Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew and called out the Army as two persons died and about 80 others sustained injuries in the worst communal riots to shake Jammu and Kashmir at Kishtwar on Friday.
Official sources said people from the peripheral villages of Bandirna, Hullar and Kuleed were heading for the spacious Chowgan Grounds to join congregational Eid-ul-Fitr prayers around 10 a.m., when a section of local Hindus objected to their pro-azadi slogans. What began as an altercation culminated in a major clash in which people from both sides resorted to intense stone pelting.
Even as over 10,000 people performed Eid prayers, some miscreants ransacked commercial properties and set shops and vehicles on fire. The district headquarters turned into a battlefield with even government-controlled Village Defence Committee (VDC) members and Special Police Officers joining the violence, in some cases even using firearms. Private firing with .12 bore guns was also reported.
IGP (Jammu) Rajesh Kumar told The Hindu from Kishtwar that the four-hour-long riots left two persons of the both communities dead and 23 civilians injured. However, independent sources claimed that around 80 persons, including 40 police and CRPF personnel, sustained injuries. They said 23-year-old Arvind Kumar Bhagat, son of local BSP leader Desraj Bhagat, died of gunshot wounds. Some reports said he was hit when the police opened fire on a mob. However, some officials insisted that Mr. Bhagat was found hit by a private weapon as there was evidence of .12 bore ammunition on his body.
Sources said one unidentified person of the other community was manhandled and burnt to death. His body was lying on the Chowgan Grounds till late in the night.
One petrol tanker, one police bunker, a number of buses and cars were among the 60 vehicles destroyed in fire. As many as 70 shops, one hotel and one residential house were also destroyed in the arson as the police and the civil administration failed to control the situation.
Shaheedi Road, Malik Market, Kuleed Chowk, Dak Bungalow Chowk, Amar Market, Bus Stand and Hospital Market witnessed the worst of arson. Reports said some peripheral villages were also engulfed by late afternoon.
While Minister of State for Home and local MLA Sajad Ahmad Kichloo is already in town, Principal Secretary (Home) Suresh Kumar and Director-General of Police Ashok Prasad flew into Kishtwar from Srinagar. Divisional Commissioner (Jammu) Shant Manu and Inspector-General of Police Rajesh Kumar also reached the spot. They called out the Army even as the Deputy Commissioner imposed curfew. After a flag march by the Army, the situation was reportedly under control.
Tension also spread to Jammu, Samba and Udhampur district headquarters as some markets closed in protest and some people staged demonstrations.
Recent visits by Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah are said to have created an atmosphere that led to the Eid processionists shouting pro-freedom slogans. Some VDC members and SPOs had also vitiated the atmosphere, a few of whom were caught red-handed throwing stones at select houses on Thursday night.