A prominent Christian campaigner Bashir Ahmad Tantray was shot dead by unknown gunmen in full public view at Mamoosa village in northern Barmullah district on Tuesday.
Local residents said that the gunmen fired three pistol shots at Tantray from a close range at 10:30 am, killing him on spot. The villagers made no attempt to capture or chase the assailants, who escaped from the scene with quite ease and comfort.
Engineer by profession, Tantray had reneged from the Islamic faith and adopted Christianity in 2000. Since then he had emerged as a great evangelist, working for the spread of Christianity across the valley. He had reportedly influenced a large section of his village population with his new faith.
The village hit the newspaper headlines in March 2003 with the reports of mass conversion to Christianity by the residents. The villagers however denied the conversion to the new faith but some village elders privately admitted that several families had converted to Christianity. They said that monetary benefit was the main motivation for them to take to new religion.
With the outrage from various quarters over the conversions, Tantray, a resident said, ran away from the village and settled in Srinagar. Sources said that he continued to remain the part of Christian machinery, and shifted his area of activity to southern Pulwama district. Tantray had come to the village on Monday evening to see his ailing father.
"We were just outside our house. Two young boys passed by us. One of them asked about the timing of the bus. Another took out a pistol from his jacket and fired three rounds on Bashir Ahmad," said Ghulam Rasool Tantray, a cousin of the slain Christian campaigner. He died on spot.
Kashmir has been witnessing a discreet spurt in conversion from Islam to Christianity over the past 15 years. Sources say that some 15000 Muslims across the valley have converted to Christianity during this period. Around a dozen Christian missions and churches based in the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have sent evangelists to the Valley and are pumping in money through intermediaries based in New Delhi, sources.
Parts of Pulwama, Uri, Karnah, Baramullah and outer areas of Srinagar and Kangan are reported to be main centers of Christian missions.
Observers say that the missionaries are getting immediate attention because they reach out to the poor, needy and those affected by continued violence, offering them a lot of money.
Though conversions have not encountered any major resistance from Muslim organisations, it has led to tensions among common people, who are increasingly getting vocal against the Christian missionaries. Hundreds of residents gathered outside a missionary school - Good Shepherded School - in Pulwama, holding demonstration against the school management and staff for “converting Muslim students to Christianity”. The protestors attacked the school building causing damage to the building.
Government had to order temporary closure of a missionary school in September this year and ordered probe into the allegations. The school was also target of a grenade attack by militants.
The role of Christian machineries had come under scanner in earthquake-affected areas of Uri also when allegations of luring the quake-affected people to Christianity by offering monetary incentives surfaced. The missionaries, claiming to be members of the Bible Society of India, had to shut their relief business in the area after the government took note of these allegations.