days before that, militants shot dead Majid Ahmad Gojri, at Srinagar's Karan Nagar locality. Later that Saturday night, they gunned down Mohammad Shafi Dar at Batmaloo. For many people in the Valley, the spate of civilian killings -- the worst since Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 was revoked in August 2019 -- recalled the 1990s when terrorists would pick and choose their targets at whim. This led to the exodus of minorities, particularly Kashmiri Pandits, from the Valley.
"The incidents of targeting civilians in Kashmir since a few days are barbaric. Innocent people who are working for society and have nothing to do with anyone are being targeted. This is an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and to give it a communal colour so as to damage communal harmony in Kashmir," DGP Singh said.
"We regret the back-to-back attacks in which civilians have been killed. We are working on the previous cases. The Srinagar police has got many clues and we will soon get the people behind such terror and barbaric attacks..., he said.
Describing the killings as a conspiracy to target those who have come here to earn their bread and butter, he expressed the hope that the people of Kashmir would not let the conspiracy succeed. "We will work together and defeat their purpose," he said.
As he spoke, the buzz of media crews and the sirens of police jeeps that zoomed into the school punctured the stunned silence that had fallen over the staff. His assurances seemed to have little impact on the groups of teachers and others who roamed around, almost aimlessly as it were, trying to come to terms with the events of the morning. They listened on blankly, as if nothing was registering. Scared of being identified or being caught on camera, some teachers murmured that they were unaware of what happened and rushed out of their classroom only after hearing gunshots. They refused to give their names and drifted away when questioned further. The area near the school was cordoned off.
"I wonder where we are heading, asked a teacher in hushed tones. That was the answer many were seeking.
About 30 civilians have been killed since January, experts noted as politicians across the spectrum expressed their outrage. Shocking news coming in again from Srinagar. Another set of targeted killings, this time of two teachers in a Govt school in Idgah area of the city. Words of condemnation are not enough for this inhuman act of terror but I pray for the souls of the deceased to rest in peace, National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said on Twitter.
Peoples Democratic Party Mehbooba Mufti added that it was disturbing to see the deteriorating situation in Kashmir where a minuscule minority is the latest target. "GOI's claims of building a Naya Kashmir has actually turned it into a hellhole. It's sole interest is to use Kashmir as a milch cow for its electoral interests, she wrote on Twitter.
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) chief Altaf Bukhari said there is need to ponder whether ground and human intelligence had failed or had the enemy become sharper and more organised. Any further delay in the revival of grassroots democracy will only lead us to mayhem, which we have started witnessing," Bukhari told PTI.