Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch killing a targeted one by Hizb, says DGP

He was killed for being part of democratic process and a member of minority community.

A day after a Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch (village headman) was gunned down in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbag Singh said it was a “targeted killing.”

Also read: Kashmiri Pandits’ organisations condemn killing of sarpanch in Anantnag

Mr. Singh told The Hindu that Ajay Bharti Pandita (40) was targeted for two reasons- being part of the democratic process and a member of the minority community.

The Director General of Police (DGP) said they have identified the two local Hizb-ul- Mujahideen terrorists who killed Pandita at Lokbawan village around 6 p.m. on Monday.

Pandita, who was elected unopposed as the sarpanch from Larkipora area in Anantnag district, was a member of the Congress party. He used to live in Jammu with his family and often visited Anantnag. He was one of the few to return to his village six years after the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in early 90s.

The panchayat elections were held in the former State of J&K in 2018 and a total of 27,281 panches and sarpanches were elected. There are 12,776 vacant sarpanch and panch seats in J&K.

“The terrorists have done this deliberately. He was targeted because he was part of the government machinery and democratic process and a member of the minority community has been killed after many years. …it shows the communal mindset of our neighbor,” Mr. Singh said.

Also read: Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants led police to rogue officer

The newly formed The Resistance Front (TRF) has claimed the killing.

“The TRF is nothing but a front of the Pakistan backed Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT]. They only want to mislead. We have identified the terrorists who carried out the attack; they are from the Hizb,” Mr. Singh said.

The TRF is promoted by Pakistan and was created in August last after the revocation of Article 370 in J&K.

Had sought police protection

Mr. Pandita’s family said that he had been seeking police protection but his requests were not acted upon by the local police.

The DGP said he was not aware of the request.

G.A Mir, president, J&K Pradesh Congress committee, said when Pandita expressed his desire to contest the sarpanch election, the entire village stood in his support.

“The villagers said no one will contest against him and he won the elections. For the past seven-eight months, he had been saying that since he is the lone member from the minority community in the area he has sought police security. The party also appealed to provide police protection to him. Had he got police protection, this incident wouldn’t have occurred,” Mr. Mir told reporters in Jammu.

Gram panchayat elections are not fought on party symbols but candidates do get support from political parties.

In a December 2019 interview to Mercury Times, a Jammu based news channel, Mr. Pandita said that locals, especially the Muslim brethren, took lot of risk to come and vote for him during the panchayat elections, but the administration had failed him. He also raised concerns over the safety of sarpanches after the killing of sarpanch Syed Rafiq Ahmed and government employee Sheikh Zahoor at Hakura-Badasgam village of Anantnag on November 28, 2019.

“The Central government makes tall claims about panch and sarpanches on TV; they shoot from our shoulders… I am an elected person but I am helpless… I want to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah… cant they see this? The UT administration never met the sarpanches, do they know who Ajay Bharti is? When I am not safe, how can I say my people are safe…The administration treats us untouchables,” Mr. Pandita said in the interview.

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