Caste: Kashmiri Pandit
Death Cause: Targeted Killing
Age: 33 Years
Some Lesser Known Facts About Rahul Bhat
- Rahul Bhat was an Indian (migrant Kashmiri Pandit) government employee who was shot dead by a group of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in his office in the Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir on 12 May 2022.
- His father, Bitta Ji Bhat, is a retired police officer, who was a part of the security wing of former National Conference leader Ali Mohammad Sagar.
- Rahul spent his initial years in the Kashmir Valley. In 1997, a few Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists visited their village, handpicked seven young men, and shot them from point-blank, following which his family fled the Kashmir Valley and relocated to Jammu, where they lived in Durga Nagar, Bantalab. Rahul was eight years old at that time.
- At the age of 21, he secured a clerk job in the revenue department of the Tehsil Office in Budgam under the special employment package for migrants. After getting the job, Rahul returned to his hometown with his family and began living in a Migrant Colony at Sheikhpora in Budgam. Reportedly, he was among the first three Kashmiri Pandits who returned to Kashmir after bagging a government job under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation programme.
- On 12 May 2022, while Rahul was working in his office in Chadoora town in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, two terrorists entered his office premises, asked for him, and fired bullets at him from close proximity. Soon after the terrorists left, he was rushed to SMHS Hospital, Srinagar, by his colleagues. The doctors at the hospital declared him dead.
- In a media conversation, Rahul’s wife, Meenakshi Bhat, said that she had talked with Rahul over the phone just 10 minutes before he was killed. She said,
He works at the DC office. I spoke to him at 3:45 PM, that is 10 minutes before the attack but did not feel any threat. I was at a birthday party when I spoke to him and he was speaking very normal to me. Later, I got a phone call about an attack on him where he has been shot in the shoulder, however, I was relieved that he will be saved. But they took him away from me and I am left all alone with nothing.”
- Srinagar police after the primary investigation revealed that the two terrorists used pistols for committing the crime.
- In a media conversation, Meenakshi Bhat shared that she doubted that someone from Rahul’s office was involved with the terrorists in killing him. She said,
He used to say everyone behaves nicely with him and nobody can harm him. Yet nobody protected him, they (terrorists) must’ve asked someone about him, otherwise, how would they’ve known.”
She added that her husband had requested the local administration several times to transfer him to the district headquarters as he felt insecure in the Budgam office. Despite repeated appeals, he was not transferred.
- In an interview, asking for a thorough investigation of the matter, Bitta Ji Bhat, Rahul’s father, said,
First, they asked who Rahul Bhat is and then they shot him. We want inquiry. There was a Police Station 100 ft away. There must have been security at the office but nobody was there. They should check CCTV footage.”
- His friends, relatives, and collegues were shocked to hear about the incident. Rahul’s collegues remember him as a kind hearted person with humane qualities. During a media interaction, remembering Rahul, a senior lady officer in Rahul’s department described him as,
conscientious official who worked hard in the difficult times post-August 5, 2019, when Kashmir was under lockdown for a month after the abrogation of the Article 370.”
He worked day and night to help others and I am unable to deal with his death.”
- In a media conversation, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, condemned the barbaric killing of Rahul Bhat, and said,
I strongly condemn the barbaric killing of Rahul Bhat by terrorists at Budgam. Those behind this despicable terror attack will not go unpunished. J-K government stands in solidarity with the bereaved family in this hour of grief.”
- Soon as the news of Rahul’s targeted killing broke, several Kashmiri employees, including those from the majority community, emerged on Jammu and Kashmir roads to protest against the murder of Rahul Bhat.
- Expressing anger over Bhat’s targetted killing and demanding a safe environment for the Kashmiri Hindus to live, a resident of Kashmir, while speaking to a media channel, said,
Kashmiri Pandits should be given shelter in one place and jobs should be given in the nearby areas along with security. Only then they will remain safe. It is naturally a targeted killing. Barging inside the office and looking out for him is a targeted killing. This is being done to stop them from returning to Kashmir again.”
- Maximum of the protestors were Kashmiri Pandit employees from the Sheikhpora-Budgam migrant colony. Firstly, they gathered at the Sheikhpora area of Budgam district, in central Kashmir and then decided to march towards the Srinagar International Airport. The protestors were shouting the slogans, seeking the arrest of Rahul Bhat’s killers. They also demanded a harsh punishment for them. They asked the police and administration for assurance regarding their security. The police requested them to disperse, however, they declined to move and insisted to move ahead.
- When they headed towards the Srinagar International Airport, a posse of police personnel stopped them using tear smoke shells and mild lathi charge.
- Rahul’s funeral took place on 13 May 2022 at the Bantalab cremation ground in presence of his family members and police officers. The police officials who attended Bhat’s funeral include Mukesh Singh, ADGP Jammu, Ramesh Kumar, Divisional Commissioner Jammu, and Avny Lavasa, Deputy Commissioner Jammu.
- A few days later, both his killers were gunned down in a joint operation carried out by the Indian army and the Jammu and Kashmir police in Bandipora. The terrorists who killed Bhat were identified as Faisal and Ukasa.
- Since 2021, Bhat was the second Kashmiri Pandit to have been shot dead; the first being Makhan Lal Bindroo, a prominent member of the Kashmiri Pandit community, who was shot dead by militants on 6 October 2021. Between August 2019 and March 2022, fourteen people including Rahul Bhatbelonging to the Kashmiri Pandit community were killed by terrorists in different parts of Kashmir. Those who were killed mainly included prominent businessmen, sarpanch, and block development council members of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
- When people organised protests over Rahul’s targetted killing, the terrorists delivered a threat letter to the public, asking migrants and the RSS agents to leave the valley or face death. The letter was directly targetted towards the Kashmiri Pandit community and read that there is no space for Kashmiri Pandits ‘who want another Israel in Kashmir to kill Kashmiri Muslims.’ It was signed by the commander of the terrorist group.
- Rahul Bhat’s cousin Ashwini Bhat, in response to the threat letter, requested the Indian government to give a befitting reply to the terrorists. He said,
We need to see in the light and ensure that terrorism is lifted apart and no mercy is granted to any terrorists.”
- On 18 May 2022, Rahul Bhat’s family was provided with a financial assistance of Rs. 5 lakh by the Jammu and Kashmir administration. They also provided the compassionate appointment of Bhat’s widow, Meenakshi Raina, at the pay level of Rs. 14,800-47,100 in government higher secondary school Nowabad, Jammu.