The new year started on an ominous note in Jammu and Kashmir as seven civilians, including two children, were killed in successive terror attacks on January 1 and 2 in Rajouri district’s Dhangri village. The attacks are not isolated incidents. After the government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in August 2019 and relaxed norms for people from other States and Union Territories trying to get a domicile certificate to settle in Jammu and Kashmir, militants have targeted non-local people as well as Kashmiri Pandits.
According to observers, the assaults are a fallout of the government’s iron-fist handling of the State’s problems and the general apprehensions about demographic change in the Muslim-majority State following the easing of domicile policies. The recurring attacks contradict the claims of the Central government about its deft handling of terror in Kashmir. They also question the legitimacy of a policy that does not use dialogue, deliberation, and engagement with stakeholders as methods to address the vexed issues of Jammu and Kashmir.
Police reports indicate that on the night of January 1, two terrorists arrived in Dhangri in a car and fired indiscriminately at three places separated by a distance of 50 metres. On the morning of January 2, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near the house of one Pritam Lal, killing two children and injuring several others. Lal was killed in the previous day’s attack.
The police swiftly swung into action, detaining about 18 suspects in the following week, but public anger mounted, with many questioning the failure of the police (that had descended on the scene on the night of January 1) to detect the IED, which is likely to have been planted by the assailants during the night ambush. The village sarpanch, Deepak Kumar, called out the administration for a “serious security lapse”. “Minority community [Hindus] people do not feel secure. The administration should take tough measures,” he said.
On January 17, the Jammu and Kashmir police claimed that they had obtained vital clues vis-à-vis the twin attacks in the Hindu-majority village. “The area [surrounding Dhangri] is close to the forest and after frequent militant sightings, four-five unsuccessful operations have been launched. As far as [the] investigation is concerned, we have some solid clues and arrests will be made soon,” the Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police (DGP), Dilbag Singh, told the media. Since January 2, there have been massive cordon-and-search operations in over two dozen villages where terrorist presence or movements were reported. But the people complain that the police have failed to even identify the militant outfit that carried out the attacks.
History of attacks
This spate of targeted violence against Hindus started in the autumn of 2021, when many fled to the safety of Jammu. Among those killed at the time were Makhan Lal Bindroo, a well-known pharmacist; Virender Paswan, a hawker from Bihar; Muhammad Shafi Lone, president of the local taxi drivers’ union; and Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand, the principal and teacher respectively of the Government Boys’ School in Sangam.
In the summer of 2022, Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit, was killed on duty at the Arreh-Mohanpora branch of Elaqai Dehati Bank in Kulgam. Later, a person from Jammu was killed in Baramulla when terrorists threw a grenade at a liquor shop; Amreen Bhat, a television artist, was fatally shot outside her home in Hushroo village in Chadoora. Others killed in the summer attacks include Rajni Bala, a schoolteacher in Kulgam, and Vijaya Kumar, a bank manager from Rajasthan.
Then, on October 15, 2022, militants gunned down Puran Krishan Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit, outside his house in Chowdhary Gund village in Shopian district. Three days later, two migrant workers, Manish Kumar and Ram Sagar, died in Shopian’s Herman village when terrorists lobbed a grenade at them.
All is not well
As the killings continue, pointed questions are coming from across Kashmir’s political spectrum. Leaders of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a political alliance among regional parties of Jammu and Kashmir campaigning for a return of special status to the State, decry the BJP’s “militaristic policy”, pointing at the ruling party’s tendency to rely on brute force instead of engaging with stakeholders to resolve the conflict.
In early 2022, former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah warned that “this ostrich-like approach will push the situation to a point of no return.”
Speaking to Frontline, Imran Dar, spokesperson of Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, said that the spate of terror attacks had laid bare the hollowness of the BJP’s claims that Article 370 was solely responsible for law-and-order issues. “Contrary to the claims made by GoI, the situation has reached such a low point that Kashmiri Pandit families who have been living in Kashmir for the past 32 years have migrated to Jammu after the targeted killings. The attack on civilians in Rajouri is a case in point. Till recently the area was declared militancy-free by police authorities but this incident has deflated all their claims of normalcy. Revival of Village Defence Committees in Jammu province is also a clear indication that all is not well.”
This reporter’s several parleys with top-rung officials in the security grid in the past year have revealed what they think of the targeted killings. Their logic is that “since militancy sustains itself on the hysteria it creates, besides the flow of money, the killing of Hindus, which gets aggressive media coverage, is a tempting option for terrorists.”
Significantly, after August 2019, most A-list militant commanders in Kashmir have been eliminated and the rank and file of the separatist camp is either in jail or in hiding. This has forced militant groups to change their contours and tactics. According to insiders in the police force, now most of the funding is “courtesy narco-smuggling from Pakistan to the Kashmir Valley and then to Punjab”. Four-time Kulgam MLA and PAGD spokesperson M.Y. Tarigami is among those who believe that “fear of demographic change and suppression provide grounds for acts of terror”.
Talking to Frontline, he underlined the importance of civilian engagement in uprooting terror: “Violence can’t be contained only through tough security measures. People’s support for isolating such elements is required but is unfortunately missing.”
“People complain that the police have failed to even identify the militant outfit that carried out the attacks.”
Earlier, Srinagar’s top security officials had told Frontline that militants were avoiding head-on collisions at security installations because of the risk of being detected by the well-entrenched surveillance system. Apparently, Pakistan has also changed its modus operandi, with drones being used to smuggle in smaller arms such as pistols to insurgents instead of pushing massive amounts of ammunition into the Valley along the Line of Control. Incidentally, in most of the civilian killings, pistols were used.
To assuage public anger, particularly among Hindus living in the Pir Panjal and Chenab regions who are crucial to the BJP’s future electoral gambles in Jammu and Kashmir, Home Minister Amit Shah rushed to Jammu on January 13 to chair a high-level security meeting. “The Government has handed over the case related to the two incidents (in Dhangri) to the NIA [National Investigation Agency] yesterday [January 12]. The NIA and Jammu police will together investigate this case along with all other terror incidents in Jammu region which had taken place in the past one-and-a-half years,” Shah told the media.
Shah was scheduled to visit the disturbed village to meet with the victims’ kin, but was prevented by inclement weather. He spoke to them over phone, assuring them of safety and protection.
However, with no peaceful solution in sight, residents of Jammu and Kashmir—local Hindus and outsiders alike—continue to feel apprehensive about their future in the erstwhile State.
- The targeted killings in Kashmir’s Rajouri district on Jan. 1 and 2 are not isolated incidents
- Observers say that the assaults are a fallout of the government’s iron-fist handling of the State’s problems and the general apprehensions about demographic change in the Muslim-majority State following the easing of domicile policies after 2019
- This spate of targeted violence against Hindus started in the autumn of 2021, when many fled to the safety of Jammu
- The recurring attacks contradict the claims of the Central government about its deft handling of terror in Kashmir