The road leading toward a cremation ground in the Batamaloo neighborhood of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir on Friday reverberated with chants of "Great is the God" and "We Want Justice" as thousands of Sikh mourners carried a body at shoulder height to fulfill its last rites.
The deceased, 40-year-old Supinder Kour, principal of Government Boys Higher Secondary School in downtown Srinagar, was assassinated by anti-India militants along with her colleague Deepak Chand, a teacher, Thursday morning inside the school.
"The incident took place around 11 o'clock," Jay Singh, a relative of Kour, told VOA at her funeral. "Militants, after entering the school premises, checked the identity of the staff and then killed two people belonging to Sikh and Hindu communities.
"To kill a woman is an act of cowardice," Singh added, insisting that the targeting of religious minorities sends an unequivocal message to Kashmiri Sikhs and Hindus: Leave Kashmir.
"But we are not going anywhere because we are part and parcel of Kashmiri society," Singh said. "We were born in Kashmir, and we will die in Kashmir."
Spate of attacks
The disputed territory along the foothills of the Himalayas has witnessed back-to-back civilian killings since October 2, leaving the region in a state of shock.
The Resistance Front, or TRF, a lesser-known militant organization believed to be an offshoot of the Pakistan-based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, claimed responsibility for six of seven civilian killings in a five-day period.
"These teachers had on 15 August (India's Independence Day) harassed and threatened parents with dire consequences if any student didn't attend the occupier regime's 15th of August filthy function at their school," TRF said in an October 7 statement explaining why it had carried out the targeted killings.
"We target only occupier mercenary forces and occupier stooges, collaborators and traitors," the statement said.
But relatives of Kour say the principal was on leave in mid-August and couldn't have been involved in Independence Day events.
On the evening of October 2, two men were shot just hours apart at two different locations in Srinagar. Both victims — Mohammad Shafi Dar, 50, and Majid Ahmad Gojri, 25 — had been whisked from the respective crime scenes only to be declared dead on arrival at Srinagar's Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital.
Dar, according to a subsequent TRF statement, was killed because he was close to India's domestic intelligence agency, while Gojri was an alleged counterinsurgency "informer" for Jammu and Kashmir police.
Gojri's family could not be reached for comment. But approaching a three-story home in Srinagar's densely populated Batamaloo neighborhood, one could feel the weight of mourning as members of Dar's family received guests to pay homage to his memory.
"He was innocent and worked only for the Power Development Department of Jammu and Kashmir, unlike what is being claimed by militants," Mehraj Ud Din Dar, the deceased's elder brother, told VOA, with tears in his eyes. "He had a limited friend circle and used to spend most of his time at home."
Dar, according to his brother, was parking his motorcycle outside his home when family members heard gunshots followed by his screams, "God … they are going to kill me!"
"I have been shot! Three bullets!"
The day of the shooting, Dar had spent most of his time with family, leaving home only after evening prayers to venture around bustling Lal Chowk square in the city center.
"Had he been working for [Indian intelligence], would he have roamed freely?" asks Dar's elder brother. No, "he would have taken precautions while moving about."
One of Dar's nieces, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, said no family members suspected Dar of having ties to Indian intelligence, especially as Dar, to the best of their knowledge, had never been the target of militant threats or intimidation.
"Never! He never showed signs of being threatened," she told VOA. "Why would he have pledged alliance with [Indian intelligence]? He was a divorced person and was planning to get remarried and was supposed to go with a matchmaker to see a girl for himself on Sunday."
Prominent pharmacist gunned down
On Tuesday, as pharmacist Makhan Lal Bindroo attended to customers at his drugstore in a high-security zone of Srinagar's Iqbal Park neighborhood, assassins arrived and shot the elderly minority Hindu pandit at point-blank range.
A prominent member of Srinagar's Hindu community, Bindroo was known as a vocal humanist who chose to stay in the scenic Kashmir territory with his family when the armed insurgency was at its peak in the early 1990s, even as fellow Hindus fled by the thousands, abandoning ancestral homes and scattering to different parts of India.
"People of all faiths are mourning his death," said his son, Dr. Sidharth Bindroo, explaining that his father "raised the standard of his profession."
"He was an uncontroversial and secular man who in the '90s worked day and night to deliver life-saving drugs in Kashmir valley," he said.
Bindroo's death, which came as a shock not only to his family but to the entire Kashmir valley, drew condemnation from high-level officials.
"It is not just another brutal murder of one more member of minority Hindu community in Kashmir. It is brutal assassination and is the murder of trust, love, affection, faith and hope," said Girdhari Lal Raina, spokesperson for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
A statement released by TRF called Bindroo a "stooge" for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an Indian right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization that has aimed to alter regional demographics since India stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semiautonomous status in August 2019.
The day Bindroo was gunned down, militants also killed two other people — Mohammad Shafi Lone, a taxi operators' union president, and Virendra Paswan, a nonlocal street vendor — for supposedly acting as police informants. TRF claimed responsibility for Lone's murder, while Islamic State Wilayat-e-Hind, an Islamic State offshoot, said it carried out Paswan's assassination.
Speaking with VOA, Dr. Sidharth Bindroo said that although his father was a household name in the Kashmir Valley before his death, his murder — alongside those of the other victims, whom he would have supported regardless of ethnic or religious differences — has now become a global call for the majority population to protect its minorities.
"My father's killing is imperative among every majority population in every part of the world to protect their minorities," he said.
Police following leads
According to Kashmir police, 28 civilians have been killed in India-administrated Kashmir in 2021. Among the victims, 20 were Muslim, five belonged to the Hindu pandit caste, one was Sikh and two others were non-local laborers.
"Police are working hard, and we are identifying all such part-time/hybrid militants, and strictest action shall be taken against them," said Inspector General K Vijay Kumar at a recent press conference, adding that Kashmir police have received several leads.
"We have also been launching operations along with other security forces. We appeal to the general public, especially minority communities, not to panic. We have been maintaining peace and a secured environment and will continue to do so," he said.