Thursday was an auspicious occasion for Indian Muslims fasting for Ramadan. It was Shab-e Qadr, the night of “power and forgiveness” and a group had gathered at the historic Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar.
But it turned into a night of shame as a number of Muslims shouting anti-India slogans stoned to death a senior police official who had come to protect the faithful holding night-long prayers inside the shrine.
There was no provocation. The Deputy Superintendent was shooting video of a protest outside the mosque around midnight. Kashmir had been tense since Thursday morning after the killing of three Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in an encounter.
When some young protesters tried to drag him off, Pandith fired from his service revolver, leaving three injured. The mob then stripped and stoned him to death.
The incident sparked nationwide outrage on Friday. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba condemned the killing but was careful not to mention Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the separatist leader who was holding a sermon inside the mosque.
Federal minister Hansraj G Ahir views the incident as another orchestrated move by Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan to alienate the local police by repeatedly targeting them. The killing comes at a time when thousands of jobless youth in Kashmir Valley are eager to join the army or police force to make ends meet.
Pandith is the ninth police official to be killed in the holy month of Ramadan. Earlier, six state police personnel were killed and their faces mutilated in an ambush by militants in south Kashmir.
Mehbooba did not attend the funeral of the six – she was busy speaking instead about the need to involve separatist leaders like Mirwaiz in peace talks. But she was present at the funeral of Pandith on Friday.
Stone-pelters are regarded as “freedom fighters” even by veteran Kashmiri leaders such as the former state chief minister Farooq Abdullah.
Media reports have suggested they are receiving cash from Pakistan through separatist leaders in Kashmir. They not only kill or injure security forces but also obstruct them during anti-terror operations and even help terrorists flee.
In April, over a thousand stone-pelters tried to attack some police personnel and election officials at a polling station in Budgam. One army major disarmed the mob by tying one of the pelters to the bonnet of his army jeep and driving the poll officials to a safe place.
Instead of praising Major Leetul Gogoi for saving the situation without firing a shot, local and national leaders and rights groups condemned his actions. Many of these apologists for stone-pelters were, however, silent on Thursday’s lynching incident.
Videos of crowds converging at the mosque that day show a small group of protesters trying to incite them. A majority of the faithful just ignored them. That is a positive sign but more such signs have to emerge.
Why should the state government use taxpayers’ money to provide special security to separatists like Mirwaiz? Instead, the government should spend more on acquiring more sophisticated weaponry and bullet-proof vehicles for the state police.
The federal government should deploy more army units in Kashmir to contain unrest in the valley. More and more state police and para-military personnel are bearing the brunt of attacks by terrorists.
It should also explore the option of imposing governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir or make the coalition government in the state more responsible and outcome-oriented.