6 labourers killed in J&K on day of EU group’s visit
The shooting is part of a string of attacks targeting civilians hailing from outside Kashmir over the last fortnight.Updated: Oct 30, 2019, 00:46 IST
Militants gunned down six migrant labourers on Tuesday in Jammu & Kashmir’s (J&K) Kulgam district, the fifth attack in two weeks in which people from outside the state have been targeted. The incident came on a day a group of 23 European lawmakers met senior army and administration officials in the Valley, stoking violent protests in several parts of the region.
State police said three or four unidentified gunmen forced their way into a house in Kulgam’s Katrasoo village, dragged out the labourers, and shot them dead. All the victims were from Murshidabad district in West Bengal. Police said a high alert had been sounded in the area.
In the past two weeks, militants have killed four truck drivers, a trader from Punjab, and a migrant labourer from Rajasthan. The total number of victims from outside the state in this period now stands at 12.
Earlier in the day, the European lawmakers — the first international group to visit Kashmir since August 5 — went to the army headquarters in Srinagar, where they were briefed by chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and police chief Dilbag Singh.
Tens of thousands of migrant labourers had fled the Valley in the weeks after the nullification of Article 370, which bestowed special status on J&K, on August 5. But experts estimate that many more remain at work in Kashmir and are becoming the target of militants.
The European parliamentarians were then driven to two hotels, where they met members of urban local bodies, village councils, newly formed block development councils, some political leaders, and representatives of non-governmental organisations. In the afternoon, they also visited the Dal Lake.
“This is a first-hand experience and we loved the interaction with local public here,” said Virginie Joron, a EU parliamentarian from France who was part of the delegation.
The visit by the European Union (EU) lawmakers has stirred a storm of criticism with Opposition parties questioning the composition of the team -- most are members of right-wing parties -- and asking the government why Indian opposition leaders were barred from visiting the Valley. “It is a conducted tour, I don’t have any objection to the European Union delegation visiting Jammu and Kashmir. The objection is that MPs of this country are not being allowed to visit,” said former J&K chief minister and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
One of the members of the EU team, Lars Patrick Berg, said he planned to bring the findings of the trip up for discussion in the foreign affairs committee of the EU. He dismissed criticism that many members of the group hailed from right-wing parties.
“Yes, most in the delegation are from conservative political groups,. But during our stay in India, I didn’t hear a single person - neither on our side nor on the Indian side - talk about hating Muslims. There are those who live by the law and those who don’t, in every society. Contrary to popular perception in the media, conservative groups in the European Parliament are not Muslim-hating Nazis,” said the member of Germany’s rightwing Alternative for Germany (AFD) party. An EU official in India stressed that it was “not on an official visit”. “To be absolutely clear - the group of far-right MEPs currently visiting Kashmir are not in any way an “official” delegation. They do not speak for the European Parliament. The shutdown in Kashmir must be ended and constitutional rule of law restored,” tweeted EU member Theresa Griffin.
The arrival of the EU group triggered violent protests as people set up human blockades and shopkeepers shuttered businesses. At least four people were injured after security forces fired pellets on the protestors. A paramilitary personnel was also injured. The old city of Srinagar, which houses roughly a third of the its two million population, saw a number of clashes as young men and women leapt over barbed wires to hurl stones at the police, which retaliated with tear gas shells and pellets.
A senior official said at least 30 incidents of stone pelting and protests were reported from different parts of Kashmir. Roads were deserted and street vendors were missing despite restrictions having been relaxed in most parts of the region. Meanwhile, the United Nations also expressed concern about the condition of Kashmiris and urged India to fully restore their rights. “We are extremely concerned that the population In Kashmir continues to be deprived of a wide range of human rights and we urge the Indian authorities to unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Several Opposition politicians in J&K alleged that they weren’t allowed to meet the team, comprising lawmakers from 11 countries who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on Monday. “We did attempt to approach the authorities for a meeting with EU delegation. Unfortunately there was no response. The government didn’t respond to our request,’’ said Hasnain Masoodi, the MP from Anantnag. Masoodi said that they expected the EU members to meet the MPs. “This impacts the credibility of the whole exercise,” he added. For two hours on Tuesday, the EU lawmakers met local leaders and representatives. Prominent among them was an eight-member delegation from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “We had a seven-minute meeting and told them about reality of Kashmir what people actually want. We also conveyed them that Article 370 was biggest hindrance to peace, employment and development of the state,” said party spokesman Altaf Thakur, who led the BJP team.
A six-member delegation from Janata Dal (United) also met the EU members. “We told them we want industries and end unemployment,” said party state president Ghulam Nabi Shaheen.
The PDP and the Congress also distanced themselves from the EU team visit. This came a day after PDP patron and former deputy CM, Muzuffar Beigh, and Congress leader Usman Majeed met the EU members in New Delhi. “No one informed us, we should have been part of this meeting,” said PDP’s RS MP Mir Fayyaz. Some prominent industry bodies also said they were not invited. “We represent the business community and it is for the first time that no one informed us about a meeting. In the past we have interacted with delegations of various hues,” said Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries chief Sheikh Aashiq.