A minority of Hindus, known locally as Pandits, have taken to the streets in at least three places and blocked roads demanding that Bhat’s killers be brought to justice. They blamed them for their inaction and chanted slogans against the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
This is the first time that scholars have staged simultaneous protests in Kashmir.
At least one place has been hit by clashes with dozens of government forces. Police use gas and lathisota in the Budgam area, where Bhat lived in a secure settlement, to prevent the protesters from marching on the airport road nearby.
Protesters Sanjay Kumar said the government had completely failed to provide security to Kashmiri Hindus. “This is the downfall of every system.”
Most of the pundits, about 200,000, fled Kashmir after the anti-India uprising began in 1989, with many believing it was aimed at wiping them out. Bhatt was among an initial group of about 4,000 people who returned after 2010 under a government rehabilitation plan that provided jobs and housing.
In a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Manoj Sinha, the region’s New Delhi administrator, he threatened to resign from government service after killing at least 300 scholars who had returned under the 2010 plan. They say mass resignation is “the only way to save our lives.”
Last year, suspected insurgents killed a minority of Sikhs and several Hindus, including migrant workers in the Indian state, in a wave of targeted shootings in the region.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both. The majority of Muslim Kashmiris in the India-controlled part support the rebels’ goal of uniting the region under Pakistani rule or as an independent state.
Most Muslims in Kashmir deny that Hindus have been deliberately targeted. But tensions between the groups flared up again after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and the Indian government pursued a plan to relocate migrant Kashmiri Hindus to new towns.
Muslim leaders have described the plan as an attempt to divide the population along religious lines and create communal divisions, especially after India seizes its semi-autonomous region in 2019 and removes inheritance of land and jobs.
Also on Friday, two suspected militants and a police officer were killed in separate incidents.
Two militants were killed in a gunfight with government forces in northwestern Bandipora and a police officer was shot dead by assailants in the south Pulwama area, police said. Police have blamed militants for killing a police officer.