Residents of Anantnag district in Indian-administered Kashmir defied a curfew Monday by clashing with government forces, as they protested the killing of a Muslim truck driver in a petrol bomb attack in Jammu, the state’s Hindu-dominated half.
Zahid Rasool Bhat, 19, an Anantnag resident who was severely burnt in the Oct. 9 attack, succumbed to his injuries Sunday at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi and was buried in his home district on Monday. According to reports, the attack stemmed from rumors of cows being slaughtered in Jammu’s Udhampur district, and it took place amid communal tensions over a statewide beef ban ordered by the state’s high court last month.
A fellow Muslim truck driver, 34-year-old Showkat Ahmad Dar who was injured in the incident, was still battling for his life at the hospital in the Indian capital, a relative said. The two truckers were reportedly attacked with a petrol bomb as they slept in their truck by the side of a highway that connects Jammu to the Kashmir Valley.
Nine suspects have been arrested and charged with Bhat’s murder.
“The culprits currently under detention enjoy the political backing. We are afraid that they will be spared later,” Farooq Ahmad Dar 27, a shopkeeper and relative of Showkat Dar, told BenarNews.
“We will continue with agitation unless the accused are given exemplary punishment,” he added.
Meanwhile, the father of the dead truck driver said he had refused to accept a cash offer of Rs. 500,000 (U.S. $7,700) from the state government to compensate him and his family for his son’s death.
“The accused have committed an unpardonable crime and they must be hanged to death,” Ghulam Rasool Bhat, 65, a farmer, told BenarNews.
“The life of my innocent son is priceless, which no government in the world can afford. The only thing I want is death for the accused persons, who mercilessly burnt my son to death and left the other driver battling for life,” he added.
Valley shuts down
Also on Monday, separatist organizations, the Kashmiri truckers’ union and other social group called a strike to protest the trucker’s death, as local authorities imposed a curfew in parts of Srinagar to prevent related protests from breaking out in the state’s largest city.
Security forces were also deployed to other major towns to keep the peace, and separatist leaders were placed under house arrest to prevent them from leading protests, reports said. Universities in the region also cancelled exams scheduled for Monday.
A separatist insurgency has raged for decades in Kashmir, a Himalayan region disputed by India and Pakistan since the partitioning of the Indian Sub-Continent in 1947. Jammu & Kashmir is India’s only state with an overall Muslim majority, but the row over the beef ban has compounded communal tensions there.
Similar tensions have spread across India since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took the helm of the union government in May 2014. Twenty-four of India’s 29 states have now banned the slaughter of cows and sales of beef. Most members of the country’s Hindu majority do not eat beef. In their faith, the cow is a sacred animal because she produces milk.
Ninth suspect caught
On Monday, police arrested and charged a ninth suspect, who was identified as Rameshwar Singh, in connection with Bhat’s death, Jammu Inspector-General of Police Danesh Rana told BenarNews.
Singh joins eight other men who have been arrested charged with murder in the trucker’s death: Harish Singh Katoch, Sandoor Singh, Danesh (alias Pamma), Balbahadur Singh, Sumeet Singh, Jasbir Singh, Rahul Sharma, and Varinder Singh, a citizen of Nepal.