Bitta Ji Bhat and his wife have yet to reconcile with the death of their son. Yet, what breaks their heart the most is their 4-year-old granddaughter oblivious to the reality that her father is no more.
“My eyes get teary when I see my granddaughter play around, not knowing that cruel hands of death have snatched her papa,” Bhat said on a recent afternoon at his modest home in Jammu, a Hindu-dominated city in Muslim-majority Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Bhat's son, a Hindu revenue clerk, was fatally shot inside his office in Kashmir Valley in May. Two days later, police said they had shot dead the anti-India rebels responsible in a gunfight.
That hasn't eased the deep mourning of Bhat's parents.
“What could be more agonizing and painful for a father like me who had to see the dead body of his son,” Bhat said. In front of him lay a framed picture of his son, Rahul Bhat. He was 35.
Kashmir has witnessed a spate of targeted killings in recent months. Several Hindus, including immigrant workers from Indian states, have been killed. Police say the killings — including that of Muslim village councilors, police officers and civilians — have been carried out by anti-India rebels.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. The region's fury at Indian rule has been long seething and most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Kashmir's minority Hindus, who are locally known as Pandits, have long fretted over their place in the disputed region. Most of an estimated 200,000 of them fled Kashmir in the 1990s when an armed rebellion against Indian rule began. Some 4,000 of them later returned after 2010 as part of a government resettlement plan that provided them with jobs and housing.
The recent killings, however, have heightened their fears. In the aftermath of Bhat's killing, hundreds of them organized for the first time simultaneous street protests in the region and demanded the government relocate them to safer areas. They accused the government of making them “scapegoats” and “cannon fodder” to project normalcy in the region.
Deadly attacks on the minority have continued nonetheless.
On May 31, Raj Kumar dropped his wife outside the government school where she taught social studies. It was a daily routine for the husband and wife schoolteachers posted in the region’s restive Kulgam district. But minutes later Kumar received a call from the school principal who told him his wife had been killed.
Rajni Bala, 36, was shot dead by assailants while she was walking toward the school.
Days earlier, the husband and wife had made multiple appeals to authorities to relocate them to a relatively safer area, but their requests were turned down, Kumar said.
“When I heard that Rajni is no more, the only thought that came to my mind was how would my daughter live without her mother,” he said.