Srinagar, May 13: Tension prevailed in various parts of Kashmir where angry Kashmiri Pandit government employees held protests on Friday demanding their relocation to safer places outside the valley, a day after the killing of minority community member Rahul Bhat by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists.
The Sheikhpora camp, located in Budgam of central Kashmir, where Kashmiri pandit employees have been given make-shift accommodation, was the epicentre of these protests with people marching towards the airport and shouting slogans against the J-K administration.
A heavy posse of police personnel stopped the protesters after appeals requesting them to disperse failed to yield any result, leading to clashes during which the security forces had to resort to lathi-charge and firing teargas shells.
There were no reports of any injury but some purported pictures of people allegedly wounded during the police action circulated on social media.
The protestors raised slogans against the Jammu and Kashmir administration and demanded that Lt Governor Manoj Sinha should come and assure them about their safety. However, the Lt Governor was in Sopore attending a function at that time.
His office tweeted that the Lt Governor had met the relatives of Bhat and "assured justice to the family".
"In this hour of grief, the government stands firmly with Rahul's family. Terrorists and their supporters will have to pay a very heavy price for their heinous act," it said.
Besides protests in Sheikhpora, Kashmir pandit employees at Vessu, Qazigund and Mattan also held demonstrations and threatened to resign en-masse, alleging the government had failed to provide adequate security to the community members who were provided employment under the Prime Minister's package for the displaced.
Bhat, 35, was shot dead by two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists at his Tehsil office in Chadoora of Budgam district on Thursday.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, meanwhile, claimed that she has been placed under house arrest to stop her from visiting Budgam to express solidarity with the protesting Kashmiri Pandits.
In a tweet, Mufti said she was put under house arrest as the BJP did not want Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits to empathise with each other's pain.
"Wanted to visit Budgam to express my solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits protesting against GOIs failure to protect them. Have been put under house arrest as the fact that Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits empathise with each other's pain doesn't fit into their vicious communal narrative," the PDP chief said.
Police officials, however, refused to comment on Mufti's claim.
Later, in a video message, Mufti urged the majority community in the valley to stand by the minorities.
"While the central government is playing a game of pitting Hindus against Muslims to hide its failures and presenting them as the biggest enemies of each other, Jammu and Kashmir is the only state where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists are living together as one," Mufti said.
"So, it is the duty of all people of Jammu and Kashmir to stand together with those who live among us -- be it Kashmiri Pandits or Sikh brothers, like the way we had protected their lives and properties in 1947 when Gandhiji also had seen a ray of hope from Kashmir at that time," she added.
Mufti also urged the people to uphold Jammu and Kashmir's legacy of brotherhood and unity.
"We have to stand with our minorities, and so, I appeal to all the people to strongly advocate Hindu-Muslim brotherhood across all the mosques on the occasion of Friday congregational prayers.
"We need to give a message to the whole country of J-K's brotherhood and its history that we are a secular state and a united people so that the government does not get a chance to defame Muslims," Mufti said.
National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah said it was shameful that legitimate and justified protests are met with a heavy-handed response.
"This is not new for the people of Kashmir because when all the administration has is a hammer every problem resembles a nail. If the LG's Govt can't protect KPs they have a right to protest," he wrote on Twitter.
"Tourism is not normalcy; it's a barometer of economic activity. Normalcy is the absence of fear, the absence of terror, the inability of militants to strike at will, the presence of democratic rule & by any yardstick you choose to use, Kashmir is far from normal today," Abdullah said.
Condemning the killing of a policeman in Pulwama on Friday, the NC leader said targeted killings were continuing unabated in the valley.
"Rahul in his office yesterday, Riyaz Ahmad Thoker, an SPO with J&K police, in his own home today. Targeted killings continue unabated. I can't condemn this killing strongly enough. May Allah grant Riyaz place in Jannat," he said.
Bhat was cremated on Friday in Jammu amid protests by members of the Kashmiri Pandit community.
Hundreds of protestors blocked roads and burnt tyres at Muthi, Hazuribagh and Buntalab.
As the mortal remains of Rahul Bhat reached his home in Durga Nagar area of Jammu on Friday morning where hundreds of mourners had gathered, his relatives wept inconsolably.
Rahul Bhat's wife and daughter, who were staying with him at Sheikhpora migrant colony in Budgam, accompanied the body as it arrived here from Kashmir.
His brother Sunny lit the pyre at the Buntalab cremation ground as chants of "long live Rahul Bhat" rent the air.
The community members, including Rahul Bhat's family, accused the BJP-led government at the Centre of making young Kashmiri Hindus "cannon fodder" in the name of rehabilitation of the community.
They also said the incident has shattered their dream of resettling permanently in the valley.
"You have formulated a plan to get young Kashmiri Pandits killed in the name of giving them jobs and rehabilitating them," Somnath Bhat, a relative of Rahul Bhat, alleged.
Such people are "sitting ducks" for terrorists who are using them for "target practice", he added.
Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina and other party leaders, who attended the funeral, had to face the ire of the community members. The angry people raised slogans against the prime minister, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor and the BJP.